Hurricane Delays Singlehanded Ocean Sailors

Hurricane Lorenzo
The remnants of Hurricane Lorenzo filled the North Atlantic with bright, scary colors this week.
© 2019 Windy

And you thought you hated postponements. After a 14-day weather delay waiting for Hurricane Lorenzo to move out of the way, 87 boats in the 2019 Mini Transat La Boulangère will officially start tomorrow, Saturday, October 5, at 10:30 a.m. (Insomniacs rejoice: that’s 1:30 a.m. PDT.) The first leg sails from La Rochelle, France, in the Bay of Biscay, to Las Palmas on Isla Gran Canaria, off the coast of northern Africa. After a stopover in Las Palmas, the race will conclude at Martinique, French West Indies. The singlehanders will sail a total of 4,050 miles on 21-ft boats, with limited communication and no outside course routing or assistance.

Minis Docked at La Rochelle
Viewing the boats and talking to the skippers in La Rochelle looks a little easier and less crowded than at the Vendée Globe village.
© 2019 Breschi / Mini Transat La Boulangère

Held every two years, the Mini Transat started in England in 1977. In the beginning, the race attracted several French solo sailors. When it moved to France in 1985, the French started dominating the race. There are two classes of boats for the race. The majority are production boats, which are turnkey and cheaper to run. The other class is for the Prototypes. They’re designed to a box rule and can use canting keels, high-tech rigs and, yes, even foiling. Lately international racers have attempted to break through the French wall, but in 1979 Bay Area sailor Norton Smith won it all on a Tom Wylie design called American Express, an early Prototype boat that set the tone for others after that.

Norton Smith in American Express
American Express charges along under short sail. In 1978, the year before his Mini Transat win, Norton Smith raced in the first Singlehanded TransPac on his Santa Cruz 27 Solitare.
© 2019 Voiles et Voiliers

Times have changed. Now that full foiling has arrived, the cost to compete and the technology required to win have made this race unobtainable for the majority. But it has proven itself as a testbed for future professional solo sailors in the Vendée Globe and other ocean races.

Mini with foil extended
Frenchman Tanguy Bouroullec, 25, is racing a brand-new boat in his second Mini Transat.
© 2019 Breschi / Mini Transat La Boulangère

The race still attracts the dreamers. This year’s fleet includes a small group of women, a larger group of 30-somethings in the Production class, and even a 64-year-old. So there is still hope for some of us. If you can’t make it to the line this year, watch the race online and root for your favorite skipper. See www.minitransat.fr/en. The Mini Transat is also available as a Virtual Regatta.

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