- Five days to go till the 22nd Mini-Transat La Boulangère
- The Prologue postponed until Friday
- The Mini-Transat, one big family

D-5! On Sunday 22 September, at 14:15 hours, the 87 entries in the Mini-Transat La Boulangère will set sail from La Rochelle on the first leg to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. In the meantime, they’ll be able to make the most of a warm-up lap during the Prologue, which has been switched to Friday (instead of Wednesday) due to the steady breeze announced tomorrow and Thursday in the bay of La Rochelle.

In the meantime, preparations are continuing and the Mini-Transat La Boulangère sailors are enjoying the rather heartwarming pre-race atmosphere. It’s the famous ‘Mini spirit’, a combination of mutual aid (on shore as well as at sea), of sharing, of fraternity and of conviviality… Some of the participants took some time out to respond to the vast question: “what does the Mini spirit represent”?

It’s a paradox: lots of sailors in the Mini-Transat La Boulangère have never enjoyed such an entourage and such support before signing up for this singlehanded offshore race. The ‘Mini sailors’ make up one big family, united around the same (all-consuming) passion and a common challenge: to cross the Atlantic on the smallest offshore racing boats in the world.

The key philosophy, mutual aid
“For me, the Mini spirit is a human bond between people who give the same energy to realising their dream. We’re all building a house of cards together, each in our own unique way, benefiting the community”, explains Guillaume Coupé (906). “The fact that we don’t have a shore team, forces us to turn to the others for help. We need them to mount our solo projects. In fact, our Mini sailor friends become our shore team”, explains Jean-Baptiste Ternon (880). “We want to get across to the other side, but we also want our mates to make it to Martinique. As such, when we have time to help the others with their preparation, we go for it without a moment’s thought” says Thibault Blanchet (774), who was securing his rudders with the help of his brother today after losing one in a previous race.

For some, the mutual aid has been key to realising their project. This is notably the case of Pierre Moizan (630). “Last year, I hit a UFLO in the Les Sables-Les Açores-Les Sables race and had to abandon the boat. I took a year to rebuild her. A lot of Mini sailors helped me out, including some former members of the circuit like Adrien Hardy. Without them, I wouldn’t be here now. Their support has carried me through. Receiving all this help without asking for it is very touching.” Interestingly, the name on her transom, one James Caird, refers to the epic rescue mission by boat that was undertaken by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men, from Elephant Island in Antarctica to South Georgia. It is surely one of the greatest small-boat journeys of all time – and another will be Pierre Moizan achieving his goal of reaching Martinique after an already epic journey to make the start line.

Brothers and sisters at sea

At sea, the spirit of solidarity is even more powerful. Racers within VHF range support one another, motivate one another and, if need be, offer assistance. “On the water, we are competing, but every competitor is a friend, a brother. Even the more competitive sailors don’t think twice about putting their race to one side and helping someone in difficulty”, explains the Italian sailor Daniele Nanni (659).

Belgian sailor Marie-Amélie Lenaerts (833), who is here with around seven other sailors from the Concarneau training cluster, echoes this sentiment: “We go to the ends of the earth to help one another out. During this year’s Transgascogne, I had an electronics issue. I put out a call over the VHF and lots of racers replied and gave me a hand, even those I don’t know so well. I was kind of towards the back of the fleet and yet even the leaders took time out to advise me.”

Memorable finishes…

The excellent atmosphere at the finishes is another trademark of the Mini-Transat, and indeed the Mini spirit as a whole, as 34-year-old Japanese sailor Masa Suzuki explained on the dock this Tuesday. “I have been so impressed by the help and the kindness shown to me and to everyone else within our Mini community. Equally striking is the fact that no matter what your result, everyone celebrates all the finishes, at whatever time of the day or night. I’ve never witnessed that before. In fact, I feel so welcome here that I’m considering living in France, if my wife will agree!” It’s little surprise then, that his friends and his wife have travelled all the way to La Rochelle from Japan to see what this Mini spirit is all about, offer their own support and see him safely on his way on Sunday.

In the Canaries as in Martinique, the festivities on shore match up to the level of difficulty encountered at sea. “The Mini spirit is also about ensuring you stay ‘hydrated’. Some aren’t quite so good at that side of things and we have a few worrying elements there”, jokes Christophe Brière de la Hosseraye (755), who goes on to explain that experiencing something so strong and intense brings you closer. “You can become great mates with a guy or girl who’s 10 years younger or older.”

Leaving the Mini circuit and its spirit can lead to a form of nostalgia. “Even though I’m preparing for it, the period after the Mini scares me a bit. I’m expecting to feel a massive void on an emotional and personal level”, Guillaume Coupé admits.


The Prologue postponed until Friday

Initially scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday 18 September, the Prologue for the 22nd Mini-Transat La Boulangère has been put back to Friday. Denis Hugues, race director, explains the reasoning behind his decision: “We’re putting the prologue back as we’re expecting 25 knots of NE’ly breeze, gusting to 30. The skippers are preparing for a singlehanded transatlantic race on 6.50-metre boats. As such, it’s essential that they don’t take any risks in this prologue, the idea being to have a dress rehearsal so that the competitors get a clear picture of the start zone. On Friday the wind is set to ease and become more stable at 10-13 knots.”

