The first leg of the Mini Transat EuroChef was launched this Monday 27 September at 15:30 hours local time in France. Propelled along by a NW’ly breeze of between 16 and 20 knots, the 90 competitors set sail from Les Sables d’Olonne bound for Santa Cruz de La Palma, with a total of 1,350 miles to negotiate and almost as many obstacles to overcome. Those which will punctuate their passage across the Bay of Biscay specifically are forecast to be relatively complicated and might well have a decisive impact on the next stage of the race. As a result, to hook up with the leading group, the sailors will need to quickly find their sea legs and get into the right groove and, most of all, they’ll have to be nicely in phase with the elements so as to avoid amassing a deficit before the passage around Cape Finisterre. This same headland is where the front runners have a chance of linking onto a big downwind schuss, while their pursuers may well have to deal with rather more uncertain conditions.
The stresses of the big day were certainly palpable yesterday morning on the Vendée Globe pontoon. “We all made an appointment for the start some two years now. This is it, crunch time! We’re getting to the heart of the matter now and it’s quite something. I don’t really know what that is. The crowds, the noise, the encouragement… It’s a rush of emotions. In concrete terms, it’s the start of an epic and wonderful human adventure. We’ve all put a massive amount of time into preparing for the race, but the only thing we haven’t been able to do is to deal with the emotion of the start. One thing for sure is that we’re all raring to get going!” commented Basile Bourgnon (975 – Edenred), shortly before casting off. This sentiment is shared by Léo Debiesse (966 – Les Alphas). “There’s excitement in the air and a little bit of apprehension too, but on a personal level I feel confident all in all. The boat is ready and the navigation has been studied. I know where I’m going. I have a very clear plan in my head. Right now, we’re going to need to find our sea legs and get into race mode as quickly as possible”, explained the sailor from the Cévennes in south central France. In fact, the first 72 hours of the race are set to be fairly crucial with, in chronological order, an easing of the breeze this evening, a key turn to position correctly tonight at the edge of a ridge of high pressure to avoid becoming becalmed, the passage of a front to negotiate on Tuesday night through into Wednesday, and then a wind shift to hunt down to thread their way along as smoothly as possible between Cape Finisterre and the eponymous TSS (Traffic Separation System).
A crucial Bay of Biscay passage
“The negotiation of the Bay of Biscay promises to be quite complicated in terms of strategy. We’re going to have to nail the timing of our manoeuvres and be quick at it. We’re clearly going to have little time to rest until we round the north-west tip of Galicia, but it’s going to be an interesting ride. The match is going to be intriguing and above all wide open. That’s particularly true after the latitude of Vigo, where two different scenarios are possible today. The first might enable us to link onto a run down to the Canaries at quite a lick. The second could be a little more laborious, with a great deal of uncertainty colouring play. As a result, we’ll have to be on the pace from the get-go and not dawdle on our way to Cape Finisterre”, indicated Pierre Le Roy (1019 – TeamWork), one of the firm favourites of this 23rd edition in the prototype category. Avoiding stuffing up the introduction is clearly the mantra shared by all 90 of the solo sailors, as Tanguy Bouroullec (969 – Tollec MP/Pogo) confirmed: “Managing to exit Biscay quickly is definitely a key point in this first leg because after Cape Finisterre, the front runners are likely to steal a march on the rest of the fleet. However, it won’t be that easy to play the game well. It’ll be essential to be cautious as the front scheduled for Tuesday night rolls through. The latter is likely to be pretty meaty, with upwind conditions gusting to 30 knots, especially as it’s accompanied by heavy seas. We’re going to have to be careful not to break anything”.
