Ours in Mini Transat
Vasily Alekseev recalls how the first stage of the transatlantic race Mini-Transat La Boulangère was held.
Exactly at 10:38 on October 5, a fleet of 87 participants in the transatlantic race crossed the starting line of the first stage of La Rochelle – Gran Canaria and headed for the open ocean.
The launch was originally scheduled for September 22. However, just a few days before the appointed time, it became clear that it would not take place on time: powerful cyclones went one after another over the North Atlantic, dispersing a headwind and a 3-5-meter wave in the Bay of Biscay. Therefore, on the appointed day, only a solemn parade was held – seeing off the participants, after which the athletes went through a 36-mile prologue race and returned to the port.
For our participants, this break was very useful. The fact is that during the prologue, Fedor Druzhinin's yacht received damage as a result of the collision, and these days were used to repair. And Irina Gracheva just used this unexpected vacation for a good rest before a long race.
Mini-Transat is traditionally a French race; the French make up the vast majority of participants. However, among athletes there are representatives of most European countries. The farthest way to participate in the race was made by the Japanese Masa Suzuki from Tokyo. For the second time, Russian athletes participate in Mini-Transat, the first was Yuri Firsov in 2015. Before the start of the race, Irina Gracheva took the tenth place in the rating list of all Mini 6.50 class riders. There are no prizes or a prize fund in the regatta; the race itself is not considered by athletes as “a contest for the sake of victory”. Its completion itself is already considered as a personal or even a national achievement.
Finally, on October 2, it was announced that the start was scheduled for the fifth. On the eve of the last briefing for skippers, and early in the morning, at dusk, the yachts one after another reached the sea.
From the very start, the yachts went against a weak, gradually increasing southwest wind. Almost all riders, including both of our athletes, pulled a long tack into the ocean with the expectation of grabbing the tail of a cyclone leaving to the north and getting a fresh north-west wind. Only a few athletes decided to turn south in the afternoon, by the shortest route towards Spain. They managed to take the lead for a very short time, but the nightly U-turn on the wind put everything in its place.
Irina Gracheva very well, in the top ten, left the start, but then began to lag behind. After a day of the race, when the yachts covered the first hundred miles, she sank to the top ten and lagged behind the leader by 20 miles. Until now, the weak wind has been Ira’s strong point, and such a quick lag caused alarm – hasn’t something happened? After the finish, Irina said that the first two days were very physically difficult due to the sharp rolling and constant blows of the boat on the wave at a speed of 6 knots in the oncoming wave, and perhaps this was reflected in speed. However, this did not affect the fighting mood – after turning to the right tack, she again began to catch up with rivals – despite the fact that there were new and faster yachts around her.
At the start of the race in the Proto division, Axel Treant (945) took the lead, followed by Francois Jambo (865). Fyodor Druzhinin walked at the beginning of the second ten, losing about 30 miles to the leader.
The yachts participating in the race are divided into two divisions – Proto and Series. Proto division’s yachts are today one of the testing grounds for testing new design ideas; they allow the use of high-strength materials, swinging keels, rotary bowsprites, hydrofoils and other design solutions aimed at obtaining high speed. Serial division yachts are much more conservative. As a result, yachts of the Proto division are on average 7-8% faster than serial boats. Russian athletes this time perform in both divisions – Proto (Fedor Druzhinin) and Serie (Irina Gracheva).
In the serial fleet, Ambrogio Beccaria, well known to all the "ministers", on the Geomage (943), was in the lead, but the fleet was very tight – 15 yachts were less than 10 miles behind Beccaria, and the entire fleet was less than 50 miles. Ira Gracheva held steady in the middle of the fleet, about 25 miles behind the leader by the evening of October 7.
At night or in the morning of October 8, a small front was supposed to approach the Bay of Biscay with a low pressure hollow extended from SW to NE, after which the wind should have sharply turned from southeast to northwest and become fair. Along the coast of Spain was to form a strong stream of tailwind north wind. The yachts that would be the first to catch this gain would inevitably have to go ahead and it would be almost impossible to catch them. Therefore, the night from Monday to Tuesday and Tuesday morning should have been decisive for the first stage of the race, and the athletes were well aware of this.
As expected, this front covered leaders at the end of the night and outsiders on the morning of October 8th. The wind turned sharply on the NW, and the yachts that went farthest to the northwest immediately gained an advantage. The entire fleet made a turn to the right tack and headed south with a constantly increasing tailwind and a three-meter wave. The riders had a choice: how to bypass the traffic separation zone (DST) – from the west or between DST and the coast? In the coastal zone, the road is shorter, and the forecast gave a stronger wind just off the coast, but the uneven wind and heavy traffic in the coastal zone required constant attention.
Fedor Druzhinin passed Cape Finisterre 13th, Irina Gracheva – 27th. Both were 60 miles behind their group leaders.
The first losses also appeared. On Monday afternoon at about 2 p.m., the organizers announced that Joe Lacy (868) was temporarily out of the race and heading for the port of Gijon in northern Spain to repair the energy system. Mini-Transat rules allow a temporary exit from the race, but the stopping time must be at least 12 and no more than 72 hours.
