The first leg of the Mini Transat EuroChef was launched this Monday 27 September at 15:30 hours local time in France. Propelled along by a NW’ly breeze of between 16 and 20 knots, the 90 competitors set sail from Les Sables d’Olonne bound for Santa Cruz de La Palma, with a total of 1,350 miles to negotiate and almost as many obstacles to overcome. Those which will punctuate their passage across the Bay of Biscay specifically are forecast to be relatively complicated and might well have a decisive impact on the next stage of the race. As a result, to hook up with the leading group, the sailors will need to quickly find their sea legs and get into the right groove and, most of all, they’ll have to be nicely in phase with the elements so as to avoid amassing a deficit before the passage around Cape Finisterre. This same headland is where the front runners have a chance of linking onto a big downwind schuss, while their pursuers may well have to deal with rather more uncertain conditions.
The stresses of the big day were certainly palpable this morning on the Vendée Globe pontoon. “We all made an appointment for the start some two years now. This is it, crunch time! We’re getting to the heart of the matter now and it’s quite something. I don’t really know what that is. The crowds, the noise, the encouragement… It’s a rush of emotions. In concrete terms, it’s the start of an epic and wonderful human adventure. We’ve all put a massive amount of time into preparing for the race, but the only thing we haven’t been able to do is to deal with the emotion of the start. One thing for sure is that we’re all raring to get going!” commented Basile Bourgnon (975 – Edenred), shortly before casting off. This sentiment is shared by Léo Debiesse (966 – Les Alphas). “There’s excitement in the air and a little bit of apprehension too, but on a personal level I feel confident all in all. The boat is ready and the navigation has been studied. I know where I’m going. I have a very clear plan in my head. Right now, we’re going to need to find our sea legs and get into race mode as quickly as possible”, explained the sailor from the Cévennes in south central France. In fact, the first 72 hours of the race are set to be fairly crucial with, in chronological order, an easing of the breeze this evening, a key turn to position correctly tonight at the edge of a ridge of high pressure to avoid becoming becalmed, the passage of a front to negotiate on Tuesday night through into Wednesday, and then a wind shift to hunt down to thread their way along as smoothly as possible between Cape Finisterre and the eponymous TSS (Traffic Separation System).
A crucial Bay of Biscay passage
“The negotiation of the Bay of Biscay promises to be quite complicated in terms of strategy. We’re going to have to nail the timing of our manoeuvres and be quick at it. We’re clearly going to have little time to rest until we round the north-west tip of Galicia, but it’s going to be an interesting ride. The match is going to be intriguing and above all wide open. That’s particularly true after the latitude of Vigo, where two different scenarios are possible today. The first might enable us to link onto a run down to the Canaries at quite a lick. The second could be a little more laborious, with a great deal of uncertainty colouring play. As a result, we’ll have to be on the pace from the get-go and not dawdle on our way to Cape Finisterre”, indicated Pierre Le Roy (1019 – TeamWork), one of the firm favourites of this 23rd edition in the prototype category. Avoiding stuffing up the introduction is clearly the mantra shared by all 90 of the solo sailors, as Tanguy Bouroullec (969 – Tollec MP/Pogo) confirmed: “Managing to exit Biscay quickly is definitely a key point in this first leg because after Cape Finisterre, the front runners are likely to steal a march on the rest of the fleet. However, it won’t be that easy to play the game well. It’ll be essential to be cautious as the front scheduled for Tuesday night rolls through. The latter is likely to be pretty meaty, with upwind conditions gusting to 30 knots, especially as it’s accompanied by heavy seas. We’re going to have to be careful not to break anything”.
