Mini Transat Iles de Guadeloupe preview

We look at the runners and riders, the new boats and latest trends within this magnificent event

Saturday September 19th 2015, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

Not sure I should be ‘fessing’ up to this, but it was 20 years ago that I covered my first Mini Transat, that race starting from Brest and won by a young Yvon Bourgnon, but most importantly from a British standpoint that race served to inspire Mark Turner and subsequently Ellen MacArthur to take part in 1997, etc etc

This year is also the 20th running of the biennial Mini Transat, the legendary singlehanded transatlantic race for pint-sized ocean racers, first staged in 1977. Back then, in a pre-BOC Challenge/pre-Vendee Globe/pre-Route du Rhum era, Britain was pretty much the lone pioneer in singlehanded ocean racing via the Royal Western Yacht Club and the Observer Singlehanded Transatlantic Race (OSTAR), first held in 1960.

The Mini Transat was first conceived by west country sailor Bob Salmon (who sadly died last November), as a more budgetarily responsible answer to the OSTAR, following the 1976 race that had featured the unfeasibly, and possibly dangerously, large Vendredi 13 and Alain Colas’s 236ft long four master Club Mediterranée.

Initially the event, which at this point ran from Penzance too Antigua (via Tenerife), lasted four editions under British rule until French organisers took it over. With popularity in shorthanded offshore racing at the time strongly on the ascent in France, following the exploits of Eric Tabarly and Alain Colas in the OSTAR and Bernard Moitessier in the Sunday Times Golden Globe, the Mini Transat thrived, rapidly turning into the giant it is today. On the way, it has served as a key paving stone for the careers of the majority of top French offshore racers, including Jean-Luc van den Heede (spotted striding down the dock this morning), the Peyron brothers, Laurent Bourgnon, Roland Jourdain, Michel Desjoyeaux, Isabelle Autissier, Thomas Coville, Ellen MacArthur, Bernard Stamm, Yves Parlier (winner in 1985), and more recently Yannick Bestaven, Yves le Blevec (2007 winner, now skipper of the Maxi-tri Actual), Thomas Ruyant (2009 winner, now an IMOCA 60 skipper), while Benoit Marie, winner in 2013 has this week been crewing on a C-Class catamaran in the Little America’s Cup in Geneva.

Traditionally the 21ft long Minis (Classe 6.50) yachts have been a hive of innovation. Most notably Michel Desjoyeaux’s efforts in 1991 put canting keels on the map (subsequently standard fits to IMOCA 60s from the mid to late 1990s on and then with VO70s from 2005 on, etc). This progressed to Proto skippers trying all manner of ways of canting the keels, moving them fore and aft on a track, on a giant ball joint (nice idea, but no), canting them while elongating the foil (our favourite - to keep the keel at maximum draft when it is canted) plus a wide variety of accompanying daggerboard shapes and configurations, single, single but tacking or with a trim tab, double, canted, etc.

In the early days of the class, the Mini was the test bed for movable water ballast, plus flat, ultra-wide, planing hulls and twin rudders (a combination subsequently adopted by the IMOCA 60s), carbon fibre masts (the first used by Yves Parlier in 1985) and composite rigging.

With costs of boats on the rise, Minis split into ‘Series’ and ‘Proto’ classes during the 1990s, the Protos being custom-builds (purist Minis should be designed, built and sailed by the same person, as the legend Seb Magnen did with the race’s to date only two time winner Karen Liquid in 1997 and 1999). Conversely the Series class is for production boats originally designed to maintain the ‘low cost’ Mini ethos featuring a tighter, dumbed down box rule that even today requires alloy spars and GRP or wood (as opposed to carbon) construction.

Back in the days when we first covered the event, the Protos were the cool boats, sailed either by pro-sailors in the making or often overly creative up-and-coming yacht designers, while the Series boats were campaigned by the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, ie amateurs taking time off from ‘real life’ jobs. Since then, mostly due to the effects of a severe global recession and costs of building and maintaining new Proto Minis going through the roof, the landscape has changed. We are still trying to define the demographic that sails Protos today, although we are pleased to report that it is returning as the hot bed of innovation (albeit in an alarming way – read on) while the Series fleet is attracting more and more ‘pro’ sailors, especially as there are now several new designs which are substantially cheaper than Protos but have contemporary features and are only slightly less quick.

