The French are fanatics for solo offshore racing and nothing embodies this more than the Mini Transat, which is very little known outside France. It is a solo, transatlantic race in a boat 6.5 meters long. There are two classes - Série which is several one design classes and Proto which has very few rules other than length (6.5m) and width (3m).
The Mini hull is a mini version of the Open 60 (the boat used in the Vendée Globe) and many new ideas eventually used on the Open 60s started on a Mini where it is obviously less expensive to experiment.
To qualify one must have completed at least 1000 miles on various Mini race courses, including one solo, plus a 1000 mile non-stop race - and there is always a long waiting list of entrants. Only about half of the applicants were accepted in the 84 places that started.
Through friends in France I met a spunky young Australian entrant, Katrina Ham.
I was in France for the start scheduled on 13 October and through Amanda I had finagled a spot on the Leborgne sponsor boat for a closeup view. I was really looking forward to seeing it all - but a series of depressions in the Bay of Biscay kept rolling in and the race committee delayed the start until 29 October - and after the race was underway then added a stop in Sada, Spain to avoid another depression. Even this modified first leg was then cancelled before it was over with the Race Committee instructing everyone to proceed to Gijon, an intermediate Spanish port to avoid more unexpected bad weather. They are still there waiting expectantly for news of the next start. Katrina says it was the "Most difficult sail I have ever done".
The photo above is Katrina shortly after the (first) start with all boats having at least one reef. Another shot of her in the gusty conditions.
Pictured below is her boat in the Le Borgne shipyard in the early stages of renovation/preparation.
During the first leg, Katrina was near the back of the fleet but there is a lot of racing ahead. To learn more about her you can visit her website and Facebook page.
She is generally taciturn, until the subject is sailing and then she lights up. I still remember a great story she told me. I was telling her about getting to see the Volvo Ocean race in both Abu Dhabi and in France and she told me that she and some of her Mini buddies saw the Volvo race ending with Franck Cammas and his French team victorious. But, as they watched the victors come in, they simply commented - "Too many crew, too little sail".