THANK YOU Mr McKEE for your permission.
Race Report: Mini Transat - Leg 1 Octobre 2003 :
After 4 months of training, racing and preparation, the Mini Transat was finally looming ahead. I arrived in La Rochelle 2 weeks ahead of the start on Sept. 7. The scene was incredible: a race village complete with flashing lights and blaring rock music, 70 sailors and their preparateurs madly but methodically getting the boats ready, a curious but informed public walking the docks.
It is hard to imagine how
many details, large and small, must be completed to be ready to sail a 22 foot boat across the Atlantic. Each day the list gets shorter, then longer again. Luckily I had some great help. Don and Shari Stabbart from Seattle invited me to stay abord their beautiful motor yacht. Charlie Dalin, a French naval architecture student who has been helping me all year, was diligently plugging away each day. Grant Spanhake designed and build me a new spinnaker at the last minute. My All-Star preparation
team from UK came down for 3 days (Mark Chisnell on navigation and electronics, Dick Parker on sails and rigging, Brian Thompson on Special Projects). I was the envy of the fleet. As the start date approached, I was feeling more and more ready, and was starting to focus my mind on the sailing and navigation. But there was one catch: a huge low pressure system, the first of the year, was decending on the Bay of Biscay right after the start day. At a briefing the day before the start, the
organizers decided to postpone for 2 days. While I was disappointed, it was probably the right decision. Being ready to go, I did not really want to hang around La Rochelle for two more days, so I hopped on a train and spent a great day in Paris, clearing my mind.
There was still plenty of wind around for the start, 20 knots building to 30 knots as the first night fell. I got a good start and was second to the first mark after a short beat. I set my fractional kite for the 5 mile tight
reach to the second mark, still inside the bay of La Rochelle. I was flying, but couldn΄t quite lay the mark so I took down about a mile from it, reaching up under jib and reefed main. I had managed to sneak past Fred Duthil on All Mer, the early leader, but Sam Manuard on Top Top 2 was planing up from behind with his fractional genneker. The three of us rounded the mark overlapped, coming onto the wind in 25 knots for the 7 mile beat out of the bay. 1,300 miles to go but sailing like a bouy
The first night was pretty rough. We were slightly cracked off from upwind, but the seas were big, left over from the depression. I had my full solent jib and 2 reefs, making 7 knots for Finisterre, the NW corner of Spain, 300 miles away. As day broke I saw Manuard to windward and Alex Pella of Spain to leeward, the 3 early leaders. The wind eased to 15-20 knots and we sailed all day on the wind, gradually getting headed. As the second night fell the wind continued to die and
back, and eventually I tacked to port in anticipation of a northerly shift. As morning came the breeze died completely. I could not see any other boats. Maybe they all still had breeze and were sailing away from me? Gradually I got a few little puffs, and decided to work my way towards the Spanish coast in hopes of some sea breeze. As I got closer to land, the breeze built and I started seeing other boats, 5 in all were ahead of me. I did not know if there were others but I started playing
the shifts and worked hard all night as we approached Finisterre.
The 6 of us continued to cross jibes, and the breeze built as we got closer to the legendary corner of Spain. At one point it came up to 30 knots and huge waves, and I doused my spinnaker and went wing and wing for awhile. But then the wind abruply died and I realized that I was getting too close to the lee of the huge mountains. I jibed offshore and came back after 10 miles or so, then worked the coast again in hopes
of some sea breeze reinforcement. As the fourth day drew to a close, I saw that my tactics were flawed. One of the boats that took a more offshore course had passed me, and that night I stayed on starboard jibe, getting away from shore. This tactic payed off, and in the morning I had taken the lead. I could see Tip Top 2 about a mile to windward, and Armel Tripon on Moulin Roty another 2 miles back. They had taken an offshore course too. The race was on!
The next 2 days was spent
running in 10-20 knots. I was playing the shifts, trying to make ground toward th finish in Lanzarote, Canary Islands. I lost sight of the others and just focussed on keeping Team McLube going fast. On the morning of the seventh day, there was Manuard about 1 mile astern. We sailed together all day and he gradually passed me. Late that night I jibed on a shift to starboard, and I never saw him, or anyone else, again. The breeze gradually died until that night when it got very erratic. As I
wallowed in no wind, I was convinced all the others must still have wind, and my chance to win the race was over.