No more Doldrums

The course for the Mini Transat has also frequently changed over the years, running to the Caribbean until 1999, then from La Rochelle to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil during the Grand Pavois tenure from 2001 until 2011. For this year’s race and the last, the course is back to the Caribbean, from Douarnenez to the Route du Rhum finish port of Pointe a Pitre, Guadeloupe. While the course to Brazil took the boats across the tradewinds and the Doldrums, then into the southeasterly trades of the south Atlantic, the present course to the Caribbean should be more of a ‘wind up the chuff’ blast down the tradewinds towards Guadeloupe. In fact this is a profound change on the expected weather with less reaching and more running anticipated, and might in theory favour less stable boats.

Otherwise the challenge of the Mini Transat remains the same as it always has, and still a unique one even among other singlehanded offshore races. Yes, the race presents the normal intense challenges for the individual of sleep deprivation and of each skipper having to be self-sufficient and 'complete', good at everything on board, including problem solving. This is relevant to every singlehanded offshore race from the Vendee Globe down. But the Mini is the only event (we can think of) where skippers are not allowed any two way communications other than VHF (there’s no HF radio - only an HF receiver for receiving forecasts - and definitely no satcoms). For many of the skippers, and in particular the non-French speakers unable to be part of the VHF net, this means the longest period in their lives when they will go without communicating with another human being (when was the last time you went for day, a waking hour even, without communicating with someone?): Solitary confinement in the least confined place on earth, is a severe psychological test.

International entry

Classe Mini also should be proud. While the hunger to enter isn’t as intense as it was 10-15 years ago when there were regularly 120-130 skippers gunning to get one of the 70-80 places on the start line and a soul-destroying entry list, the Mini is by far the most cosmopolitan of all the French shorthanded racing classes. In this year’s race 39 of the 72 entries are French, the rest from 14 other countries as far afield as Katrina Ham from Australia, one armed Xu Jingkun from China (who deserves a medal for just getting here…) and the Mini Transat’s first Russian in the charismatic Yury Firsov (see our video).

This year Spain has eclipsed Italy as the nation fielding the largest number of competitors who aren't French, this year with seven to Italy’s six. Among them is America’s Cup navigator Nacho Postigo, who is campaigning the newest boat in the ‘Spanish armada’, a Marc Lombard-designed ARGO 6.50, Vamos Vamos.

Brits number just three this year with sadly the promising Toby Iles and Becky Scott not making it. So the line-up is Nikki Curwen, Lizzy Foreman and Anglo-French entry Luke Berry.

Nikki Curwen, 27, is a second generation Mini sailor, her father Simon still having had the highest ever Mini Transat result of anyone from the north side of the English Channel, when he finished second overall in 2001. She is racing in the Proto class aboard Go Ape! Live Life Adventurously, originally a ‘pure’ Mini having been designed, built and then sailed by Remi Fermin in the last two Mini Transats, coming home third in 2013.

Conversely, Lizzy Foreman, 25 is competing in the Series class on the Pogo 2 Hudson Wight which was sailed to 20th in the last Mini Transat by Florian Mausy. For the race she has fitted her boat with a new mast, electronics, rigging, ropes, rudder brackets, hardware, fresh antifouling. “Anything at risk of breaking has been replaced (the boat is over 10 years old now and has done two Transats)," she says.

Luke Berry, 29 was born and spent the first five years of his life in the UK before his family moved to France. He only took up yacht racing in a major way when he was doing his MA in naval architecture at Southampton University. His boat, Association Reves, is the Etienne Bertrand design campaigned originally by German skipper Jorge Reichers who sailed her to fifth place in the 2011 Mini Transat.


A painful memory for both the race organisers and Classe Mini was the start of the 2013 race, which was initially scheduled to leave Douarnanez on 13 October, but was delayed and when it was restarted the first leg was stopped midway across the Bay of Biscay due to the severe forecast. Competing boats were forced to put into ports around the northwest corner of Spain, where they had to ride out the weather before finally congregating in Sada (near La Coruna) where they only left on 12 November.

