Its been just over one month now since the second and final start of the Mini Transat from Sada in Spain. Mini Transat yachts that finished the race are now all in Guadalupe and no doubt celebrating the awesome efforts of their trans Atlantic success. This years Mini Transat was grueling and unrelenting and only about half the original competitors made it to the finish. The figures stack up to prove the decimation of the fleet including three boats five boats lost or abandoned, approximately 10 dismasting, keel and rudder failures, and countless amounts of rig and pole damage.
Sadly my campaign fits into the above statistics and despite trying everything possible to stay in the race I was forced to abandon my attempts to finish the Mini Transat of 2013. I was quite deviated that I was forced to pull out of the race and fulfill my life long dream, so it has taken me up until now to write this post. Lets look at the campaign from the start.
The first official start from Douarenenz and the fleet was meant to race to Lanzerotee, but due to weather window delays the race committee decided to change the course directly to Guadalupe. This was very exciting as it would have been the longest race in Mini Transat history. I had a killer start in Dz, and shortly after the race was diverted to Sada. Three days later after battling high winds and big seas I was leading the race in the Series class, sitting close behind the new prototypes and matching their speed! With only 40nm to go before the new finish in Sada the race was canceled and the fleet was diverted 85nm back to another safe port called Gijon. The race committee then announced that the fleet would sail as an unofficial convoy back to Sada for the re-start.
The restart for the Mini Transat was from Sada on the 13th of November. Though the forecast was for strong northerly winds the race was postponed due to light winds. We finally got underway and had a beat up the bay of Sada to Punta De La Torella. As the wind veered and we rounded the point we were able to hoist the kites and reach towards the Isles de Sisagras. The wind started to increase as the day went on and by nightfall we were experiencing 20-25kts from the north. I bore away but remained on stbd gybe as I wanted to head west into more wind and be in a good position to make gains when the wind shifted to the NE. By nightfall I was out at the NE corner of the Finistere TSS and making fantastic speed. When the change came through I gybed and headed south down the boarder of the TSS surfing huge waves and averaging about 16kts, but surfing waves at over 18kts! I had never sailed the RG650 in these conditions and had to make a few changes to the pilot settings to adapt to the strong running conditions, large swells and high seas. The boat was performing fantastically and I was very happy with my speed and position.
I was pushing the boat hard – very hard! You need to push hard if you want to win the Mini Transat and I knew my competitors would be working just as hard as me. Through the day I had been predominately sailing with a reefed Medium weight kite, but when the wind started to pick up above 25kts I changed down to the code 5 with 2 reefs in the main. The boat was flying at speeds I had never experienced before in the RG. I knew I would be sailing faster than the other minis further to the east, and in a good position to take the lead in the coming 24 hours.
At approximately 1800 the wind hit 30kts and I thought it was time to drop the Code 5. I dropped the kite without incident. I went below to place a position on the chart and re-assess the weather prior to the 1900 radio sked. When I came back on deck I was supplie to see a large power vessel that resembled a big trawler at about 200m ahead of me. The vessel was not displaying itself on AIS, nor was it displaying lights required for a fishing vessel so I was happy I did not have to alter course to steer clear of any trawling lines. I took the helm and as a matter of caution slightly altered course to increase our separation but due to its close proximity it was hard to make any substantial difference. As the vessel passed clear I was surfing down a massive wave at over 18kts and I hit its wake. The RG650 816 became airborne, I could feel the rudders loose grip on the water below, and as I looked over the side I could see the water an unusual distance below the hull. My first thoughts was “Wow this is awesome, imagine if somebody had this on film” My second thought was.. OMG, this is going to hurt! The boat landed with the expected crash, but then there was a cracking sound and the boat nosed dived which I thought unusual. The boat picked up speed and was handing normally so I put the pilot back on and sat in the cockpit to listen to the sked and give the race committee my position.