The morning of the tenth day was the low point for me. Although I was only 100 miles to the finish, I had no wind. But gradually a northerly filled in and my spinnaker came to life. I worked hard all day, jibing to stay in the bands of pressure, gradually closing in on Lanzarote. It was a big moment when I first saw land that afternoon, but still 50 miles to go. The breeze
built for awhile, aiding my ETA, but then faded as I got close to the mountains of Lanzarote. I reached up hard to get offshore and slowly the wind came back. I stayed well offshore down the east coast of the island, finally jibing for the finish at 10pm. It looked like an easy cruise to the finish, but with 3 miles to go my spinnaker abruply backed against the rig. I scrambled to get the kite down and the jib up. I had not gone upwind for 8 days, 1,100 miles ago. It was a light beat the
final 3 miles, with the breeze gradually dying. With half a mile to go I was barely moving, but I crept across the line at midnight, and finally the leg was over.
As I was towed to the marina, the TV team told me Manuard had finished 2 hours earlier, and I was second. Tripon, the next boat, was 4 hours behind. Although it would have been great to win the leg, I was ecstatic to be second, and so close on time to the winner, especially with 3,000 miles of sailing still to come in the
second leg. Considering my mentality the night before, it felt like a great victory. Libby was there on the dock when I arrived which was the best surprise of all, and I had a good sleep that night for the first time in many days.
Race Report Mini Transat Leg 2 - Part 1 Novembre 2003 :
After a week of chilling in Lanzarote, I was itching to get to sea again. Libby and I enjoyed the volcanic landscape and
Canarian hospitality, and it was great to be able to relax with my Mini friends around a few cervesas, but I was anxious to finish the job I had started. As the start day approached, I started focusing on the weather and my tactics for the leg. The tactical options started right after the start, with the decision of which side to leave Fuerteventura Island, the next Canary island south of Lanzarote. This could be a critical call that would set up the rest of the leg. Consulting with my
weather and routing team, it initially looked like east of the island was better, but in the last day it became a tougher call, so I left the dock with an open mind.
The weather was perfect for the second leg start, sunny and a 15 knot northerly. As we popped our big kites and set off, I felt good, "at one" with my boat, and confident with my preparation. I got a good start and was among the top couple protos as we headed south. It became clear that Sam Manuard and most of the other
top boats were planning on going west of Fuerteventura. I had a slight bias toward east, but I didn't want to split so early in the race, so I took the west route as well. There was a bit of a parking lot 2 hours after the start, in the lee of Lanzarote, but I was the first to break out, and was leading the west pack down the shore of Fuerteventura.
As the first night started to fall, the breeze had built to a solid 20 plus knots and good waves, top end for the big spinnaker. It was a
very dark night and the wind continued to build. Time to change to the fractional kite. I had some trouble with the douse, damaging part of my autopilot system, and then I messed up rigging the new chute. By the time I got it all sorted out the breeze had built to 25-30 knots, and I decided to sail wing and wing without the chute for a while. I got a little sleep and surfed along the rest of the night under reefed main and wung out jib.
At daybreak I set the fractional kite and took
off, surfing wildly down the 7 foot swells. I was sure all the top boats had kept their kites up all night, and I was way behind. Furthermore, it turns out the boats that went east of Fuerteventura had done better, but luckily there were only a few protos, including Armel Tripon on Moulin Roty. I had some trouble hearing the 10am position report on the radio (only distance to the finish is broadcast, not actual position), but I though I heard I was in 13th position. Not a good way to start
the leg! In reality Moulin Roty was 25 miles ahead and I was in 6th.
I told myself to sail smart, but no more being conservative. I would have to push hard to catch up! That was my mantra for the next few days, and I kept trying to put up more sail and driving Team McLube hard. By that afternoon I had my biggest spinnaker up, and I never used the small one for the rest of the race. I was already pretty tired and beat up, only 24 hours into the race, but as time went on I got my sea
legs back. For the next two days I jibed on the shifts, staying pretty close to rhumb line and focusing on speed. After 2 days I was right on Tripon's heels, and on day 3 I took the lead. I don't know if it was tactics or speed, but Team McLube was on fire.
