Mini Around Islands Race
With a Transat year coming up, any addition to the relatively sparse Mediterranean Mini calendar was always going to be warmly welcomed by local sailors. But in the event the first edition of the Around Islands Race (AIR), a 260nm category C contest out of Valencia, gave its 15 solo competitors not only the opportunity to earn precious qualifying miles but also valuable experience of tight, tactical racing.
The brain child of Valencia-based entrepreneur Bret Perry, the AIR 2012 – the name refers to a course that took competitors around Ibiza and Formentera – was first mooted last autumn in the run-up to the 2011 Transat during discussions between Perry and Classe Mini president Olivier Avram.
“Olivier mentioned that they’d really like to have another Mediterranean race in the Mini calendar,” says Perry, who was in La Rochelle to oversee the European debut of the RG650, the new Argentinian-built aspirant to Series status. “Doing something in Valencia seemed like a great way to promote not only the RG650 but also the Mini class itself in the south of Spain.”
Finding financing proved a struggle, a factor Perry attributes partly to the notoriously tough economic times in Spain and partly to the fact that, as he puts in, “most people in Valencia think everything’s just about the America's Cup and the Volvo”.
In fact, he adds: “A big part of the reason for doing this event was to open the eyes of people here to these grassroots events. We have a base here with some of the best facilities in the world and we need to use it.”
In the end, the race was supported by with local Valencia firm Yacht Moving as well as Perry’s company Katabatic Sailing (www.katabatic-sailing.com), the agent for Magic Marine, Glowfast Luminous Products and the RG650, while race organisation was handled by the new Marina Valencia Sailing Club, based in the Juan Carlos marina, and founder Peter Morley-Smith.
As to a date for the AIR, Perry says the end of September was a natural choice as it meant that the race could serve as a feeder for the well-established, biennial Mini Barcelona “and give international sailors an additional reason to come to Spain at the end of the season”.
The turn-out was certainly impressive for an inaugural event, with the final field including sailors from the US, Australia, Belgium and Italy – most of whom will also be lining up for the Mini Barcelona on Friday.
And while the winners in both categories were Mini veterans – Valencia-based Juan Carlos Oliva not only had the advantage of being in home waters but has been campaigning his Proto, 624 Zumez, since 2008, the same year in which Series victor Andrea Pendibene joined the circuit with his Ginto, 520 Marina Militaire – the race also featured a clutch of newcomers to the class.
The Series fleet included three novice solo racers, of whom Belgian Mini newcomer Sofie de Clercq on the Ginto 648 Ville de Marseillan was closest to the podium with a fourth place finish, while Spaniards Jesus Jimenez on 654 Turtur (Pogo 2) and Jose Luis Dura on 766 Pik (Zero) were further back in sixth and seventh.
Meanwhile, the Proto class saw two seasoned racers with big boat experience make the step down to Minis for the first time. Fresh from skippering Gold Coast Australia to victory in 12 out of the 15 stages of the latest Clipper Round the World Race, Richard Hewson stepped into the RG650 – still classed as a Proto for the moment as only five of the 10 hulls required for Series classification have been made – to replace the UK’s Pip Hare, who piloted the boat in the 500nm Le Grand Huit in August.
And Jeffrey MacFarlane had his first ride on 716, the Marc Lombard design that took first place in the initial leg of the 2011 Mini Transat in the hands of Sebastien Rogues. MacFarlane, originally from Michigan, has raced both inshore and offshore with Rogues this season on the latter’s Class 40 Eole Generation GDF Suez, and has chartered 716 until the end of next year with a view to a full Mini Transat campaign.
The race itself got off to a delayed start on Sunday 30 September, two days after the scheduled departure time, following severe weather that saw wind speeds of 57 knots recorded in the Juan Carlos Marina. The initial decision was to delay the start by 24 hours but a heavy swell running against a by now offshore breeze prompted a second postponement to Sunday morning.