To prevent a repeat of what will go down as one of the most unfortunate starts in offshore racing history, this time the start of Mini Transat has returned to September – a month earlier than in 2013. But while the first boats could reach the stopover port of Marine Lanzarote in Arrecife in just over one week from now, to prevent the race’s Atlantic crossing happening too early (which might coincide with hurricane season), competitors are having to stay in Lanzarote for more than one month before leg two starts on 31 October. Nacho Postigo plans to shoehorn in the Rolex Middle Sea Race in his month off aboard the Italian TP52 B2.

Inevitably of course after all these contingencies the weather for today’s start is benign with high pressure encroaching on to the race course before the first front rolls through sometime on Monday. So after last year’s shenanigans, this time there’s no delay, and at present no prospect of the fleet getting pasted en route to or around Cape Finisterre. Perhaps moving the start of leg one forward by one month has been a success, although saying this, the Prologue, scheduled for last weekend had to be cancelled due to the inclement weather which has since continued throughout this week, with some severe weather pounding western France especially on Tuesday night. So if the start had been one week earlier…

According to Nacho Postigo, the first part of this leg will be in light and changeable winds and the tactics will be dependent upon when the first front is supposed to arrive on the scene as the European and US models are currently conflicting – European says earlier than the US GFS model. And this affects the routing, routing for the former sending boats off west to meet the front, the latter sending boats south in the available northeast flow.

“By Tuesday we should be at Finistere,” crystal balls Postigo. “Then all the way we should be downwind to the Canaries in 14-25 knots, gybing and deciding upon if you play the shore or go offshore. Honestly it looks like a dream knowing the reputation of this corner of the world. Then hopefully it will be downwind all the way to the Caribbean!”

Still, it’s early days yet.

Fleet – new boats and form

The size of the fleet is smaller this year with 72 boats compared to the 84 that competed in 2013, however Classe Mini President, two time competitor Renaud Mary, maintains that such a decline is usual after a ‘difficult’ race, which 2013 undeniably was.

Of the 72 this year, 26 are Protos and 46 are Series boats (this compares to 2013 when there were 31 Protos and 53 Series boats).

In the Proto fleet the big news remains the bathtub-shaped but highly effective scows as pioneered by David Raison (another Mini purist, as we defined earlier), whose fat-fronted Magnum design, he sailed to victory in the 2011 Mini Transat as TeamWork Evolution. While this boat came second in 2013 as Giancarlo Pedote’s Prysmian, she was generally felt to be the faster boat compared to Benoit Marie’s 2007 generation Finot-Conq (racing this year as Ludivic Mechin’s Microvitae –TeamWork/Prysmian isn’t entered).

The Raison scows this year are being solely represented by Davy Beaudart’s Flexirub, Beaudart (above) being one of the longest serving present members in the class with an eight year tenure during which he finished fifth in the 2011 Mini Transat. This year with his updated Magnum design that now features chines, he has won the Mini Fastnet, Trophee MAP, Pornichet Select and Lorient Bretagne Sud Mini – and in short is favourite for Proto honours this year.

However Flexirub is a relatively conservative design compared to Swiss sailor Simon Koster’s Eight Cube, which has been penned by Michel Desjoyeaux’s design company Mer Forte. Yes, it is another scow, but with a different bow shape that is flat fronted but with a shallower forefoot. However most importantly it has foils to provide vertical lift. The Mini rule places no limit on the number of appendages as the IMOCA class does, however, unlike the IMOCA 60s, Minis do have to abide by a strict maximum beam measurement and so cannot have a hull that is maximum beam and foils that further protrude laterally from it.

Instead the boards on Eight Cube pass through the hull close to the vertical and have a long tip on their end that points towards the centre of the boat, roughly following the turn of the hull. To compliment this there are of course T-foil rudders. To make sure that Koster never experiences a moment of inactivity, the rake angle of the foils can be altered. The keel of course cants, but on its own this would be WAY too boring – it also cleverly extends as it cants to make full use of the Mini rules’ maximum draft limit. And this is not all – the angle of incidence of the keel foil can be altered so that when the keel is canted the foil can provide lift.

We’ll write more on this in due course but Koster, who finished third in the Series class in 2013, has been a little rushed to make it to the start line, let alone having had time to discover, let’s say, the finer points of his yacht.

The newest boat in the fleet is Calbud, sailed by Polish sailor Radoslaw Kowalczyk to a design by Etienne Bertrand which is the prototype for a future Series boat Bertrand has planned.