The third and fourth days were filled with more great sailing, running in 15-22 knots. I got some pretty big shifts and used them to go fast, then jibed when the shift went the other way. I had a scare on the third night, when I
awoke from a short snooze to find my spinnaker wrapped about a hundred times around the headstay. But after a bit of swearing and wrestling I broke the waxy Contender cloth free and was back in business. Approaching the Cape Verde Islands, the wind started to die. By the time I was 15 miles from them it was completely dead. Of course I assumed that everyone else had wind, but it turns out it got light for the whole fleet. As the fifth night fell a little northwesterly started to fill and I
nursed Team McLube back up to speed, first with the drifter, then going with the reaching kite as the breeze built to 10 knots and lifted into the north. I spent the next day sailing through the middle of the Cape Verde chain in a moderate northerly, though I was out of sight of land the whole time. The morning radio broadcast was giving me a 25 mile lead.
As the fifth night approached I had a tricky tactical decision to make. The rhumb line took me directly through Fogo Island, a
9,000 foot high volcano that marks the leeward end of the Cape Verde chain. Which side to take? In the end I elected to go west of Fogo, which took me dangerously close to the lee of the lower but still massive Santiago Island. The wind got quite light for a time that night, but then I rode some good squall clouds in the early morning hours to break free of the Cape Verdes, and back into open ocean.
Again my tactics for the next few days was to keep playing the shifts and sailing
toward my chosen waypoint to enter the doldrums, 800 miles further south. The radio that day had me 40 miles ahead of Moulin Roty and 60 miles ahead of Sam Manuard, so I guess my tactics through the Cape Verdes were ok.
For the next two days the wind was pretty shifty, and up and down in velocity. The weather forecast called for a "tropical wave" to move over me, which is an east moving low pressure front off the coast of Africa, but I never really saw the effects of it. However, some
of the boats behind did get this feature, and thus had a lot more wind during this time. Thus by day 8 Tripon had caught up to within 4 miles of me, and Manuard within 20 miles! Also, some of the fleet had taken a more westerly track and had racked up some good mileage. With my big lead gone and the doldrums rapidly approaching, it was time to get to work again
On day 9 I started to get some southerly swell, a sign that the southern hemisphere SE trade winds were not too far away.
That night the clouds were more prominent than ever before. At 2 am I was riding the front edge of big squall line, when all of a sudden I got a big header and lots of wind. I dropped the kite and came back up course, and after that the wind went crazy, rapidly shifting, building and dying. The next morning was dead calm, with huge clouds all around. So this was the doldrums. After drifting around upwind for a couple of hours, I got in front of a big cloud from behind and reset the spinnaker.
At midday I was engulfed by another giant cloud, with incredible rain and a light wind on the nose. That was the last of the spinnaker for the rest of the race. It was upwind 5-12 knots for the next day and a half, trying to dodge the biggest clouds and keep heading south. Starboard tack was slightly favored for southing, so I ended up a little further east of my waypoint, but I was getting through the doldrums quite efficiently. Finally there was one last massive cloud that I could not
avoid. It rained harder than I have ever seen. But as it passed, I could see white caps from the southeast, and an hour later I was sailing upwind in 18 knots, free of the doldrums after lass than 2 days. I was making 6.5 knots directly for the finish. Whether I was lucky or good, I had a very smooth transition from north to south trade winds, and I was on my way to Brazil. Some boats took 5 days to get through the doldrums.
The next day's radio report had me just behind Pierre
Rolland and just ahead of Tripon, with Manuard 20 miles back. I had a sneaking suspicion that Rolland was well to the west, but I wasn't sure about the other 2 leaders. I didn't think anyone could be too far east of me, and this turned out to be the case, with Tripon roughly on my track and Manuard a bit west. Since the rest of the race was likely to be port tack upwind or reaching, east was good because the angle was more freed up. So I felt I was in a strong position, but I worked hard to
get the boat set up to sail fast without falling below the rhumb line to Fernando do Noronha, an island 800 miles away that was next mark of the course.
