Please select your home edition
Edition
GJW Direct - Multi Dinghy Insurance

The 'sheepdog' support boats in Mini-Transat La Boulangère

by Aurélie Bargat 28 Sep 2017 15:32 BST 1 October 2017
Mini Transat Îles de Guadeloupe Leg 2 © Jacques Vapillon / Mini Transat Îles de Guadeloupe

As is the case with every edition, there will be seven support boats in the Mini-Transat La Boulangère.

Seven crews distributed amongst the whole of the fleet to key an eye open for trouble, supply news of the fleet to Race Management, pass on any safety messages and possibly provide assistance in the event that a competitor triggers the alert. Accompanying the mass transhumance of the Minis towards the West Indies, the support boats also keep a check on morale.

They go by such names as Top50, Platine, Blanche Hermine, Cachaça or Clair de Lune. Their skippers are former Mini-Transat sailors, professionals seasoned in the art of delivery and those familiar with racing circuits, keen to share in this extraordinary adventure. "You are the eyes and ears of Race Management". With the skippers of the support boats gathered together for a briefing, Race Director Denis Hugues highlights the duties of the crews who will be following the Mini-Transat La Boulangère.

Indeed, life aboard a support boat is no pleasure cruise. On-board, the crews will have to plot the positions of the competitors, ensure that they adjust their course in line with the requests from Race Management and provide information that is as accurate as possible regarding the atmosphere at sea, the conditions encountered and the skippers' morale. In short, they must provide Race Management with everything they need to ensure they have their finger on the pulse of the leg underway at that present time.

Spider's web

It is a genuine combat device put in place by Denis Hugues for every edition of the race. "You need to know how to deal with different criteria: the boats' speed, the crew's understanding of the Mini-Transat, the skippers' temperaments... Some are more 'fiery' than others. We have to take that into account when we divide up the support boats amongst the fleet."

The first boat will maintain a link with the head of the fleet and back to around tenth or fifteenth place. "This is largely sufficient. If one of the lead boats has an issue, it will inevitably slow down. And it's always easier to ask a support boat to move up towards the front of the fleet rather than turn back." The other boats will be distributed in such a way as to try to cover the whole of the fleet of competitors. This is a fairly simple mission during the first leg, where the whole fleet remains relatively bunched together on the descent along the Portuguese coast, though it's far more complicated during the second leg. "The lateral separation may stretch to over two hundred miles between those favouring a course close to the great circle route and those who dive south in search of the true trade wind."

A strict routine

For the support boats, the day begins with an unchanging ritual. At 06:00 hours, universal time, the only time there is on the oceans, the radio link-up begins. Using VHF, the support boats call up the boats nearest to them to plot their geographical position and get their news. Those most familiar with the exchanges often reply with a laconic 'Nothing to report', whilst others, missing the contact with others perhaps, are tempted to recount their life story. And so it is that with each edition, the small community of Minis draw attention to the race's 'golden pedal' at the finish. This has nothing to do with cycling of course. Essentially, they're referring to the pedal on the VHF, which gives them the freedom to exchange with other people. The ritual will be repeated at 18:00 hours UT. At 07:00 UT, the support boats receive the positions from all the competitors, along with a grib file containing the weather information. The position reports are updated at 13:00 and 19:00 hours UT.

In the event of a particular hazard, a reported obstacle or deteorating weather conditions, the support boats can also pass on messages from Race Management. For the rest of the time, during each encounter, the support boats sound out what morale is like amongst the solo sailors they meet, try to collect a few anecdotes about life aboard and take some photos of the solo sailors in the open ocean in the hope that they won't have to make any kind of intervention. Whilst the routine remains in place, it's a sure sign that the race is going well...

The Mini-Transat La Boulangère in figures:

  • Sunday 1 October: Start of the Mini-Transat La Boulangère in La Rochelle, France
  • 21st edition
  • 4,050 miles to cover between La Rochelle – Las Palmas in Gran Canaria and Le Marin (Martinique)
  • 81 skippers at the start
  • 10 women
  • 11 nationalities
  • 20 years: age of the youngest skipper in the race: Erwan Le Draoulec
  • 62 years: age of the oldest skipper in the race: Fred Guérin
  • 25 prototypes
  • 56 production boats
  • 66 rookies
  • 15 'repeat offenders'

www.minitransat.fr/en

Related Articles

Tom Dolan in the running
For prestigious Irish Sailor of the Year award The nomination comes after Dolan, from Kells, County Meath, finished sixth overall in the iconic Mini Transat race, a 4,000-mile epic across the Atlantic alone in 21ft boats. Posted on 9 Dec 2017
Entries open for Drheam Cup - Destination Cotentin
Qualifier for the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe The race will be held from Thursday 19 to Sunday 29 July 2018, leaving from La Trinité-sur-Mer and arriving in Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. One of the courses will be a qualifier for the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe. Posted on 5 Dec 2017
Ireland's Dolan sails into history books
With top Mini Transat result Solo sailor Tom Dolan has recorded Ireland's best ever result in the iconic Mini Transat race, finishing 6th in the 4,000-mile epic across the Atlantic. Posted on 25 Nov 2017
Mini-Transat La Boulangère Leg 2 day 15
Make way for the young Amidst all the fanfare of the finish, the race continues... Indeed, there have been a succession of arrivals in the port of Le Marin, but for the overwhelming majority of the racers, there are still some days to go. Posted on 15 Nov 2017
Mini-Transat La Boulangère Leg 2 day 13
Vedran Kabalin's boat has dismasted Things are complicated for Vedran Kabalin (Eloa Island of Osinj), who has managed to contact Race Management to alert them to the fact that his boat has dismasted. Posted on 13 Nov 2017
Mini-Transat La Boulangère Leg 2 day 12
A friend indeed Whilst the fleet carves out a route between the latest squalls in what is a very shifty trade wind, each of the skippers has his or her own method of keeping up morale and making the most of this adventure, right the way to the finish. Posted on 12 Nov 2017
Mini-Transat La Boulangère Leg 2 day 11
No lasting armistice out on the ocean... 99 years ago, the armistice of 11 November 1918 heralded the end of the First World War. This Saturday, on this its anniversary on the great Atlantic chessboard, by way of a nod to history. Posted on 11 Nov 2017
Mini-Transat La Boulangère Leg 2 day 10
A storm brewing You could get a sense of it from looking at the competitors' trajectories. The trade wind, never totally steady at the best of times, has been ruffled by stormy squalls, which are causing significant variations in the wind. Posted on 10 Nov 2017
Mini-Transat La Boulangère Leg 2 day 8
A touch of the blues in the big blue These are what the regulars call the crucial days, those where you realise that from here on in there's no way back and that there are no options until you reach Martinique. Posted on 8 Nov 2017
Mini-Transat La Boulangère Leg 2 day 7
Traverse in convoy… or not Virtually in single file, the solo sailors competing in the Mini-Transat La Boulangère are attacking their oceanic crossing on a WNW'ly heading, slightly above the direct course. Posted on 7 Nov 2017