The other favourite in the Proto class is that of one of Thomas Coville’s ‘Sodeboys’, Fred Denis, in fact more usually boat captain of Coville’s maxi-trimarans. Denis’ Lombard-designed Nautipark (above) was campaigned by race favourite Gwenole Gahinet in the 2013 race when it unfortunately lost its keel and was abandoned. The boat was subsequently recovered and acquired by Denis who repaired her and has since sailed her repeatedly to second place in the Trophee MAP, then the Pornichet Select, then the Transgascogne and also the Mini Fastnet, a consistency that sees him top the Classe Mini’s Proto leaderboard going into the Mini Transat.

Also consistent is Axel Trehin on board Aleph Racing. This 2008 generation Lombard design was penned mainly by Lombard’s Henry-Paul Schipman (read about this boa when she was new here), who also built and sailed this boat (ie a proper Mini sailor) and was subsequently developed into the ARGO Series class boat. In between the boat was campaigned by American Jeffrey Macfarlane but dismasted in the Bay of Biscay and, like Nautipark, was a ‘repair job’ for her current owner. This year Terhin has won the Transgascoigne, finished third in the Mini Fastnet and Mini en Mai and was fourth in the Trophee MAP, and as a result is currently second in the Classe Mini Proto championship for this year.


Series class boats are supposed to be the low cost, dumbed-down version of Protos. As a result its max mast height is 11m, compared to the Proto’s 12m, its max draft is 1.6m to the Proto’s 2m, exotic construction is prohibited throughout the boat, so hulls are typically glass and spars alloy, whereas in the Protos they are carbon fibre throughout.

As of the beginning of this year, the ‘approved’ Series boats were the Pogo 1, Pogo 2, Zéro, Super Câlin, Tip-Top, Naus, Dingo, Ginto, Dingo 2, Mistral, Nacira, Argo 6.50, RG 6.50. Since then added to the list have been the Guillaume Verdier designed Pogo 3 and the Etienne Bertrand-penned Ofcet 6.50.

Looking at the boats competing this year that have been built since the last race, there are three Protos, but ten Series boats, providing some indication as to the relative popularity of each class. The 10 series boats comprise three ARGOs, four Pogo 3s and three Ofcets. The latter two designs have followed the scow route, not scows but both having substantial buoyancy in their bows and, in the case of the Pogo, a chine and even some degree of tumblehome (ie forward of the mast it is fatter at the chine than at the deck). The Ofcet has a similarly massive chine and an additional wedge above it that runs the length of the boat half way up the topsides (in our video we wrongly described it as a double chine...)

While the Naciras cleaned up in the Series class in 2013, this year it looks most likely to be one of the new designs – the question is ‘which one’? On paper Tanguy le Turquais sailing an ARGO (above) is favourite having won the Pornichet Select, the Trophee MAP and podiuming in the Mini en Mai and the Transgascogne. This put him atop the Series class leaderboard going into the Mini Transat. However le Turquais was beaten in the Transgascogne by both Ian Lipinski and Julien Pulve, both sailing Ofcets. Or will America’s Cup experience prevail and they all get beaten by Spanish dark horse Nacho Postigo?

Anyway the Mini Transat remains one of our favourites in the yachting calendar and we hope they have a good race.