Avoiding amassing too much of a deficit
Though striking the right balance between ‘material preservation’ and ‘speed’ at the appropriate times will, as ever, be one of the keys to success in this Mini Transat EuroChef, setting the right tempo will also be vital. “Setting the pace at the right time is the clear instruction I’ve given myself this year. That was what was lacking for me two years ago”, says Fabio Muzzolini (945 – Tartine sans Beurre), 6th in 2019, who is well aware of the need to be in phase with the elements and to take siestas at the most beneficial moments. “If small gaps open up before the Cape Finisterre TSS, it’s highly likely that they’ll widen dramatically in the Portuguese trade wind. We’re going to have to be up there in the leading pack”, added the Franco-Italian sailor, who has already nailed his start, rounding the windward mark in second place behind Irina Gracheva (800 – Path) in the prototype category. “The Mini Transat is a race against time. Beyond the ranking, which will have a part to play, the key is to arrive in the Canaries with little or no time deficit. We know that winning the first leg is never enough to win the event, however we also know that taking your time can make things complicated further down the line”, pointed out Léo Débiesse, who is currently in hot pursuit of the trio made up of Brieuc Lebec (914 – Velotrade) - Lennart Burke (943 – Vorpommern) – Julie Simon (963 – Dynamips), which has posted a fantastic performance to start the race. A race whose denouement is currently expected to unfold on Sunday night through into Monday for the front runners.
Gauthier Verdon (879 – TGS France): “I feel a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I’m very happy to be setting sail because for my part it’s the culmination of two years’ preparation. I think this leg will be an interesting way to get into the transatlantic mindset. The first leg equates to ten days’ navigation. That much I know. However, I’m not familiar with the Canaries. I’m going to be careful not to break anything and to sail a clean course”.
Lucas Valenza-Troubat (606 – Six Saucisses): “I’m a bit tense. That’s in my nature but I’m doing the best I can. I know things will feel better a couple of hours after the start, once I’ve got into the swing of the race. The different routing options aren’t very in line with one another with regards to the timing of the two fronts rolling through. Everything will be shaped by the first few nights. I’m going to try to sail a clean race, have some fun and avoid breaking anything to make the finish in the Canaries”.
Arno Biston (551 – Bahia Express): “I’m so looking forward to heading off, but at the same time I have mixed feelings about the start. It’s going to be nice for our nearest and dearest, but on the other side of that, I’m eager to be off Portugal already. I have a pretty good handle on the first leg. I think it’s going to be nice. It’s boat-breaking, because there are short seas, but that shouldn’t last too long. We’ll be close-hauled so there’s little chance of us making mistakes if the boat is well prepared. I’m not overly scared by it”.
Antoine Bos (825 – Rhino): “I’m tense but also focused and confident. I’m ready, the boat’s ready, there’s nothing more to do. I got some rest yesterday. We had a weather briefing and then I prepared my salads for the first two days. I’m trying not to think too much about how things are going to play out after that, otherwise I’ll get myself tied up in knots. I’m beginning to flip out, telling myself that it’s going to be this way or that. We’ll set sail, spend the first night at sea and then we’ll see where we stand. If we can slip along nicely from Cape Finisterre as far as the Canaries, I’ll have some of that!”
Romain Bigot (802 – Impulso): “I’m a bit stressed out. The first weather briefing was a bit of a reality check. There are still some elements which are a bit vague, but all in all, we have a rough idea of how things will start off so that’s fairly reassuring. Start day is always emotional. It’s a big adrenalin rush. Despite the delay, I still have a few mates, my parents and my youngest sister who have stayed on here. It’s going to be boisterous at the very start and then conditions are set to abate. It’s a fairly good thing to have it this way round given that you’re in the best shape after the start. It will enable us to find our sea legs for the second or third night when we’ll have meatier conditions. I’m not too frightened by it. I don’t really have a precise objective, it’s more about finding my bearings on the boat. It’s my first transatlantic passage so we’re not going to go out all guns blazing. What really counts is making it to the Canaries”.
Colombine Blondet (759 – DareWomen): “I really don’t like being close-hauled in 30 knots. It’s really not my bag at all, but it’ll be alright. Things should calm down after Cape Finisterre, which is bound to make the situation more pleasant. My aim is to make the finish in the Canaries and above all to make it to Guadeloupe without breaking everything”.