On the evening of October 8, Jonathan Khodkevich (958) had problems, who also left the race due to problems with the energy and spinning of Genoa and left for La Coruna. As it became clear later, Khodkevich failed to cope with the problems, and he finally left the race.
On October 9, in the morning, Jean-Baptist Ternon (880) and David Kremer (260) left the race, who had a transom broken off, because of which he was forced to leave for repair to Bayonne. Kremer later managed, thanks to the help of friends, to raise the boat ashore, repair the transom, and again go to sea. But Ternon was forced to leave the race completely. Small yachts had small problems, but in most cases the riders coped with them on their own.
On October 9–10, all yachts marched at great speed under the spinnakers, gradually leaving for the ocean. Only a few yachts went along the Spanish coast; among them is the Czech Pavel Rubal (908), who made the organizers worry; at night from October 9 to 10, he flew at high speed at something, as a result of which the transom of the yacht was ripped out. It was not possible to cope with the flow of water, Paul was forced to give a distress signal. Two hours later, he was removed from the yacht by helicopter, the yacht had to be abandoned.
The frantic leap lasted about two days; on Thursday the wind began to weaken and on Friday, October 11, fell to “normal” 10-15 knots. On the morning of October 12, race leaders approached the “threshold” of the Canary Islands. However, the high-pressure ridge, located just above the archipelago, and forming an extensive zone of weak unstable winds stretching along the African coast almost from Gibraltar to the Canary Islands, made overcoming this threshold difficult.
By the evening of October 12, almost the entire fleet was lined up in dense formation towards the south along the general course. Given that by the evening of Sunday a small front with a fresh north wind should have come up, “compression” was expected at the finish of the athletes, and the results in the bulk of the fleet could change significantly. If in the “proto” Francois Jambo (865) had a decent “laying” 30 miles before the second Tanguy Bouruye, then Ambrosio Beccaria and Felix de Navasel went almost right in the “series”. Our athletes, on their way to the Canaries, improved their positions a little: Fedor Druzhinin walked 10th behind the leader a little less than 200 miles; Ira Gracheva – in 27th place in the main group, but kept a little to the west of the fleet, apparently counting on the strengthening of the wind from the west (according to the forecast, the wind should have come from there first).
In the Mini-Transat race, electronic cards and plotter cards, weather information systems, cellular and satellite phones, and any other means of communication with the shore are prohibited. Allowed only auto steering and 15-watt VHF radio station for emergency cases. Such a restriction excludes yachtsmen from receiving “external” weather information and makes them rely on weather forecasts and personal experience on weather forecasting.
Unfortunately, losses continued. On October 12, the organizers reported that Jan Blondel had dropped out of the race, who had gone to Leicesjoes (Portugal) the day before to eliminate numerous technical problems (broken tiller, autopilot and energy problems). It turned out that it was not possible to solve all the problems in the allotted time, and Blondel decided to leave the race. He became the fourth athlete to leave the race after Pavel Rubal, Jonathan Khodkevich and Jean-Baptiste Ternon.
300 miles before the finish, Irina Gracheva also had problems. At high speed under load, the transom reinforcement under the upper shackle of the left rudder exfoliated, and the rudder pushed the transom. Ira managed, without stopping, to make struts from improvised material, but she had to lie for a few hours in the stern under the cockpit, keeping these struts in place while the yacht was sailing 10-node under Code Zero.
The last day, as expected, became a struggle of nerves. The tailwind was replaced by a weak wind, constantly changing direction from tailwind to headwind and vice versa. Jambo spent almost 8 hours on the last 16 miles and completely lost his advantage. Luck turned to Axel Trein, who had come to the finish line, almost 30 miles behind Jumbo. In his first interview after the finish, Axel said that he did not hope for victory, believing that Jambo and Bouruye finished before the wind died. However, approaching the finish line, he caught radio talks, from which he realized that his rivals were still standing next to each other near the finish line. Axel at that moment was to the right, west of the general course, and, fortunately for him, just from here came a gust of wind, on which Axel went around his rivals and finished first at 4:36 Paris time the first with a margin of only six and a half minutes from Jambo. After another 20 minutes, Tanguy Buruye finished.
Soon after, a steady northerly wind came, and no further surprises occurred. The first in the serial fleet to finish Ambrosio Beccaria at 6:30, two hours after the winner of the “proto”. Felix de Navasel arrived 1 hour 40 minutes after Beccaria, and another hour later – Mathieu Vincent. Fedor Druzhinin finished 10th in the “proto” at 21:00 on October 14, Irina Gracheva – 25th in the “series” at 8:18 on October 15, spending 9 days 21 hours 39 minutes 54 seconds on the race.
Interestingly, nine out of the top ten production yachts are Pogo-3. The only scow in this company – Florian Keno (946) – came only 10th. Of the racers performing on old yachts, the first came Kevin Bloch (Pogo-2, 17th place at the finish), the second – Irina Gracheva (TipTop, 25th place).
Meanwhile, the athletes who came to the Canaries were expected to have a large cultural program, including meetings with local athletes and students. A prologue race is scheduled for October 26, in which the "ministers" will go together with local yachtsmen.
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