Every two years more than 80 single-handed sailors race more than 4,000 miles from the west coast of France to the Caribbean or Brazil on tiny 6.5 metre yachts. Despite their small size these are full-on race boats, with the most recent designs typically providing a test bed for ideas that are subsequently incorporated into more mainstream racing yachts and, occasionally, cruising models. The race is also an event that has produced many of the most successful sailors at the very top end of the sport, including a number of winners of the non-stop solo Vendee Globe round the world race.
The fleet in the race village before leaving La Rochelle. Credit: Olivier Blanchet / Mini Transat La Boulangère
This year competitors range from their early 20s to over 60 in age and come from seven countries. The fleet left La Rochelle on October 1 for the first leg, bound for Las Palmas, Grand Canaria in relatively light airs, but with faster downwind conditions in prospect for a few days once to the west of a cold front in the Bay of Biscay. However, they then had to endure a few days of very light airs on the final few hundred miles to the finish.
In the class for series production boats one of the early leaders was a newcomer to the race, 23-year old Clarisse Crémer (TBS) who boasted a 32-mile lead over the rest of the fleet after five days. However, this division was to see seven different leaders and 13 changes at the top of the leader board during the leg. Crémer lost out in the very light airs on the final frustrating days before the finish, to take third place at the end of the leg, behind Valentin Gautier (Shaman – Banque du Léman) and Rémi Aubrun (Alternative Sailing – Constructions du Belon).
Arriving in Gran Canaria. Credit: Breschi / Mini Transat La Boulangère
The Prototype class also saw particularly intense competition, with Ian Lipinski (Griffon.fr) taking victory just 113 seconds ahead of Arthur Léopold Léger after almost exactly 10 days at sea. They held a six-hour margin ahead of Erwan Le Mené, but the next six boats had a much tighter race, finishing within four hours of Le Mené.
Despite challenging conditions off Cape Finisterre, only three skippers have been forced to drop out of the race. Matteo Rusticali due to a dismasting and Luca Sabiu who triggered his distress beacon offshore of La Coruña and was subsequently rescued. Frédéric Guérin, was not able to effect repairs within the 72 hours allowed following his dismasting, but arrived in the Canary Islands a week before the restart of the final leg. This is a 2,700 miles voyage from Las Palmas to Martinique, that started on November 1. Thanks to a potential late season tropical depression forming around 1,000 miles to the east of Bermuda the fleet will be routed via a gate in the Cape Verde islands.
Pre race favourite and winner in the production boat category in 2015, Ian Lipinski in Griffon.fr crossed the finishing line on November 14 in a time of 13 days, 22mins. This is the first occasion that a racer won in the production boat category and then repeated the win in the prototype category two years later. Following on from Sébastien Magnen on his prototype Karen Liquid in 1997 and 1999, Ian Lipinski has become the second double champion of the Mini-Transat La Boulangère. At the time of writing the production boats were still at sea