Nicolas Cousi (533 – Telerys Communication): “I feel a bit stressed, even though I’m relatively confident about the way the boat’s been prepared. We know what we’re getting in terms of the weather. It’s down to me not to do anything stupid and to set off as fast as possible so I don’t get left behind by my other little playmates. My objective is to avoid falling off the pace because the weather is a little uncertain and it’ll be important not to miss the metaphorical boat. I really love these types of conditions as the sailor can’t really make a big difference, which means you can eat and sleep more easily”.
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Live coverage of the start on Facebook, YouTube from 14:30 hours
With less than 24 hours to go until the start of the first leg of the 23rd edition of the Mini Transat EuroChef, the 90 competing sailors are champing at the bit to head out to sea and do battle after two intense years of preparation. The excitement is palpable on the Vendée Globe pontoon, as is the pre-race stress. Now more than ever, the time is ripe for analysing the grib files to refine strategies, particularly with regards the passage across the Bay of Biscay, which is shaping up to be tricky, with the leaders likely to steal a march on the rest of the fleet from the first few days out on the racetrack.
After initially being delayed for 24 hours due to difficult weather conditions, the start of the first leg of the 23rd edition of the Mini Transat EuroChef will kick off on Monday 27 September at 15:00 hours local time, which is one hour later than first announced. In fact, the passage of a front offshore of the Coast of Light in the early morning has prompted the organisers to push the docking out time back an hour to ensure that the skippers start the race in the best possible conditions. “The competitors will set sail in a NW’ly breeze of 18-25 knots.
The wind will gradually ease over the course of the afternoon, stabilising to around 15 knots in the evening. In this way, they’ll cast off from Les Sables d’Olonne in good conditions”, explains Christian Dumard, the race meteorologist. However, very soon, the sailors will be confronted by the first complications. “The passage across the Bay of Biscay isn’t forecast to be that simple. The competitors will have to negotiate a front on Tuesday night through into Wednesday. This will generate boisterous conditions, with 35 knots of SW’ly wind on chaotic seas. It certainly won’t be very comfortable. Next up, the Mini sailors will have to hunt down a wind shift to the north-west to drop southwards and then thread their way along a small corridor along the Spanish coast, between Cape Ortegal and Cape Finisterre”, explains Christian.
The addition of a virtual gate just in case…
On the menu for the first few miles of this first act are a series of transition phases, upwind conditions and a sustained breeze, with sea conditions that are sure to turn some of the skippers’ stomachs as far as the latitude of Vigo, before they can launch onto a big downwind schuss where they will have to be on top of their trimming and try to get their boats nicely balanced to avoid careering off the racetrack. “According to the latest models, it’s likely that the front runners will benefit from trade wind all the way to the finish in La Palma. For those further back, things are a lot more uncertain however,” stresses the consultant.
The finish may also stir up some doubt too. The reason for this is that for several days, the Cumbre Veija volcano has been in an eruptive phase on the island of La Palma. To date, the stopover in Saint-Cruz has been maintained, but the organisers of this 23rd Mini Transat EuroChef, in daily contact with the local authorities and the experts from the Pevolcan (Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan), are naturally in a position where they must envisage some potential plan Bs. “Right now, the situation is adhering to the classic phases, which means that the stopover in La Palma can go ahead as planned. However, we are in discussions with the local authorities to set out some possible backup ports and, above all, we’ve put in place a virtual gate positioned 80 miles (around 150 km) to the north of the Spanish archipelago, not far from the Selvagens Islands. In the event of a deterioration in the situation on site, the latter is aimed at diverting the competitors, with the focus on ensuring we are in a position to draw up a ranking and then validate this first leg”, assures Marc Chopin, President of Korrigan, the company responsible for organising the race.
Quotes from the boats:
Thomas de Dinechin (909 – Pierrite – Adameo): “I arrived here ten days ago with my boat ready to go. As such, I’ve managed to make the most of the village and calmly prepare for the start. This morning, the briefing for the first leg really got us into the mix. I felt under pressure for the first time this week. I really became aware then that we’re setting sail tomorrow. The pressure has picked up a bit since. We’re eager for crunch time, to cross the line and finally be where we’ve wanted to be for the past two years. It’s fantastic. I think the pressure will subside once we’ve set off. I feel a little tense but positive. We’re trying to stay relaxed, to look in depth at the weather, to really get a feel for the situation and to sleep well so as to charge our batteries”.
