Mini Mania began today in Europe. The Mini Transat EuroChef started off Les Sables-d’Olonne in France. Organizers delayed the start two days until this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. local time to allow a windy cold front to pass through.
The fleet is now seeing 15-20 knots of breeze from the northwest. They’re bound for Santa Cruz de La Palma, 1,350 miles away in the Canary Islands for the first leg. After a stopover, the second leg will start from Santa Cruz and head across the Atlantic to the final finish in Saint-François, Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean, a mere 2,700 miles away. All this singlehanded in a 21-ft boat. Ninety racers signed up and made it through the competitive selection process. With more Mini sailors than spots in the race, the fleet has been doing many offshore and training races in the past two years.
Most of the sailors are French (bien sûr), and there are two divisions of boats. One is the Proto, or almost-anything-goes box rule, with boats sporting foils and canting keels, carbon fiber and other new stuff. The other class is the Series, in which only production boats are allowed. They have fixed keels, and no foiling or carbon. Sixty-six Series and 24 Protos are racing.
Twelve women are going, and a smattering of Italians, Spaniards, Germans and other Euros. And one American: Jay Thompson, 36, is from California. He built his own foiling Proto Mini 6.50, designed by the French firm Guillaume Verdier. It looks fast. Maybe they have what it takes to do well in a highly competitive race. The last time an American won the race was a long time ago, in 1977, when Bay Area sailor Norton Smith competed in a Tom Wylie Proto design.