The next three days were hard slogging, upwind or just cracked off in 15-20 knots and pretty big waves. Not all that comfortable in a 22 foot boat. But my speed seemed excellent and I was able to hold to the course. My Rogers design is excellent at this point of sail, and my North sails (designed by Fuzz Spanhake) were perfectly
suited to the hard beating. The daily radio reports confirmed this. My lead gradually grew each day, first 20 miles, then 40, then 55 miles. Being east was paying off, and I felt nothing could stop me from winning the race, with the finish line now just 700 miles away.
Leg 2 Race Report - Transat Aftermath Novembre 2003 :
Just after midnight I was resting down below when I felt the boat suddenly come
upright. I bolted out of the companionway, and to my horror I saw the top Ύ of the rig lying in the water, the mast broken at the bottom spreader.
It is hard to describe the thoughts and feelings that went through my head in those first few moments. First was the sudden realization that I was not going to win the race. Secondly was the practical matter of cleaning up the wreckage. I set to work on this so I didn't have to think about my intense disappointment (and to keep the mast
from poking a hole in the boat!). I pushed the green button on my Sarsat beacon, alerting the race organizers that I had an issue but did not require assistance (it turns out the nearest support boat was 200 miles away anyways).
It was quite a struggle getting the rig tidied up. For some reason, I thought it was a good idea to get the broken mast onboard rather than cut it away. Getting the sails down and freeing up all the halyards and standing rigging was a battle in the rough
seaway. Then I had to somehow lift the tube out of the water and onto the pitching deck of my Mini. After two hours of hard work I finally got it all secured. I inspected the broken end of the V1 rod (the shroud which goes from the deck to the first spreader, which supports the whole upper part of the mast), the cause of my woes. After getting everything lashed down, I was so exhausted I collapsed in a heap down below and slept for three hours.
I got up at daybreak and set to work
erecting a jury rig. I had a lower shroud on the port side and about 9 feet of mast to work with. I began by unfastening the boom and lashing it with spectra rope to the mast stump. This gave me a little taller mast. Then I used the reef lines as halyards to hoist a storm jib and trysail. This got me going in generally the right direction, but only at 3 knots. I needed a bigger headsail. I moved the boom higher up the mast stump to give me more luff length. Then I tied a knot in the head off
the jib, and ran the tack out the spinnaker pole to try to get some tension on the luff. I ran the jib halyard to the shroud location to act as another shroud. This was all very promising, but there was no way to sheet the sail tight with this bizarre geometry. I ended up leading the sheet underneath the bow and around the weather side of the hull, which let me sheet it home nicely. Now I could go 4 knots, and about 60 degrees to the wind. I was going to miss the island of Fernando, but I was
making the coast of Brazil, 400 miles to the south.
The next day I further upgraded my jury rig by hoisting the main on its third reef. The luff was freestanding and the clew was sheeted to the traveller bar, but it pulled a lot better than the trysail. Now I was up to five knots boat speed. The wind was still from the SE at 12-18 knots. With all this sail area, there was quite a load on the rig, and every couple of hours something would saw through or break, and I would have to
rerig. Despite this I was starting to make reasonable progress toward Brazil. When the wind would lift into the east, I could make enough weather gauge to make for the finish in Salvador. However, more often the wind stayed in the SE, and I could just make the corner of Brazil. In the most headed wind I was heading for the Amazon delta, not good. My mood swings tended to follow the wind direction; happy when lifted, depressed when headed. Because I had no shrouds on the starboard side of the
mast, I couldn't sail very efficiently on starboard tack, so I was hoping not to have to tack.
Sailing to shore on my wounded bird was the longest 4 days of my life. I was out of the race, my dream shattered. I tried to focus on sailing toward land as efficiently and safely as possible. I was aware that nobody knew what had happened to me, including my family. By following the Sarsat beacon, my location was known, and the fact that I was moving reasonably well would indicate I was OK.
Nevertheless, I was anxious to speak with my wife Libby and ease her worries. And I kept thinking about my 2 ½ year old daughter Allegra, who I had not seen for two months. I just tried to keep sailing as fast as possible. But life on board was pretty dull. The motivation of the race was gone. I ate and read and slept, and tried not to think too much about my situation.
