Its Official

And here it is  Entry List……… The official list of entries to the 2011 mini transat and YES I am on it. One of the only two current British entries on the list.

However like all things worth doing, it is not that simple.  There is a small matter of qualification.

In 1999 the mini transat hit a patch of bad weather, the results where pretty harsh with half the fleet retiring and a lot of distress beacons being set off.

Following this incident the FFV (French governing body for sailing) asked class mini to review its qualification process for the transat race.

They decided to make it pretty difficult to qualify for the transat to ensure that everybody entered had a very strong chance of finishing the race and also really wanted to be there.

The criteria this year are as follows

1000 miles sailed solo, around a specified course before 1st June 2011 – one course in the Med one in the Atlantic

1000 miles sailed in races at least one race must be solo, and one race must have a leg over 500 miles. These races must be built up to; short races must be finished before you are allowed to participate in a longer one.

Only once these criteria are met may you take part in the transat.

That is a lot of miles but the system works; in the last transat in 2009 out of 85 starters, only 8 did not finish.

Personally I think the system is a great idea, it shows commitment and also gives people a chance to back out before the race start if they have a change of heart.

Solo racing is an odd sport, until you have been alone in an ocean and experienced the great excitement and pleasure then hit absolute rock bottom all on your own, then I do not think it is possible to know yourself if you will like it or have the aptitude to survive your problems alone.

The mini class really is about sailing alone; there are no phones, no internet, no computers, you navigate using your brain and predict the weather by looking around you.

There are more than a few sailors who start out with the intention of a ‘transat’ and discover after a few races and a couple of bad nights alone it is not for them.

I will be starting my 1000 mile qualifying passage at the beginning of March and am not going into it lightly.

I have the confidence that I will be able to cope with the solitude, I have sailed over 10,000 miles alone to date and believe I know my self quite well.

But this boat is different, it is small, uncomfortable, strong, capable of violence, wet and there is no toilet!

I am looking forward to a mixed bag of emotions, hurtling down waves, steering and laughing because it is such a thrill to be sailing so fast.

Cold and wet, in the middle of the night, so tired it is an effort to put another layer on to stay warm, relentlessly pounding into a sea that is trying to stop me from making ground.

Learning every hour a little more about my boat and about myself; getting it badly wrong but then getting it right next time.

On the qualifying passage we are allowed to take computers and phones so providing I don’t get it all too wet I will be sharing my experiences with you with daily blogs.

So take your foul weather gear out of the wardrobe, get in a good supply of chocolate and make sure there is plenty of tea around. Next week, we are going sailing!

training

Where does it all go?

This seems to be the question I am asking over and over this month.

Time!

I arrived in La Grande Motte at the beginning of December for a winter of training, with all the time in the world to get myself and my boat ready for the season ahead and 10 clear months to prepare for the transat.

It is mid February and a sense of urgency which has been slowly creeping up on me over the last few weeks, now has me firmly in it’s grip and I am struggling to work out where the last couple of months have gone.

So what’s the panic??

It’s mostly about the boats equipment, which I need to purchase, install and have serviced before I can race, dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s so no race committee can refuse me an entry.

Each of the mini races is categorised, A,B,C or D depending on the length of the race and the distance the boats must sail from the shore; the A event being the transat itself and a D event being a one day coastal race.

As I intend to race in all the categories I am kitting the boat out now for the season with all the safety kit required, this ranges from first aid kits, survival suits, EPIRBS and signalling mirrors to a sextant and charts for the areas I will be racing in.

The mini rules are strict and there are inspections at every event. There is no getting away with not being prepared.

So that leads me on to Money – Where does it all go!

Enough said really – all of this kit has a value and my credit cards are straining with the effort this month, it is shocking for me, a careful budgeter and saver all my life. I am used to investigating all options before making a purchase, however at the moment there is only one way to get the kit I need; spend, spend, spend.

Luckily for me I have had a great deal of support from within the marine industry, the mini as a class is an ideal test ground for offshore equipment, it is wet, it is small and there is no room for superfluous items, everything onboard is relied upon to perform in the toughest conditions. Many marine companies are keen to showcase their equipment in this environment, and I am more than happy to offer this opportunity.