Victor d’Ersu (985 – Babouchka): “I’m keen to get going. The pressure’s gradually beginning to rise. We’re beginning to check the weather. Inevitably, that gets you into the swing of the race a bit. Things looks fairly meaty along the coast of Portugal. I rather like boisterous conditions. I’m eager to get to Cape Finisterre. That section’s going to be the most complicated. We’re going to have to manage to extract ourselves from a zone of light airs in the middle of the Bay of Biscay. The goal will be to exit the area with the leading group. Next, the descent is something I generally like and things should go well. I’m going to try to position myself well, continue to work and keep up a good rhythm so that I can hopefully secure a good result at the end”.
Camille Bertel (900 – Cap Ingelec): “I really feel like I’m ready. I’m keen to take the start, to dock out and to rediscover the sea. The boat is ready to go and so am I. We need to leave, now. I think the passage around Cape Finisterre will be a bit complicated. We’ll need to manage it well and get there in good shape. Once that’s behind us, it will be a direct course and that will be champagne sailing”.
Piers Copham (719 – Voiles des Anges): “The Mini is a 20-year-old dream for me. I have some apprehension, but it’s an absolute delight to be at the start. It’s so much fun to sail on a boat like this. You have to always respect the sea. If you believe you can control it, you’ve already lost. I grew up in Scotland where the wind is very strong, so boisterous conditions don’t scare me. I’ve already sailed in 90 knots. My primary goal is to finish the race, as well as to really enjoy myself and learn how I need to sail. The boat is absolutely perfect, it’s the skipper that’s the problem! She’s posted some solid results in the hands of Nicolas Boidevezi so I wouldn’t want to ruin her reputation!”
Chloé Le Bars (1007 – Association MJ pour l’Enfance): “I think my boat is pretty much ready to go. I’ve got myself into a mindset where I’m setting sail and I’m ready. There’s bound to be a bit of stress too as all this is new to me, but I’m fairly confident, at least in the way the boat and I are prepared. We’ll see what happens. I’m well versed in strong breeze so I hope things will come good”.
Carlos Olsson-Rippoll (691 – Bridgetothesea): “My goal is to do my best and work hard every day. I think that if I can avoid breaking too much, I may be in the top three in my category. The weather is forecast to be complicated in the Bay of Biscay, but it’s the same scenario every September and everyone’s in the same boat. After Cape Finisterre, we’ll make very fast headway. You have to encounter some difficulties to feel satisfied afterwards!”
Louis Mayaud (916 – Youkounkoun): “The stress hit me on Saturday morning whilst preparing the roadbook and the weather. With 24 hours until the start, I admit that it’s beginning to bite a little. Seeing all these people on the dock and in the village slowly but surely ramps up the pressure. We’re really going to cop it, but it’s going to be good. I’m itching to get going. There’s a lot of excitement as well as some good stress. That’s a positive thing. We’re going to set off upwind and then quickly switch onto a reach to dive down towards La Coruna. Next, we’ll hoist the spinnaker and drop down towards the Canaries at full pelt. We’re expecting to have 48 slightly hairy hours offshore of Portugal, but the benefit of that is that in the grand scheme of things we’re set for a quick first leg.”
Brieuc Lebec (914 – Velotrade): “With 24 hours to go, I feel quietly confident. Once we’ve refined the weather situation a little more, it’ll be plain sailing of sorts. The exit from Biscay will be a bit tricky. We’ll need to play around with the ridges of high pressure but once we make Cape Finisterre it’ll be almost like a magic carpet ride to the finish. It will be long and full-on though, and wet too for those of us on a Pogo 3. I think it will be simple as we’ll need to be on top of our game the whole time and conditions won’t be very comfortable!”