Mini Transat 2015 · Dominik Lenk

Mini Barcelona 2014

The start was on October 17th at 13:00. Tracking available here

The Mini Barcelona will be the last qualifier for me this year. After a second place during the AIR Valencia I know that it is possible to sail competitively with an older boat: Just sail tactically and make less mistakes that the other guys. But the Mini Barcelona is a simple drag race and tactics don’t count for much. 130 nautical miles to Menorca and 130 nautical miles back to Barcelona.

After a short tack to the south the fleet headed towards Menorca. I was in third place and could clearly see the two leaders in front. I knew that my hull shape and my single daggerboard would somehow limit my speed on a reaching course, but as long as I could keep in contact with the leaders, all was fine.

Light wind start

My speed deficit got worse the more the course turned into a beam reach. Everybody in the fleet had hoisted their Code 0—essentially a very flat spinnaker—and my round hull shape was clearly falling behind. (Read more about Chines here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chine_ )

After a while onboard minis you get to know every kind of alarm there is. The loud howl that wakes you up after 15 minutes sleep; a silent but persistent beeping when the radio doesn’t receive a GPS fix; or the chirping parrot when the active radar reflector is being swept over by another vessel. The alarm that I was hearing now, I had not heard before.

Three short bieps. Nothing after that. The Autpilot that I switched on a couple of seconds before to clear the cockpit died and the boat veered off course. It is the only thing on board without which nothing else works. Well maybe, except for the mast and the rudders. But no autopilot = no sleep = bad decisions and slow sailing. There is nobody who can steer for 24 hours each day.

I had put down a small 360° turn half an hour earlier, when I changed a sail. Nothing terrible, but of course not fast either. In fact I was just catching up the distance lost. I assume that that maneuver cost me a fuse and the autopilot now did not get any electricity anymore.

In a car you can let go of the steering wheel for a while. This also works on a boat. On the motorway you will be seeing the side of the road after a while, on a boat you will wipe out. Each time I had about 40 seconds before the boat would loose track and start to veer off into a tack.

Changing fuses and searching for the short …

Trim the boat, check the course, wait, jump under deck head first, open up a single screw of the fuse box, sprint back on deck and check the course. Repeat. After several of these trips I had changed the fuse and pressed the AUTO button.

Nothing!

I sailed another half an hour by hand and tried to think of what the problem could be. I wedged myself into the escape tunnel, checked some fuses and started checking circuits with the voltmeter. The boat kept sailing on in roughly the right direction, but it was anything but fast. Or safe. Unfortunately, I also didn’t find the problem.

There were two possibilities: Head back to Barcelona, abandon the race and fix the problem there. Or keep sailing to Menorca, finish the race and collect the qualifier miles. I decided to do the latter.

At Menorca the entire fleet sailed into a calm spot. It allowed me to catch up a little. My hull shape, a disadvantage before, was now an advantage. Just before the Isla del Aire I overtook two boats and was now lying in third place again.

Several bad decisions came after that. I had been awake for 36 hours and decided to head away from the coast. Both wind speed and the direction got me on the wrong gybe. So I gybed back behind the island, but lost valuable distance. Looking back the coast would have been the better choice.

Two tracks: Me in blue, Ignacio in red. The difference: Slightly more pressure means that he could sail slightly deeper near the coast …

Just before midnight the wind died completely. Without wind the boat was rolling back and forth, which really did’t agree with me and my 42 hours without sleep. I kept falling asleep and waking up seconds later. My track looked anything but straight.

I missed one of the most important wind shifts of the entire race and could only follow the leaders after that. In the end I would finish fourth or fifth in total.

The podium is once again filled with boats that are 10 years newer and first place went to the only boat that could win the Mini Transat twice. So no reason to panic, keep going …

Looking back the race was an important experience that I was bound to make at some point. I now know how long I can manage without sleep and what mistakes to look out for. Bad gybes and poor tactical decisions under sleep deprivation are among them.More importantly, I know that I need to learn how my electrical system works during the winter to be able to fix mistakes like this in the future.

As early as possible next year I will sail my 1000 miles solo, which are needed for a successful qualification. After that there is only one race left to sail to qualify for the Mini Transat.

Finished. 52 hours, 40 minutes and 29 seconds without an autopilot and without sleep.