Laureyssens - De Smedt, off Belgium,
wins the Mini Fastnet race 2004 in the Production Class.

Text by Peter Laureyssens
More info at: www.minitransat650.be

Preparation in Douarnenez
One week before the start of the Mini Fastnet we arrive in Brittany. The first day we will sail "Basecamp" from Trinité-sur-mer, the boat's home base during the summer months, to Douarnenez. This is a nice training trip of 100 miles along the french coast.
We have high expectations for this race after the third place of last year (in the series class). Compared to the last edition I now have  a lot more experience on the boat and we have been working quite hard this winter to optimise the hull and the sails of the Pogo2. On top of that I will be joined by co-skipper Peter de Smedt who competed in the last Mini-Transat and knows all the details of these 6,50 meter race boats. During the winter we have been training together during mini winter trainings.
Although we start the race as one of the favorites, it will be very hard to win this edition in this impressive fleet of very competitive series boats (25 brand new Pogo2 are present). On Saturday the practice race is organised. Although the prologue does not count for the general result, it is mandatory for the competitors to compete and it is a good opportunity to assess our position in the fleet. 84 mini's (of which 50 series boats) take the start. We will finish this short race at 4th position. A promising result for the real race starting tomorrow.

Day 1: Douarnenez - Chenal du four (40 Miles)
We take a fine start but unfortunately we sail a really bad upwind leg. We are not using the wind shifts to our advantage. After half an hour we arrive at the first mark in 50e position. Not really what we had hoped for, but we still got 4 days to regain the lead !
After this leg, we got a 10 NM reaching leg out of the bay of Douarnenez and after that 20 NM upwind to the north. We can overtake several boats during this day and at sunset we arrive at the end of "Chenal du Four" in 30th position.

Day 2: Chenal du four - Wolf Rock - Seven Stones (120 miles)
During the night and the whole of the next day we are sailing upwind in light airs. Especially at night our boat speed is very good and we regularly pass top lights of other boats. This will be the case for the rest of the race. We always seem to win some places at night due to a better concentration. This has certainly to do with the fact that we had the opportunity to participate in the "sleep management" seminar as a member of the Ecover Ocean Sailing Academy.
Early next morning we learn from the BBC shipping forecast that the wind will back to northwest in the coming hours. So our strategy is to continue as long as possible on starboard tack and change tack at the expected wind shift. This happens just after noon and we can sail in a straight line to Wolf Rock. Again we gain quite some places.
At the approach of Wolf Rock we get the current against us. We decide to deviate a little from the course and sail closer to the shoreline in order to have less unfavourable current. However we experience also very light wind close to the shore and we see some of our competitors away from the shore sailing away. Very frustrating moment !
Around midnight we pass Wolf Rock and a little bit later Seven Stones. We hear on the radio that we are in 25th position overall and 5th series boat. The first series boat has a lead of about one hour. It is still possible, but no more mistakes allowed.

 
Day 3: Seven Stones - Fastnet (140 miles)
The wind has increased now to 15-20 knots. The shipping forecast predicts a further backing of the wind so we decide to stick to the same strategy as the previous leg, that means sailing on starboard tack as far as possible and than tack at the wind shift.
During the rest of the day we sail on starboard tack. We do not get bored during that day because we are changing headsails on a regular basis (from genua to solent and back again). Somewhere during the night we do get the expected shift and tack.
After two days we really have found our rythm: 3 hours of steering and trimming the sails, 1 hour of navigating and taking some food and 2 hours of sleep. Four times a day we listen to the BBC shipping forecast and based on that we decide on our strategy. Once a day (at 8 o'clock in the morning) there is the mandatory "VHF vacation", where all boats give there position and any problems. This gives you the opportunity to assess your position in the fleet.
That morning Peter de Smedt was giving our position and he told to the race committee that we had a serious problem. We had caught a 15 KG tuna fish, but we didn't have any more white wine to drink with it. We did not expect the french to believe this but after the finish we realised that we made the local headlines with our fishing story during the race !


Day 4: Fastnet - Ile de Ouessant (240 miles)
Wednesday afternoon we finally pass the Fastnet Rock after 3 days upwind beating. It is a huge relieve that we can finally fly the kite. We are now in third position with the second boat 100 meters in front of us and the leading series boat half an hour in front. The wind is now steadily increasing and at sunset we got 30 knots of wind. So perfect conditions to surf back at to Douarnenez in a straight line. These are exactly the conditions the boats are designed for. We hoist the small kite and attain regularly top speeds of 16-17 knots. The remaining miles to the finish are rapidly decreasing and we pass a lot of top lights in front of us.
During the night both of us stay on deck, one steering the other after the helmsman with the spinnaker sheet at reach for emergency situations. Every hour we change positions to keep concentrated. In the early morning hours we do have a difficult time due to sleep deprivation. It is a strange experience to surf over the water at 16 knots almost falling asleep during a couple of seconds and waking up by the splashing water. It is a miracle we did not have single broach during the night thanks to the incredible stability of the Pogo2.
At the finish we learn that that night 5 boats dismasted. Fortunately there were no injuries and all boats arrived in Douarnenez under jury rig.

Day 5: Ile de Ouessant - Douarnenez (30 miles)
The next day at 30 NM from the finish the wind suddenly drops to 10 knots. A little bit to leeward we recognise now the blue spinnaker of the leading series boat at the Fastnet. That means we gained half an hour during last night. We start to get a little bit nervous. We are both aware that we will compete for the final victory!
During most of the day we are slowly sailing next to each other. At the end of the day the wind is increasing and backing some more. We rapidly decide to gybe. Our competitors do the same but they make a mistake in the gybe and wrap their spinnaker around the forestay. They lose 500 meters undoing their spinnaker. This lead seems to be enough for us and with the increasing wind we continue to sail a little bit faster than them.
We arrive in Douarnenez a little bit after midnight and have a 12 minutes lead on our competitors. We also get the official confirmation that we finished as first series boat!

Next steps
The Mini Fastnet has been a very useful learning experience for us.
Our boat speed under spinnaker is fantastic, upwind speed could be improved somewhat. Tactically we also sailed a good race: most of the legs we have chosen the right side by listening to the shipping forecast and interpreting the meteo. However we always lost some places when we were close to the shoreline, so some extra study on this should be helpful.
Lat but not least the cooperation between the 2 Peter's (Laureyssens and De Smedt) was very successful. Hopefully this will help both of us in our search for sponsors for our respective Mini Transat campaign and Figaro campaign.

Text by Peter Laureyssens

More info at: www.minitransat650.be