After 3 days of sailing I was 10 miles off the coast of South America, closing in on the city of Recife. It took all
the pointing I could muster, but I managed to stay off the lee shore and made the harbor entrance. Of course I had no real harbor chart, so I relied on the Admiralty Sailing Directions to navigate into Recife. It was a very strange feeling to be sailing into this big industrial port under my pathetic jury rig, suddenly surrounded by civilization after 20 days alone. After talking with the harbor master on the VHF, I managed to sail into the Cabanga Iate Club, the only pleasure boat facility
for hundreds of miles, and tied the injured Team McLube to the dock.
The people at the yacht club were very nice, and some even spoke English. I got a hotel and phoned home, my top priorities. A club member named Raphael Lumack do Monte Filho helped me arrange to truck my boat the 400 miles by road to Salvador. But first I had to clear customs. This turned out to be quite an adventure. I visited about eight different government offices, and after 2 days of waiting smiling and hoping,
I thought I had the correct papers to proceed by road to Salvador. By now I had heard the news that Sam Manuard had also broken his mast, only 80 miles from the finish. I felt terrible for Sam, I knew what he was going through more than anyone.
Loading my Mini onto the little flatbed truck for transport down the coast was another interesting adventure. The crane was barely big enough, the harbor was so shallow that I couldn't get the boat very close to shore, and nobody had any proper
straps to lift the boat. I made some slings out of Vectran and we managed to get the boat out of the water, but then the crane couldn't lift it high enough to put the keel on the hard. So we ended up dropping the boat onto the mud while I crawled aboard and undid the keel bolts. A little messy but we got the keel off, and dropped the boat onto the trailer. Of course the truck drivers hadn't brought the proper padding to put under the hull, so there was a lot of frantic discussion in
Portuguese about what to do next. Eventually we procured some more tires and lashed to boat down for the road trip. Another hurdle overcome
Because the paperwork was a little shaky, my new friends determined that it would be safest if I rode with the truck to Salvador. This seemed alright, I would see a bit of the country and save the money of a plane flight. I figured, 400 miles, how long could that take? So we set off that afternoon, a driver, his partner and me, all crammed in the
cab of the 1960s vintage truck. Our conversation was somewhat limited by our language differences, mostly sign language and a little Spanish. After we got out of the city of Recife, the guys stopped to cook up a meal in the little kitchen built into the side of their truck. This turned out to be the first of many such cooking stops.
As we wound our way south of the city, I began to realize that there was no freeway between Recife and Salvador, to say the least. When the road was good
we could get up to about 50 mph, but at times it was down to 10 mph and massive potholes. As darkness descended, I could smell the burning of the sugar cane fields we were driving through. We would pass little villages, groupings of tiny shacks with a few shops along the road, and people milling around everywhere.
Suddenly there was a load bang from the back of the truck, and we pulled over to the side of the road. Another truck stopped behind us, and within minutes a towing cable was
produced, and we were being towed down the road, albeit at a much reduced speed. After two hours of painfully slow progress, we arrived at a truck stop. Despite the late hour, the place was teaming with activity. I thought my days of sleeping in the Mini were over, but I crawled up onto my boat one last time and bedded down for the night.
The next morning work began on fixing the broken rear axle. Miraculously, the parts were somehow procured and the work proceeded efficiently. Of
course lots of people were interested in my boat. Since I don't speak Portuguese, I couldn't do a lot of explaining, but I tried to be friendly, and I found the locals to be very nice. Despite their obvious poverty, they were generous and genuinely nice. I felt very safe. They have a wide range of racial background, but I didn't notice any racism, an interesting contrast to other third world cultures I have experienced. I expected the truck repair to take days if not weeks, but by 2pm we were
back on the road. It was a good thing, because I had no money, having paid all my cash to the truck driver. Luckily I had some freeze dried food left over from the race.
Bumping along the road, just 200 miles to go now. I was looking forward to seeing my Mini friends in Salvador. As interesting as this trip was, I was ready for a big caiparana and some serious R&R. But as darkness fell, we pulled over into another truck stop. Communicating in sign language and rudimentary Spanish,
the drivers explained to me that we were stopping for the night, because it was unsafe to travel at night due to banditos! This came as a great disappointment to me, but I was not really in a position to argue. I later found out that this was a very real danger. So once again the truck-side kitchen was deployed for a meat, rice and bean dinner, and one last time I crawled back up into my Mini for the night.
