The first leg of the 23rd edition of the Mini Transat race has been a wild one. With boats dismasted, wrecked onto the rocks, struck by angry orcas, and putting in to port to avoid a storm, the race has more than lived up to its reputation for drama and intrigue. Among all the excitement there has been some fantastic racing.
In the Prototype division — the fastest boats in the race — pre-race favorite Tanguy Bouroullec and his Pogo Foiler 969 surfed into Santa Cruz de la Palma in the Canary Islands in first place overall. Bouroullec managed an incredible come-from-behind victory while sailing in a four-boat pack of prototypes that were able to round Cape Finisterre and make good progress south while the rest of the fleet got shut out. Fabio Muzzolini and Pierre Le Roy followed Bouroullec into Palma just five minutes apart after a week of racing to round out the podium.
The majority of the rest of this massive fleet in the Mini Transat opted to seek shelter at the recommendation of the organizing authority, with just a small handful of boats opting to weather the heavy conditions in the region of Cape Finisterre. Surely the move of the race happened when young German sailor Melwin Fink opted to stay at sea and make miles south while his rivals sought safe harbor. Moving from 17th place in the Series division into a dominant first place, Fink and his Pogo 3 920 Signforcom have put themselves into a solid position to claim the overall victory.
The conversation at the top of the Series podium in La Palma will be exclusively in German, as Austrian sailor Christian Kargl also made massive moves during the storm front by staying out longer than most of his competitors and taking a weather stopover farther south than his rivals before reentering the race in the Series division. An Austrian meteorologist who has racked up experience offshore in everything from record-breaking offshore dinghy voyages to Minis to Volvo 70s with Team Russia, he has added a nice second-place finish in a stage of the Mini Transat to his résumé.
The vast majority of the fleet that did stop to avoid a cold front that brought gusts of 40-50 knots over heavy seas has had to deal with losses incurred from entering and leaving ports all over Spain and Portugal, multiple reported orca attacks, and, in the case of Frenchman Georges Kick on 529 Black Mamba, putting the boat onto the rocks outside the Spanish port of Ribadeo.
American Jay Thompson had his starboard rudder T-foil broken off by a reported orca strike just 20 miles from port. But he has now reentered the race after waiting out weather and sanding down the broken stump into a full-length non-foiling rudder. Thompson is currently sailing in ninth place in the Proto fleet, and is only about 100 miles from making port in La Palma.
The fleet is scheduled to depart La Palma on October 29 for the second and final leg across the Atlantic to Saint-François, Guadeloupe, in the Caribbean. Follow along at www.minitransat.fr/en.