Joining my other trade partners this week is Viking, who will be supplying me with a liferaft for the season, packed small enough to squeeze through the tiny hatch on the back of my boat, and which I must prove to the race committee that I can launch for either inside or outside the boat in just 15 seconds.

Another piece of kit I will need to have confidence in but hope I will never have to rely on. Thank you Viking!

So we move onto the final where does it all go?

I had trouble enough fitting all my safety kit onto ‘The Shed’ the Oyster lightwave 395 I raced in the OSTAR and the Two Handed Round Britain and Ireland race, but ‘The Potting Shed’ is 18 ft smaller and there seems to be more kit.

I am left head scratching wondering if there will be any room left for me to hide inside from big waves and cold nights to grab the odd 15 minutes of sleep.

More of a ‘where will it all go?’ really!

a carefully packed ShedAn uncarefully packed potting shed

Meteo France

I have just have the most amazing day at Meteo France headquarters in Toulouse. My head is buzzing and I have a massive list of things I need to practice and research and yet again I am thinking about what a fantastically strategic, sport offshore / ocean racing is; and how much more that applies in the mini, where the luxury of computer and routing aids is strictly not allowed.

As part of the CEM package, we have our own meteorologist, Silvan xxxxxxxxxx who is one of the two meteorological sailing experts who work within Meteo France.

Earlier in the week Silvan came to La Grande Motte to give us an afternoon lecture on the basic principles of weather systems. Though interesting this was mostly revision for me as before my OSTAR I spent some time with Chris Tibbs, hammering home the basic principles and I think they are fairly well stuck in my brain now.

Today we made a school trip with Classe mini, to Toulouse and Silvan gave us a briefing on the weather we can expect for the Transat itself.

We split the course into three stages, The first was the exit from the Bay of Biscay, and how to get past Finisterre with the mast still up and pointing in the right direction; second was the passage through or past the Canaries and the Cape Verdes, then the progression to the Doldrums, and finally the approach along the Brazilian coast to Salvador de Bahia.

We covered many different scenarios, looked at the problems and lived the course so vividly that I could practically taste the coxhi (a ball of potato with fish or meat inside – one of my favourite Brazilian street foods) and Caparhnia by the time we had glided into the finish.

Though Silvan is not good enough to tell us exactly what will happen during our race (do I need to point out that no one is!) it has thrown up some very interesting points re upwind and downwind sail choice, which I shall write about at a later date.

Our next topic was how and where we will receive forecasts and weather information, how to record and interpret them.

This will mostly be in the form of bulletins on the SSB radio and our own weather observations. We all need to practice listening to forecasts and drawing what we see, then trying to predict what will happen in the future…………. And only six months to perfect it.

The end of the day was a trip to the hub of Meteo France, we looked down from a gallery into the room where all the forecasts are prepared; a small room with six desks, all surrounded by a multitude of computer screens.

One desk for maritime, one for aviation, I can’t remember what the others were as I was distracted by one of the forecasters very bright and stripey jumper; I would have know him for a meteorologist or maybe an archaeologist anywhere! (No offence to any of you I am in awe of you really!)

We then descended to the bottom of the building to where the super computer is based; a massive room full of cabinets with flashing lights and important looking people. It is an awesomely powerful computer, capable of performing a huge amount of calculations simultaneously – this quality I have learned is measured in Gigaflops!

Class mini got in their cars and returned to La Grande Motte, but it is my birthday this weekend so I am off home.

Silvan gave me a lift to the airport and I had a chance to ask him about his work and the organisation at Meteo France.

There are two forecasters at this government run organisation whose job it is to work with the major races and record attempts that leave from France.

Silvan has worked with the Vendee, the Jules Verne and on the Figaro circuit.

During the Vendee globe both he and his colleague worked full time for the race, one making bulletins and charts which were sent to all the competitors by the race organisers, and the other dealing with the media.

His colleague is now doing the routing for Sobedo as Thomas Colville attempts to break the single handed non-stop round the world record. This man will spend around 50 days on his own, working day and night on this routing, making his own tour of the world, without recognition but also without getting wet.

Again I was struck by the value the French place on this sport, the fact that these two specialists exist within a governmental organisation seems quite amazing to me.

It has been yet another inspirational day and general feeling is that I have a huge amount to learn, better get reading!