We got an early start the next day, but we abruptly stopped at the first town
we came to. A discussion ensued between the driver and a skinny man by the side of the road. Minutes later they were pouring buckets of bootleg diesel into the truck. I guess price competition for fuel is pretty intense. We bought some fresh fruit from a roadside vendor while the fueling was underway, and soon we were on the road again. Out of the cane fields now, and into scattered fruit groves and native jungle. Finally the outskirts of Salvador appeared, and by noon we arrived at the Bahia
Marina where the boat would be craned into the water for the short trip to the regatta venue. Not 5 minutes after we arrived, Sam Manuard showed up in very similar rig! We traded stories and consoled each other as our boats were launched. He was pretty shook up. This project had been 5 years long for him, only to be dashed just 80 miles from the finish. I have tremendous respect and admiration for this man and his sailing, having designed and built his own boat for the last 2 Transats. He
embodies all that this event is about.
As Sam and I were towed the short distance to the Centro Nautico, we got a wonderful welcome, complete with flares, blaring Brazilian samba, and the warm embrace of our friends. Although neither of us finished the race, we were treated like champions and that was a great feeling. And I finally sucked down a caiparana or two.
As I sit in my office in Seattle and reflect on the last year, a whole range of thoughts and emotions floods
through my head. Mostly, I feel very happy that I chose to pursue my long held dream of doing this race. I met so many great and interesting people, some of who will be lifelong friends. I have had many great sailing experiences, more than anyone could hope for in 6 months of sailing. And I am proud of the team that I put together and what we all accomplished together. Even though this is a singlehanded race, it is not possible to compete without a lot of help. One of the best things about a
project like this is the opportunity to bring a group of fun and talented people together to accomplish something that nobody could achieve individually. I would like to personally thank everyone for their efforts and commitment. It has been a great ride and we have a lot to be proud of. My team in no particular order:
Fuzz Spanhake awesome sail designer Duncan Skinner,
Contender USA donated all my sail cloth Ethan Bixby and his team at North Sails Gulf Coast built fast and tough sails Charlie Dalin my preparateur and right hand man all year Annabelle and Isabelle at Classe Mini got me through the logistic hurdles Ian McKay provided invaluable guidance at a critical time Brian Thompson he is the man, too much help to mention on one line
Dick Parker big help with final preparations in La Rochelle Mark Chisnell ditto Mark Rudiger shared his
vast knowledge of ocean tactics and helped with routing Ken Campbell, Commanders Weather outstanding weather support all year Carl Sutter at Fisheries Supply donated much need equipment for the final push John Lafond and his team at Ford Motor Co. came up with a brilliant battery system Brad Cole at Prism Graphics beautiful sail and hull graphics Jeff McLean big help setting up my iPod Ron Rosenberg the man for sponsor relations David Pritchard at Gill NA fantastic clothing and
foul weather gear Vincent Deruelle and his team at MarSail great logistic and web site support Peter Isler tactical smarts for the Transat Yale Cordage the best ropes on the planet David Paine at Mastervolt UK excellent batteries, chargers, monitors Allie Hall at Raymarine great electronics, especially the best autopilot anywhere Simon Rogers fantastic boat design, and financial help when I really needed it Ward McLatchey at Team McLube the best sponsor I could ever hope for
Harken USA, Harken UK, Harken France the best gear, and great support on shore Libby McKee encouraged me to follow my dream
.. (and kept up my web site!) Bernard Suzzarini helped me tremendously at my first Mini race All the great people at Grand Pavois Organization always a huge help Don and Shari Stabbert provided refuge for me in La Rochelle Bates McKee my partner in the Open Demi-Cle, and long time supporter Robert Hopkins sponsorship ideas and weather assistance in Lanzarote
All my Mini Class friends provided community and support in times of need Paul Bieker resident rocket scientist (give this man a mini design) Henrik Soderstom expert sail consulting Nick Moloney encouraged me to go for it Charlie McKee reminded me to enjoy myself Peter Heppel shared his experiences and brilliant ideas Synergy Marine UK beautiful refit of the boat before the season For all those I have forgotten, sorry, my memory is not what it used to be