23rd edition of the Mini Transat EuroChef: ready to take the plunge
On Friday 29 October at 14:00 UTC, the 87 participants still competing in the 23rd edition of the Mini Transat EuroChef will take the start of the second leg of the event. After casting off from Santa Cruz de La Palma they'll make for Saint-François, in Guadeloupe, which equates to a sea passage of 2,700 miles. As such, all the sailors are preparing to tackle the true transatlantic section of this event, the only instructions being to leave the island of El Hierro to starboard together with the negotiation of a waypoint located at 25° North and 30° West and a special mark at Terre de Bas. In terms of the weather, things are playing out as expected with conditions set to force the competitors to drop a very long way south in the hunt for a consistent trade wind. Pretty soon, these will also require them to make some important strategic choices in order to extract themselves from the Canaries archipelago. Within this context, there may be a few surprises in store, but all the sailors are raring to go and ready to take the plunge!
Though the first leg between Les Sables d'Olonne and Santa Cruz de La Palma (1,350 miles) has given the skippers a foretaste of what lies ahead, the second section between the Canary Island stopover and Saint-François (2,700 miles) will really serve up conditions synonymous with the open ocean. Indeed, once they've left the Spanish archipelago in their wake, the next shoreline they'll see will be the one fringing Guadeloupe, that is unless conditions prompt them to dive down as far as Cape Verde, which cannot be ruled out. In fact, not only is the Azores High tending to drop southwards at the moment, but also a big low pressure system is set to roll around the latitude of Madeira in the early part of next week, breaking the trade wind system in the process. In a bid to hunt down more pressure, the Mini sailors will have no other option than to drop a long way down in latitude if they want to see this famous NE'ly wind re-establish itself from Wednesday 3 November. "Not only is it going to be a little longer than planned, but also, more crucially, a tad more strategic than one might have imagined. It's certainly not going to be a straight-line course with a few gybes here and there. Initially, the emphasis will be on getting clear of the Canaries as quickly as possible and slinking southwards to hook onto more breeze", explains Louis Mayaud (916 – Youkounkoun), who makes no secret of his apprehension on the eve of this second act. "I'm more anxious before this second leg than at the start of the first. I think it's associated with the fact that we're heading out into the open ocean, into the unknown if you like. You have to get your head around 20 days of racing, which is no mean feat", says the skipper from Lille.
Heading off into the unknown
"I can't really picture what we're about to do. During the first leg, we stayed quite close to the coast, in areas we are more or less familiar with, especially when, like me, you've already had the opportunity to take part in Les Sables – Les Açores – Les Sables race. Here, we're setting out on something that's a complete unknown. I have mixed feelings about it", confirms Julien Hatin (869 – Les Entreprises du Paysage – Normandie), who isn't entirely sure whether he can put a name to his emotions. "I don't really know how I'm feeling. Inevitably there's a lot of stress, as I'm naturally someone with a bit of a nervous disposition prior to a race start. That said, I love discovering new things, particularly those which spur me on. I know that I'm going to see so many new things and that I'll have to acclimatise to the open ocean", admits the sailor from the Calvados, whose aim after a rather eventful first leg due to battery issues is clearly to have as much fun out on the water as possible. "If I could get to experience moments where time stands still, where you can make the most of just being in the moment, that would be great. I'll have succeeded in my adventure if that happens", adds Julien. Making it all the way to the other side and savouring the journey is an ambition shared by the majority of the solo sailors in this 23rd Mini Transat EuroChef, even though a handful of them have high hopes for the ranking or intend to get their revenge after a less than epic first round.
A tricky opener in store
One and all though share a common goal: to extricate themselves as quickly as possible from the Canaries. It's likely to be a tough ask though due to the light airs in the area (the ambiance for the start is likely to be flavoured by a NE'ly breeze of between 5 and 10 knots) and, above all, some significant wind shadows, especially those created by the island of Tenerife and its famous Teide, which culminates at an altitude of 3,715 metres. "The effects of the latter may spread out across more than 60 miles calling for some serious strategic decisions to be made right from the start", notes Christian Dumard, the event's weather consultant. Skirt La Gomera? Give El Hierro a very wide berth? Even on paper it's hard to pin down the best trajectories. The solo sailors will have to make those decisions tomorrow before the field of possibilities opens out even wider. The only rules on the playing field from there are a waypoint in the middle of the Atlantic to prevent courses going too far north, due to the increased risk of tropical depressions, and then a special mark at Terre de Bas to stop them getting too close to the particularly rocky section around the headland of Les Châteaux.