Avoiding amassing too much of a deficit
Though striking the right balance between ‘material preservation’ and ‘speed’ at the appropriate times will, as ever, be one of the keys to success in this Mini Transat EuroChef, setting the right tempo will also be vital. “Setting the pace at the right time is the clear instruction I’ve given myself this year. That was what was lacking for me two years ago”, says Fabio Muzzolini (945 – Tartine sans Beurre), 6th in 2019, who is well aware of the need to be in phase with the elements and to take siestas at the most beneficial moments. “If small gaps open up before the Cape Finisterre TSS, it’s highly likely that they’ll widen dramatically in the Portuguese trade wind. We’re going to have to be up there in the leading pack”, added the Franco-Italian sailor, who has already nailed his start, rounding the windward mark in second place behind Irina Gracheva (800 – Path) in the prototype category. “The Mini Transat is a race against time. Beyond the ranking, which will have a part to play, the key is to arrive in the Canaries with little or no time deficit. We know that winning the first leg is never enough to win the event, however we also know that taking your time can make things complicated further down the line”, pointed out Léo Débiesse, who is currently in hot pursuit of the trio made up of Brieuc Lebec (914 – Velotrade) – Lennart Burke (943 – Vorpommern) – Julie Simon (963 – Dynamips), which has posted a fantastic performance to start the race. A race whose denouement is currently expected to unfold on Sunday night through into Monday for the front runners.
Quotes from the Boats
Gauthier Verdon (879 – TGS France): “I feel a mixture of excitement and apprehension. I’m very happy to be setting sail because for my part it’s the culmination of two years’ preparation. I think this leg will be an interesting way to get into the transatlantic mindset. The first leg equates to ten days’ navigation. That much I know. However, I’m not familiar with the Canaries. I’m going to be careful not to break anything and to sail a clean course”.
Lucas Valenza-Troubat (606 – Six Saucisses): “I’m a bit tense. That’s in my nature but I’m doing the best I can. I know things will feel better a couple of hours after the start, once I’ve got into the swing of the race. The different routing options aren’t very in line with one another with regards to the timing of the two fronts rolling through. Everything will be shaped by the first few nights. I’m going to try to sail a clean race, have some fun and avoid breaking anything to make the finish in the Canaries”.
Arno Biston (551 – Bahia Express): “I’m so looking forward to heading off, but at the same time I have mixed feelings about the start. It’s going to be nice for our nearest and dearest, but on the other side of that, I’m eager to be off Portugal already. I have a pretty good handle on the first leg. I think it’s going to be nice. It’s boat-breaking, because there are short seas, but that shouldn’t last too long. We’ll be close-hauled so there’s little chance of us making mistakes if the boat is well prepared. I’m not overly scared by it”.
Antoine Bos (825 – Rhino): “I’m tense but also focused and confident. I’m ready, the boat’s ready, there’s nothing more to do. I got some rest yesterday. We had a weather briefing and then I prepared my salads for the first two days. I’m trying not to think too much about how things are going to play out after that, otherwise I’ll get myself tied up in knots. I’m beginning to flip out, telling myself that it’s going to be this way or that. We’ll set sail, spend the first night at sea and then we’ll see where we stand. If we can slip along nicely from Cape Finisterre as far as the Canaries, I’ll have some of that!”
Romain Bigot (802 – Impulso): “I’m a bit stressed out. The first weather briefing was a bit of a reality check. There are still some elements which are a bit vague, but all in all, we have a rough idea of how things will start off so that’s fairly reassuring. Start day is always emotional. It’s a big adrenalin rush. Despite the delay, I still have a few mates, my parents and my youngest sister who have stayed on here. It’s going to be boisterous at the very start and then conditions are set to abate. It’s a fairly good thing to have it this way round given that you’re in the best shape after the start. It will enable us to find our sea legs for the second or third night when we’ll have meatier conditions. I’m not too frightened by it. I don’t really have a precise objective, it’s more about finding my bearings on the boat. It’s my first transatlantic passage so we’re not going to go out all guns blazing. What really counts is making it to the Canaries”.
Colombine Blondet (759 – DareWomen): “I really don’t like being close-hauled in 30 knots. It’s really not my bag at all, but it’ll be alright. Things should calm down after Cape Finisterre, which is bound to make the situation more pleasant. My aim is to make the finish in the Canaries and above all to make it to Guadeloupe without breaking everything”.
Nicolas Cousi (533 – Telerys Communication): “I feel a bit stressed, even though I’m relatively confident about the way the boat’s been prepared. We know what we’re getting in terms of the weather. It’s down to me not to do anything stupid and to set off as fast as possible so I don’t get left behind by my other little playmates. My objective is to avoid falling off the pace because the weather is a little uncertain and it’ll be important not to miss the metaphorical boat. I really love these types of conditions as the sailor can’t really make a big difference, which means you can eat and sleep more easily”.