Mini series at Royal SouthamptonInterest in the Mini Transat has been steadily growing in Britain since Mark Turner and Ellen MacArthur's pioneering efforts to get the Brits back into the race. In the 1999 running we had Alex Bennett launch his pro career, along with a great second leg performance from Peter Heppel. Andrew Cape's Aberdeen Asset Management didn't really reach its potential, mainly thanks to a broken rudder, but partly because of a late launch and the preoccupation of its skipper/designer with winning (successfully) the Admirals' Cup.
Sam Davies - who was aboard Royal and SunAlliance and match races with Shirley Robertson - is determined not to make the same mistake. Sam had talked to Capey about using the boat in the next Transat at the beginning of the year, and she has sailed with him at a bunch of different events this season - Rover Series, Round the Island and Cork Week - all still sponsored by Aberdeen Asset Management. They are looking at continuing the partnership next year, with Sam as the Transat skipper. Capey has lent her the boat for now, and she has successfully completed the first part of the qualification, a thousand miles solo, that took in a visit to La Rochelle. There, with Brian Thompson (watch captain aboard PlayStation), they unofficially entered a race at the French Nationals and managed to win.
Sam reckons Capey has been a huge help, passing on his experience as well as lending her the boat. She has a programme mapped out, and just needs confirmation from the sponsor. She must still complete a thousand miles of racing - with one race over 500 nm - to fully qualify. The hope is to start with a race from Barcelona to the Balearic Islands in December, coinciding with the start of The Race. Next year would have to include the Mini Fastnet, which is the only race on the calendar that is more than the required 500 nm.
But to start with, Davies and several other Mini hopefuls have got together for a short Sunday morning winter series, organised by the Royal Southampton. The race on the 15th October was a victim of the light air that plagued much of that weekend's calendar, but six boats went out for a start that didn't happen. Brian Thompson is one of them, having caught the bug he's racing one of the Simon Rogers' designs (that didn't quite make it to the 1999 event) with a view to a purchase.
Another sorted programme is Simon Curwen, who has bought Lionel Lemonchois's old boat, widely regarded as the sexiest Mini on the circuit. Paul Peggs was out with a rebuilt Blue One, this is the Mark Mills design that he abandoned at the height of the storm blitzed start of the 1999 race. Peggs picked the boat up from a French beach and is back, undeterred by his experiences. Also out on Sunday were Peter Birch and Jill Falkingham.
While David Gown has just set off for France, with a van packed full of epoxy and tools. David's back-garden-built boat failed a stability test prior to this summer's Triangle du Soleil. Consequently they would only let him sail with a reefed mainsail and no masthead chutes. Equally undeterred, Gown has set off for France to fix it - they don't give up easily these Mini sailors.