Above: The Pogo 3

Above: The ARGO 6.50

Above: The Ofcet 6.50


PETER PUNK 240 Pilar   PASANAU ESP Lombard 99  
SATANAS 304 Fidel   TURIENZO FUENTE ESP Magnen Nivelt 01 348 Dominik   LENK GER Magnen Nivelt 01  
LEMARINSDESALPES 353 Aymeric   BLIN FRA Finot-Conq 01  
ALLIANZ-SARAY 431 Carlos   LIZANCOS ESP Manuard 03  
GIMMICK 454 Florian   LAKEMAN NED    
HELI STRATEGY 614 Maxime   EVEILLARD FRA Berret-Racoupeau 06 624 Gilles   AVRIL FRA Lombard 06  
ZIGONESHI-WICHARD 629 Olivier   JEHL FRA Rolland 06  
MICROVITAE 667 Ludovic   MECHIN FRA Finot-Conq 06  
ROLL MY CHICKEN 679 Vincent   GRISON FRA Manuard 07  
VOILES DES ANGES 709 Pierre-Marie   BAZIN FRA Lombard 11  
ALEPH RACING 716 Axel   TREHIN FRA Lombard 08  
ASSOCIATION RÊVES 753 Luke   BERRY GBR Bertrand 09  
ONELINESIM.IT 756 Alberto   BONA ITA Manuard 09  
ROPEYE 787 Jaanus   TAMME EST Manuard 10  
ILLUMIA 788 Michele   ZAMBELLI ITA De Beaufort 10  
NAUTIPARK 800 Frédéric   DENIS FRA Lombard 11  
EIGHT CUBE  888 Simon   KOSTER SUI Mer Forte 15  
CALBUD 894 Radoslaw   KOWALCZYK POL Bertrand 15  
SHAMUS SOFTWARE 481 Thomas    DOLAN IRL Pogo 2 Finot 03
CARREFOUR 512 Thomas   GUICHARD FRA Pogo 2 Finot 04
LES ENFANTS DU CANAL 514 Edouard   GOLBERY FRA Pogo 2 Finot 04
FONDATION PLANIOL 523 Roland   VENTURA ITA Pogo 2 Finot 04
CHINA DREAM 529 Xu   JINGKUN CHN Pogo 2 Finot Pogo 04
LPO - Agir pour la biodiversité 549 Henri   LEMENICIER FRA Pogo 2 Finot 05
ZERO & T 556 Federico   CUCIUC ITA Pogo 2 Rolland 05
GWADLOOP !!! 566 Carl   CHIPOTEL FRA Pogo 2 Finot 05
MAP PRODUCT 579 Yann   CLAVERIE FRA Tip-Top Manuard 05
PEPEN 587 Andy   ABEL FRA Pogo 2 Finot Pogo 05
GENERATIONS OCEAN 599 Victor   TURPIN FRA Pogo 2 Finot 05
LONESTAR 613 Jan   HEINZE GER Tip-Top Manuard 06
DOUBLE TROUBLE 623 Frederic   DE MESEL BEL Tip-Top Manuard 06
HUDSON WIGHT 633 Lizzy   FOREMAN GBR Pogo 2 Finot 06
KATRINAHAMRACING.COM 635 Katrina   HAM AUS Pogo 2 Finot 06
A CHACUN SON EVEREST ! 641 Sylvain   MICHELET FRA Tip-Top Manuard 06
PEOR PARA EL SOL 657 Guillermo   CAÑARDO ESP Pogo 2 Finot 06
COEUR FIDELE 721 Edwin   THIBON FRA Nacira Nacira Design 08
ARKEMA 2 728 Quentin   VLAMYNCK FRA Zero Lombard 08
VELA SOLIDARIA 745 Antonio   FONTES POR Pogo 2 Finot 08
WE VAN 755 Armand   DE JACQUELOT FRA Nacira Nacira Design 09
TEAMSOLO.NL 758 Dimitri   SIMONS NED    
NETWERK 821 Jonas   GERCKENS BEL Nacira Nacira Design 11
NESCENS 824 Patrick   GIROD SUI Nacira Nacira Design12
DU LEMAN A L'OCEAN 832 Arnaud   MACHADO FRA Nacira Nacira Design 12
TERREAL 835 Tanguy   LE TURQUAIS FRA Argo 650 Lombard 12
IXINA VOILERIE HSD 836 Hervé   AUBRY FRA Argo 650 Lombard 12
MAGNUM SPORT 838 Yury   FIRSOV RUS RG 650 RG 650 12
SIDERAL 857 Andrea   FORNARO ITA Argo 650 Lombard 12
IPARBELTZ 858 Aitor   OCERIN ESP Argo 650 Lombard 14
VAMOS VAMOS 860 Nacho   POSTIGO ESP Argo 650 Lombard 14
ENTREPRISE(S) INNOVANTE(S) 866 Ian   LIPINSKI FRA Ofcet 650 Bertrand 14
ALTERNATIVE SAILING 868 Olivier   TAILLARD FRA Pogo 3 Verdier 14
LE FAUFFIFFON HENAFF 869 Charly   FERNBACH FRA Pogo 3 Verdier 14
TOUS AU LARGE 879 Mathieu   BOURDAIS FRA Ofcet 650  
NOVINTISS 880 Julien   PULVE FRA Ofcet 650 Bertrand 15
PEGASO ITALIAN NAVY  883 Andrea   PENDIBENE ITA Pogo 3 Verdier 15


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