Have you heard of the Mini Transat Îles de Guadeloupe? With only 100 days away from the departure date, a study of an “off-shore sailing phenomenon” - Aymeric Belloir
A sailing race that is solo sailed and on which there is no contact with the outside world.
∙ The “Minis” are the smallest off-shore sailing boats with a living surface area of 2m2
∙ A launchpad towards a professional sailing career, so the "old skippers" says
“First, pass your Mini”. In 20 editions of the race, there have been more than 1,200 solo skippers to have passed through this initiation stage, which is an unforgettable experience. Some of them have continued their passion in other Class40 circuits, Figaro, IMOCA or all kinds of multi-hulls. Others have returned to their previous lifestyles. However, they all agree on one point; the Mini Transat changed them. A phenomenal tale.
A solitary journey
On board a Mini, the only link the skippers have with the outside world are the VHF radio. The VHF allows them to communicate with other boats within a restricted perimeter (which, at approximately 20km, is nothing in comparison to the vastness of the Atlantic ocean), as well as a SSB radio set which will allows them, once a day, to access the weather forecast and the rankings, emitted by the race direction.
Someone who has never experienced receiving a weather forecast bulletin in extreme shaking and wet conditions, with the sounds of the waves hitting the hull, the flapping sails and pulleys, can not imagine the difficulty of reading a bulletin on board a Mini. Watch a video from a previous edition experience.
To guarantee the 84 sailors safety, there will be seven support boats among the fleet. These boats act as an intermediary between the solo sailors and the land. The sailors will benefit from the strong support of the PSP Cormoran of the Navy.
Above all, when taking part in the Mini Transat Îles de Guadeloupe, you can be almost certain that during three, sometimes even four or five days, you will be completely cut off from the world especially when the fleet will spread across the Atlantic. Everyone says it: it is a real psychological stage that sailors has to overcome to earn their stripes. Many admit: there was definitely more than one skipper who had a breakdown before regaining their spirits…
Sail your little race cars
Small boats means small problems…On board a Mini, there are very little technical problems one would not know how to resolve, but the size of the boat means that there is permanent discomfort and greater vulnerability especially when faced with difficult weather conditions. Someone only has to observe the skippers at the finish line of a trans-Atlantic crossing to understand what the solo-sailors have to endure. No comfortable mattress but a rolled-up duvet in a corner of the cabin, no nice meals but invigorating food swallowed in a rush and no real rest in almost constant humidity.
However, sometimes the conditions come together for sailors to go straight to paradise. When the sun comes out to shine, the gentle downwind and the waves are calm, the hull of the Minis glide and hurtle down thorough the extremely high surf. It is for these priceless moments that a huge number of skippers return two years later; to undertake again the adventure of the Mini Transat Îles de Guadeloupe.
A front door opens
The list of “big shots” in off-shore sailing who have been through the Mini Class goes on and on. Ever since the very first editions, we can find big names of the competition such as Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, or Bruno Peyron. We can even name some of the Vendée Globe regulars such as Roland Jourdain, Yves Parlier or Bernard Stamm for whom the Mini Transat was a sort of initiation process.
Others have come to seek a different type of adventure, such as Michel Desjoyeaux or Sebastien Josse. A number of women have found, in the practice of the Mini, a space tailored for them which has marked the beginning of an incredible career. These include Isabelle Autissier, Sam Davies, Ellen Mac Arthur and Isabelle Joschke. So, who knows? Maybe amongst the candidates of the Mini Transat Îles de Guadeloupe 2015, a future off-shore sailing legend is hiding.
Bernard Stamm, winner of the Barcelona World Race 2012 (Mini Transat 1995, 3rd place): “The Mini Transat was my first experience building my boat. Pierre Rolland, who was at the time still unknown as architect, made the plans for my Mini… Afterwards, we had to build the boat. We did this in a warehouse in Lesconil. You might not believe it, but the process interested me so much I did it again with my first IMOCA.”
Roland Jourdain, two-time winner of the Route du Rhum in 2006 and 2010 (Mini Transat 1983, abandoned) : “This Mini Transat was a condensed version of what a skipper will live throughout his entire career. To be seized with interest for a certain race, finding a boat, looking for a sponsor, taking the start, sinking off the Cap Finisterre before being rescued by a cargo ship… The story almost didn’t end well, because the Spanish customs officers thought I was a drug smuggler and wanted to keep me in prison…”
Charlie Dalin, French Champion of Off-Shore Sailing in 2012, (Mini Transat 2009,2nd series boat) : “It is by doing the Mini Transat that I understood that my vocation was well and truly to become a professional skipper. Once you have had a taste of these sensations, it is impossible to back-pedal.”
Alex Pella, 1st on the Route du Rhum Class 40 (Mini Transat 2003, 2005 and 2007). “The Mini race is without any doubt the most authentic off-shore race. I would strongly recommend this experience to every sailor, something you need to do at least once in your life. The lack of communications is what makes this race authentic, you are alone there, you can’t share your experiences with anyone and it is pretty intense. You need to be strong for this and stay focused and prepared"
A reminder of key dates and statistics
84 solo skippers
Length of a Mini : 6,50m
20th Edition – race created in 1977
4 020 nautical miles – 7 445 km (the distance between Paris and Kathmandu)
Departure is on the 19th of September 2015 in Douarnenez (Stage 1: Douarnenez – Lanzarote)
ETA in Lanzarote from the 25th of September 2015
Departure on the 31st of October 2015 from Lanzarote (Stage 2: Lanzarote – Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe)
ETA in Guadeloupe from the 14th of November 2015
Photo : © Jacques Vapillon / Mini Transat 2013