I realised that with no wind instruments or VHF, having freed rigging, and also not having a secondary chance to inspect keel repairs that I would have to pull into Lanzerotee to get these items fixed and try to find and fit a new wind wand. As the waypoint of Lanzerote was close to Porto Calero I decided it would be prudent to pull in to resolve these problems before crossing the Atlantic. On my arrival into Porto Calero I was surprised to find a number of other Mini’s, some who were making repairs, and others who sadly had to abandon the race. I was also surprised to find my friends on the beautiful Swan 90 SY White Lie who were on delivery across the Atlantic.
I immediately began to enquire about finding a new wind wand, vhf aerial and getting the damaged rigging repaired. Further inspection to the rig while removing the damaged forestay and D2 found that there was some other damage. The rig was obviously damaged during the previous weeks of harsh conditions and particularly the wipeout when the rudder had snapped. By the next afternoon I had sourced the new parts and my new wire rigging and other fittings required were getting made by Wez from Catlanza who was doing a fantastic job not only helping out the Mini sailors but also supporting the RC44’s and SCA volvo team.
Time was of the essence as the weather window to get across the Atlantic was closing with the approaching of a massive high pressure system. Once I finally had all the pieces together I set about repairing the rig. With everything set I made preparations to haul the boat over on its side so I could fit the new wand fitting, fix the VHF aerial and make other adjustments. I decided to winch the boat over on its side, which is standard practice in Mini sailing, however, when I attempted this I was severely lacking sleep and had not thought to adjust the new shrouds. When the boat was at approximately 45 degrees I notice the rig start to bend and released the haul down but sadly it was too late, the rig snapped above the first spreader. I was devastated but still determined to keep racing.
Not wanting to give up I repaired the rig. I found a J80 section in the junk yard up the road, cut it, welded a 2m section on the base, then end for ended the top section of the mast which was severely bent before welding in sheaves to supper the middle section of the mast. I managed to get all this done in under 24 hours thanks to the hard work of Wez from Catlanza and a massive effort by the crew of White Lie who worked with me through the night to repair the rig.
There is a time limit for port stays in the Mini Transat and time for me was fast running out. Somehow by 2200 the next night I had the rig stepped and could leave the dock scraping just inside this time limit. I went to sea and re-tuned the repaired rig and was at sea for a few hours working on the rig and re rigging the boat. I found that the rig was not up to standard to cross the Atlantic and while in an emergency I could have re-rigged the boat using the spectra line I have onboard, this was not an emergency as I was still within easy sailing distance of Lanzerotee. Adding to the decision to abandon the race was not having the opportunity to re-inspect the keel and check that repairs had been sufficient. I decided that from a seamanship point of view I had to return to port, and therefore I would exceed the 72 hours of port time. My race was sadly over.
The next week was spent cleaning the boat, organising transport and working with Diane Reid to build two cradles so we could pack our boats into containers and send them home. In itself this was a stressful operation, the race was over, I was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. Thankfully we managed to weld the cradles together, and by the following Saturday I was on a plane back home to Tasmania – a home I had not seen since July that year
This was the first time the RG650 was in these conditions so I learnt a lot about tuning the boat and correct settings for the pilot etc. Overall my speed was excellent, the boat was absolutely flying before things started to go wrong and I have no doubt that I would have been up there for a podium if I had backed off a bit (sailed with my brain instead of my balls) and did not break the boat.
The Mini Transat dream is still not over for me. I learnt a lot from this campaign about the boat and solo racing. While I am still in financial debut from my last campaign I still have the ambition and drive to work towards the Min
i Transat 2015. To enable me to compete I will need to secure substantial sponsorship and continue to focus this race and other races. We now have less than two years to prepare, so time is alrea
dy running out. Sponsorship needs to be found soon or RG650 816 will be sold, and along with it my qualification miles and races which are in themselves very valuable. With your help I can make this happen and win the Mini Transat 2015
Thankyou to all my sponsors and supporters for the RG650 AUS816 2013 campaign. Special thanks to Brett Perry from Katabatic Sailing and RG650 Europe, Nico Goldenberg from RYG Yacht Design, Nathan Quirk for designing the sails, the team at Zhik who provided my amazing clothing, thermals and foul weather gear, Boatbooks for proving the charts, Harken, Profurl, Doyle Rigging and everybody else who provided help, support and donations throughout the campaign.