The Atlantic mini season has kicked off with all the promise of a wild year ahead; a closely competitive fleet, a demanding course with tide, rocks and some interesting navigation, all topped off with a wind which built to over 30 knots through the night. What more do you expect this is mini racing at it’s best.
As those who follow my blog will know I was not racing in my pogo 2 for this race but instead teamed up with another British mini sailor Jake Jefferies to race in his prototype ‘Mad Dog’ a super lightweight carbon machine that he has designed and built himself in the UK.
It was a fight to get to the start, measurement and Jake’s first time at a mini event meant that there were a lot of extra jobs to do pre event, kit to buy and rules to comply with. After a last minute dash to my boat to borrow some equipment and a late night inspection by the committee we were off the dock a little late in the morning but never the less ready to go.
The wind at the start was light and variable. The fleet remained close together and positions changed often.
When the wind filled in and we eventually got to bear away to do our first tour of the Ile de Groix I had just about got to grips with the canting keel and the winchless system for sheeting the jib onboard; and was then treated to what it is that makes you sail a proto.
Weighing in at just over 700 kilos the minute Mad Dog is off the breeze it flies – quite literally flies. The easy speed is incredible and made me laugh from the start; I could go miles like that.
As the night arrived the wind started to build and the temperature dropped to a bone chilling 3 degrees. As we hacked along the volume of ice cold water coming over the decks rose with the waves and toes, fingers, noses were all frozen and aching. It really is a struggle to find any sort of clothing that will actively combat conditions that wet and that cold and yet will still allow you to move around and be as physical as a mini requires you to be.
Problems onboard with halyards gave us a frustrating stop start race, we shredded the outer on a jib halyard at the beginning of the race which then got jammed in the mast meaning we had to do slow bare headed changes with the one remaining spinnaker halyard, losing places all the while, only to accelerate when we had the new sail up, overtaking boats with an easy long stride until the next sail change.
In the dead of night and at the coldest wettest moment we then lost the mast head spinnaker halyard as the block it was lashed to, to avoid chaffing on the forestay broke away from the jib and leaving the halyard free at the top of the mast.
The only way to get this back was to climb the mast which would have meant dropping the main and drifting rapidly out to sea in the building offshore breeze; not a sensible option and far from ideal conditions to attempt such an exercise.
We opted to sail bareheaded again until the dawn came and so still making 6 knots under main but watching the little mast head lights of the fleet behind us catch up and bob past us; we waited cold and wet for some glimmer of light.
In the end we new we had to find a way of hoisting the jib or returning to Lorient while we were still in striking distance. The offshore wind was building and forecast to get stronger and Mad Dog was slipping slowly sideways through the water so safety and a port of refuge getting further away.
I’ve never abandoned a race; it’s not in my nature and neither is it in Jakes. Not to mention completing this race was a vital step in his qualification process for the mini transat in 2013. So we worked together, cutting away small amounts of the outer jacket of the shredded jib halyard and trying to pull it and winch it out from the mast.
Eventually after an hour of graft and numb fingers we had the core of the halyard stripped and free and we were ready to sail again.
We came from nearly last and managed to overtake around 15 boats in the final run into Pornichet; picking our way between the islands of Hoaut and Hoedic through the rocks to gain a tidal advantage and overtaking boats all the way.
We arrived into Pornichet happy to be at the finish, the last prototype to cross the line but feeling like we had made it to the top of the mountain. First race done; and what a race it was.
Due to lack of battery I am photo negative from this race but take a look at the event photographers website for some fantastic photos of the event.
For me though I loved the speed of the Mad Dog I am looking forward to getting back to my own pogo 2. The series class is hotting up and it was interesting to listen to the race unfold over the radio, Justine Mettreaux, skipper of Team Work winning but the chasing pack hot on her heels.
I can’t wait to get back in the mix.