Ou est Kito?

Lessons stopped today at 12 as the local school descended on the centre to talk with Kito de Pavant as competes in the Barcelona world race.

wheres kito

It was fantastic to see, Franc had a map of the Atlantic on the wall, with an overlay of the weather, and Kito talked us through, where he was, how he was going .. 27 knots… and his race in general.

The children listened, all clutching their Barcelona race maps, eyes wide, mouths open.

Then they were given the chance to ask him questions, ‘is it hard?’ ‘have you seen animals?’ ‘How do you organise your life?’

No matter how trivial the questions seemed, the children were engaged, they were living the experience with Kito, they were absorbed and their imaginations racing to recreate what their hero was seeing and feeling.

It is great to see an Ocean racer given the same status as a footballer, or a formula one driver.

Kito is a hero of this town, he was the founder of CEM ( centre de entrainment mediterranee) and they are proud of his very great achievements in the world of sailing.

There is a poster on the wall here from one of his past Figaro campaigns; the captions is ‘Kito, quand tu gagnes, c’est la mediterranee qui gagne!

When you win, it is the Mediterranean who wins. I wonder if we will ever feel like that in the UK?

on film talking to a hero

A quiet day

After all the blustery mistral, we were treated with a couple of days of rain here in La Grande Motte, which saw all the French hiding in their rooms and only the hardiest of the Artemis Offshore Academy out training.

I joined Nigel King and Sam Goodchild for a wet day on the water on Sunday.

It was, as is normal here, an offshore breeze, so I set the big spinnaker and chased off into the gloom trying to find the boys in their Figaros.

Sailing downwind in the mini is so much fun that even with water dripping off your nose and very little visibility, the blues are left in your wake and a smile creeps over your face even if you really don’t want it to.

I wish I could say the same for upwind!

Yesterday, a watery sun shone, and the rain had gone, so after a morning swimming session and a briefing with Franc we hit the water.

At the moment I am the only mini out on the water, the others are either in refit, or away from the centre. However, motivation is not hard as I go out with the Figaros, and give myself exercises to perform, getting to know my boat inside out.

It is very worthwhile, though in truth, I am champing at the bit to go off on a longer sail than just an afternoon.

After an hour spent motoring around in circles, calibrating the second compass for my pilot, yesterday I spent time making light wind gybes and tacks, looking at my upwind sail settings and seeing how small adjustments affect my speed.

I have noticed already that my training is taking it’s toll on my sails, the solent is starting to look quite battered in the bottom section, from where is rubs on the guard rails and is gathered up for reefing.

I am currently trying to buy a couple of second hand sails to get me through my qualifying passage and races, then hope to have a new wardrobe for the rest of the year to race with, and keep my current ones for training.

And so my mind has turned to the mammoth task of finding and buying all the other necessary equipment for racing this year, and to find the funding to cover it…………… it’s a huge job for such a small boat!

Mistral conditions

The mistral features a lot in our lives down here in the Med so I thought I would take a little time to explain what drives it and why it has such an influence on our sailing.

Essentially it is simply a massively strong northerly wind that can reach up to 60 knots offshore.

The mistral is created (as with all wind) by a difference in pressure, typically when there is high pressure over the north of France and the UK then an area of relative low pressure forms close to Sardinia in the Med and a Northerly flow is established between these to areas.

This wind is then funnelled through the mountain ranges in France and Spain, which accelerates it and as it drops down to the Mediterranean coast, the result is a mountain chilled super charged wind, with crystal clear skies and bright sunshine.

In La Grande Motte we tend to be right on the edge of one of the areas of strong Mistral, hiding just under the lee of a mountain way off to the north. We can experience winds of 40 knots , with flat calm waters in shore but a lumpy tell tale horizon letting us know it’s a whole different ball game further out.

These flat conditions but windy conditions have to now been a great benefit to me as they have allowed me to go out and push the boats limits, in a flat but windy environment. I have learned how tough my little boat is and how much of my foolishness it will put up with.

However now, I am eagerly watching the Mistral for a different reason. Soon I shall make my 1000 mile qualifying solo passage for the transat and as the course will take me well offshore this is not a wind I want to meet.

mistral wind map

surface analysis for mistral conditions