Quotes from the boats:
Victor Eonnet (525 – Fondation Arthritis – Amiens Naturellement): "My approach to this second leg is a little calmer than the first because I think we're setting sail in much simpler weather conditions. We're going to have to be a little more patient. My aim is to enjoy it as much as I possibly can. I'll be battling away with the pointy boats, but I don't have my sights on an incredible result so I'm primarily in it to have fun. Obviously, if I can pull something interesting out of the bag in terms of the racing, that suits me, but I'm not setting off with any pressure on my shoulders. We looked at the weather yesterday with Hervé, our coach from the training cluster at La Turballe. We know that there are going to be quite a few moves to be had at the start to hook onto some solid breeze. We're really going to have to be on top of our game during the first 48-72 hours of racing because, if the weather stays as it is today, it's sure to be complicated to get back in the match again. We'll need to give our all at the start."
Gaël Ledoux (886 – Haltoflame – Ilots.site): "We're aware that the Canaries are very lofty islands and that there are wind shadows and local effects. As such, we're going to have to look lively. We know that the trade wind is in the south, which means the first to get down there will fly. We're going to have quite a contest on our hands for the first two or three nights to get into the leading group. The wind shadow created by an island is about 100 times its height, so it's sure to be a hindrance for over 24 hours. There's going to be a bit of a tricky period. There will be quite a few gains to be made if we're on the right track and that suits me fine. I really feel as if I'm not in the place I merit because I stuffed up the second part of the first leg, but when there's racing to be had and it's game-on, I just love that, however things play out. It's fair to say if we were setting sail on a long stretch of reaching where all you could do is trim, that would be less exciting. We're going to have plenty to think about here."
François Champion (950 – Porsche Taycan): "It's all about a crossing this time, taking the plunge, which is cool, We're going to go straight across and try to get to the other side as quickly as possible. It's going to be a bit limp at the start, so we'll need to get clear of the light patch as fast as we can. After that we'll be slipping along. During my first participation, in the second leg between Madeira and Brazil, I was on a beat as far as the Canaries. It really was the pits, so I already know all about that (laughs)! In any case, I'm setting sail free of apprehension. It's strange really because I feel more like I'm setting sail for two or three days at sea rather than two weeks. I think it'll go okay in any case, especially after my result in the first leg; there's no pressure now. I no longer have any objectives, but if I can tickle the top four a bit, that wouldn't be a bad thing. I'm not building castles in the air though. I plan to sail a clean race and get the boat making headway. These will be my last moments with her so I really want to make the most of it. If it's long, that's not so bad, quite the contrary!"
Antoine Bos (825 – Rhino): "Things are getting serious now with this second leg. We've been preparing for this and I'm itching to get back out to sea. Conditions are never those you're expecting but that's the name of the game on a boat. We're going to need to be very focused and really on top of things for the first three or four days so the front runners don't pull away and the aim will be to hook onto the breeze as early as possible. After that, once we get into more established breeze, things should be pretty calm for a week. My goal is really to have some fun with it so that when I get to the finish I'm happy with my crossing, regardless of the ranking. I intend to hold onto a bit of competitive spirit to spur me on, but I don't want that to spoil the pleasure of being out on the water. I don't really know what to expect and I admit that I hadn't really imagined things would play out like this, but I'm sure I won't be disappointed. If the finish in Guadeloupe is even crazier than the one we had here, it'll be great. As far as the rest is concerned, what will be, will be. It's an adventure!"
Sophie Monnier (942 – Gustave Roussy): "In the first leg, the coast was never far away. Here, in the second leg, it's a whole different ball game. Despite that, I'm leaving feeling quietly confident. A lot of us are heading off into the unknown. As a result, we'll discover what it's all about as we go along. The longest I've ever spent at sea to date is my qualifier. That was 7 days and here I'm preparing myself for a passage of around 20 days, so it's going to be very different. So far, I haven't done too much downwind sailing with lots of breeze. I'm looking forward to that, but I'm going to have to wait a while for it. I know we'll get what we need. Initially, strategic choices are going to be the order of the day. Choices which won't be easy to make on our own. It'll be funny to see how that pans out in the first few rankings, that is if I listen to them, because in the first leg I found them a bit too demoralising (laughs)!"