• A Floodgate Of Finishers

    Valentin Gautier on the up

    - The Swiss sailor's easterly option secures him the win

    - Sailing blind

    - Filled with confidence for the second leg

    By securing victory in the first leg of the Mini-Transat La Boulangère, Valentin Gautier (Shaman – Banque du Léman) has swept away the doubts that had bombarded him after a rather chaotic pre-season. Indeed, after winning the Pornichet Select, he was subsequently forced to retire from two other races and hadn't been able to train as much as he would have liked.

    Seemingly, he has quickly found his bearings again. Indeed, upon arriving in La Rochelle, somewhat undermined by a season which hadn't gone according to plan, Valentin Gautier was able to dig deep and move up towards the front of the fleet from the start of the race. Always in the match right from the Bay of Biscay, he rapidly got amongst it with the small group of favourites who were monopolising the top spots.

    For all that, the crossing wasn't a long, calm river. The victim of an electronic black-out, he then had to sail with a damaged navigation system, which meant he was unable to pick up data related to the true wind direction. Also lamenting a broken VHF, he had no contact with the other race boats and was unable to track their respective positions with the AIS. As a result, Valentin sailed his race using solely his intuition. And clearly his instinct is sound because over the last days of calm conditions, he sought a course further to the east of the rest of the fleet, which enabled him to gain a decisive edge at the crucial moment. However, even for a Swiss sailor, the last twenty-four hours of the race proved to be particularly trying. Evidently it was a great idea to compete in the Cinq Jours du Léman endurance race on Lake Geneva this summer!

    Valentin Gautier: "It was long, a bit hard, but great too! In the calm conditions, I told myself that it had been a wise move to compete in the 5 jours du Léman (the longest endurance race on an inland waterway in Europe) by way of preparation! (Laughs). Seriously though, it was tough. Last night, I really thought I was going mad, particularly at one point when I saw lights going backwards. I thought it was Ambrogio (Beccaria) then on listening to the ranking this morning, I understood that it was the guys vying for third place in the Prototype category. Nevertheless, it was still quite unbearable. Things were going every which way...

    At Cape Finisterre, there wasn't as much breeze as all that. The same was true later on too. I was expecting to get a real pummelling but we only got a slight pasting, though it was great all the same. After that particular phase the race got a little more complicated, especially given that I had some electronics issues over the last five days. In the calm conditions, I'll leave it to your imagination what a jumble it was... I don't really know what happened. I had an NKE black-out. Fortunately, I still managed to pick up the apparent wind and the autopilot worked in compass mode.

    First place is very cool. I've had a bit of a complicated season. I won the first event and then I had two retirements in a row; the first due to injury and the second as a result of material damage. Since then, I'd done no singlehanded Mini races at all. I needed to reassure myself a little. Inevitably, pocketing this first leg in the production boat category is really neat. Now I just have to make sure I have fun in the second leg because however things play out, my Transat is a success."

    Second service

    - The group of latecomers expected at around 22:00pm local time (21:00 UTC)

    - Fred Guérin has left La Coruña

    - Barring a few exceptions, everyone in Las Palmas by tomorrow lunchtime

    They took their time, but the trade winds now seem to have kicked back in. As a result, the group of around thirty or so racers, becalmed to the north of the latitude of Madeira, has got some wind in its sails again for the final straight to the Canaries. For these sailors, the race has been transformed into their very own adventure.

    There may well be a few illusions shattered within the second group making its way towards the Canaries, some of whom will be competitors who had high hopes in terms of the leader board. They'll have to switch their game plan now. Racking up a deficit of over twenty-four hours in relation to the head of the fleet translates as no hope in the overall ranking, though there is always the second leg still to cover of course.

    A lasting adventure

    Fortunately, competing in the Mini-Transat doesn't simply come down to the boat's position on the scoreboard. It's a much more personal journey, experienced in an entirely different manner from one skipper to the next, according to their temperaments. Sometimes, competing in the Mini-Transat is also about accepting that you are going to lose contact with your rivals who, very often, are men and women you have got to know and like over the course of the previous two seasons on the Mini circuit. It's also about trying to overcome the doubts that inhabit the solo sailor, who only have a limited amount of information about the weather, their position and that of the others, and the weather forecasts. Some thrive in such situations, discovering another side to their personality that is sometimes very different to their life on shore. Others find a way around the situation, running through possible scenarios throughout the day that might fuel the race, immersing themselves in books that they'll never get to the end of and establishing routines that will enable them to pass the time.

    Together, that's all

    At the tail end of the fleet, the stimulus of competition has an altogether different density. You don't battle in the same way for a place on the podium or a fortieth place. As such, it is no coincidence that within the chasing pack, the groups are made up according to the vagaries of the breeze and according to affinities sometimes too. Within these small maritime communities, there's a lot of chatting over VHF, alerting one another when you're going to sleep and where the boat is heading under autopilot, even warning of key moments such as when you're going to put in a tack. Less pressure, more well-being, such is the rule. The propaganda that rages among the leaders is substituted here by a kind of gentleman's agreement where you avoid going it alone, to the detriment of performance at times. The slight delays amassed also cause a slight fracturing of the fleet, which can create gaping chasms, as is the case during this first leg. The first train of skippers has been in the station for a good while already, but the second, slower one has its own unique charm. Right at the back of the fleet, Fred Guérin (Les-amis.fun), who has now left La Coruña but is no longer officially racing having exceeded the 72-hour deadline for his pit-stop, is having an altogether different kind of experience: ultra-marine solitude.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: 2017 Mini Transat started by Photoboy View original post