New edition for the Collectif Rochelais Mini Transat!

First step, with a start in front of La Rochelle, which the Mini knows well, in the Pertuis Rochelais, passage in front of the Chassiron lighthouse in Oléron, then follows a quick crossing of the Bay of Biscay to Cape Finistere in Spain, a beautiful descent along Portugal which can be done downwind for skippers towards the island of Gran Canaria.

A second step that starts for the minis in the wind or acceleration between the Canary Islands, getting out of the archipelago is therefore the first obstacle of this second step, then join as soon as possible the trade winds that will take the skippers on long surfs towards Martinique, manage the downwind angles of descent, beware of tropical squalls, and finish with a nice finish in the Bay of the Marin, this second part is no less simple!

A beautiful 2019 edition in prospect!


Solitude is the very essence of the Mini-Transat. In a world where communication and the instantaneous circulation of news are a constant, the fundamentals of this race have remained unchanged since the first edition in 1977. Aboard Mini 6.50s there are no computers, no satellite links, no live media link-ups, no photo and video sends. It’s impossible to contact your loved ones to share the magical moments or try to get over a touch of the blues. The only link with the shore is a daily report broadcast over SSB radio by race management to give the low-down on the weather situation, the 48-hour weather forecast and the distances to the goal for each competitor.

Cut off from the world, but potentially in contact with the other Mini sailors

The sailors have the opportunity to communicate between one another via VHF, which has a limited range (around 10 miles). During the first leg (La Rochelle/Las Palmas de Gran Canaria), the exchanges are regular for the majority of the competitors. However, things become more complicated during the second leg to Martinique. Indeed, as the competitors spread out across the Atlantic, the exchanges become few and far between. If they’re not sailing within a group, the racers can spend days, weeks even, without uttering a single word.

The VHF chats between mates can be a godsend then. “During Les Sables-Les Açores-Les Sables, I had a major autopilot issue”, says Benjamin Ferré (902). “I was really tired and vulnerable. After numerous days without talking to anyone, I saw a boat a long way off and discovered that it was the Mini No.697 skippered by Kevin Bloch. We chatted over VHF and I just broke down in tears. I was so happy to speak to someone…”

Kevin Bloch also relishes these exchanges with his Mini mates, but he’s going to try to keep them to a minimum during the passage. “I like to be in the zone, without letting myself get influenced by what the others are saying to carve out my course. That way I’ll learn more”, he says. “Blubbering and laughing in the space of 10 minutes”

The Mini-Transat requires a lot of mental strength, otherwise you crumble. “It’s an emotional yoyo, you feel like you’re three years old”, smiles Céline Sallès (514). “In the Mini, you can be blubbering and laughing in the space of 10 minutes”, confirms Sébastien Guého (909). “Thanks to the demanding qualification system, we all arrive here mentally armed to make the passage. You just have to trust yourself.”

For some, the solitude and the lack of communication can prove to be a real challenge, particularly for the 76 rookies competing this year, like Matthieu Perraut (825): “This is the toughest aspect of the Mini-Transat for me. I’m not a through-and-through solo sailor, even though I like the idea of being the sole master of my ship. Mentally, it’s not easy to spend long periods without talking. Nobody sensible subjects themselves to such isolation. That said, it’s very interesting to confront such an experience and I’ve already learnt a lot about myself thanks to the Mini.”

“An extraordinary journey into your inner self”

For others, the solitude, in contact with the elements, is happiness itself, indeed it’s why they take part in the Mini-Transat. “This experience of solitude enables you to refocus on what’s important in life”, beams Jean-René Guilloux (915). “At 45, I’m at a point in my life where I can look back at what I’ve done, what successes I’ve had and what I haven’t yet had the time to do.”

The Mini-Transat is also the opportunity to grant yourself some quality time that you just don’t get every day, as Jean Lorre (570) explains: “In my Mini, I read books, I think, I talk out loud, I sing, I listen to music and to podcasts especially. I have time to think without being disturbed by some kind of interaction or notification from a social network.”

Benjamin Ferré refers to the Mini-Transat as an “extraordinary journey into your inner self”, a sentiment echoed by many of the racers who will set sail from La Rochelle on Sunday to enjoy what is surely the ultimate experience when it comes to a true sense of freedom, something that particularly appeals to Céline Sallès: “You leave all your problems on land. It’s just us, our boat and the ocean…”


Arnaud Machado forced to remain dockside

Arnaud Machado (910) was one of the favourites in the production boat category. Unfortunately, he fell of his bike a few days ago, fracturing his tibia. This injury inevitably makes it impossible for him to have a second attempt at the Mini-Transat. “I’m bitterly disappointed. I wasn’t expecting that two years of preparation and sacrifice could fall through in a couple of minutes, especially as I was avoiding taking any risks as we neared the start. It’s a cruel twist of fate. I’m going to do all I can to start a programme of rehabilitation as quickly as possible so I’m ready for action again early next year.”

More info at www.minitransat.fr