“We could have started on Saturday evening but we wanted to wait for the swell to drop considerably, which happens fairly quickly,” says Perry. “We didn’t want any broken boats and, bearing in mind that we had several people in their first ever solo race, we wanted to make sure that all the competitors had a race where they could expand their skills and get round and get their qualifying miles.”
The delayed start and residual sea state also prompted the decision to shorten the course to leave out a leg to a mark off the west of Mallorca, as well as removing the requirement to attempt the potentially hazardous passage between Ibiza and Formentera. The revised course called simply for the boats to leave both islands to starboard, reducing the overall distance by 30nm to 260nm.
For Pendibene, the postponements meant that the start was even more crucial than usual for the competitors. “When you have a delay like that, and then another delay, it’s very important to stay calm and stay focused on the boat and on the forecast,” he says. “In a big city like Valencia it would be easy to get distracted!”
Once underway, the typical Mediterranean conditions – changeable, with lighter airs in the morning and thermal winds later in the day – ensured that the pack stayed tightly grouped as opportunities for the faster boats to stretch their legs were rare.
Macfarlane comments: “The conditions weren’t that great for my boat – it’s pretty fast in all conditions but it’s a lot more powerful in fast reaching conditions than most of the others. Once it got above 8-9 knot I was able to get really good boat speed but in the lighter conditions I wasn’t able to get away from the other boats.”
In the Proto class the lead was hotly disputed. Macfarlane was first to most of the marks around the islands but, as he puts it: “Then I’d sail into no wind and everybody else would sail around me and keep clear of the light patch”. Like Hewson, he was also forced to hand helm nearly all the way due to technical problems with his autopilot – a factor he says contributed to a key tactical error on the leg back to Valencia.
“It was tough without the pilot and I got too tired in the second night, which meant I just wasn’t thinking clearly, and that’s when I ended up following the wrong one of my two weather courses and going south of the rhumb line instead of north. I think that’s where I really lost the race.”
He and Hewson also lost ground at the end due to a misunderstanding over the exact location of the finish line – something Perry puts down to an unfortunate case of “lost in translation” at the pre- race briefing – but by that time Oliva on Zumex was already well clear of the pack.
In the final placings, MacFarlane came in third behind seasoned Mini sailor Didac Costa Carcereny, notching up another notable performance in his first year in the Proto class following his second placing in Le Grand Huit Solitaire in 240 Sampaquita.
The fourth and fifth spots went to Gerard Marin and Joel Miro Garcia in a pair of Argos – another model aspiring to Series status, this one a Marc Lombard design from Spanish yard Andres Duran Yachting – ahead of Alan Roura on 284 Navman and Hewson.
In the Series class, Pendibene – sailing under the colours of the Italian navy’s elite sail training centre since the start of the year – was able to hang on to an early lead for the duration of the race. The Ginto is noted for its light airs performance – but Pendibene says the marginal advantage was minimal.
“The conditions definitely suited the Ginto – not having a chine, it’s good upwind and downwind but slightly less competitive in reaching and hard conditions. But that said, in the series class the boat type doesn’t count for that much, it’s more about the preparation of both yourself and the boat.”
Joining Pendibene on the Series podium were Ruben Castells Sole, who piloted 657 Peor Para El Sol (Pogo 2) into second place, and third finisher Frederic Donot. The latter completed the Transat in 2007 in his Tip Top, 642 Defi Champenois, but subsequently took a break from the class for family reasons, and is now back and targeting another Transat campaign.
Overall, the unanimous verdict from the competitors is that the AIR is a welcome addition to the Mediterranean Mini circuit. As to whether it will end up being an annual event or – like the Mini Barcelona – biennial, remains to be seen, but Perry is adamant that there will be an AIR 2013.
“Being a Mini Transat year we’ll obviously lose a lot of the top runners but maybe we’ll have it as an event we can supply to people who don’t want or aren’t in a position to do the Transat,” he says. “And if it does settle into a biennial event further down the line then we’ll only be stronger and better for having two years to prepare.”
The last race of the Classe Mini season for 2012, the Mini Barcelona, starts Friday. That will be followed on Saturday 27 October by the
eagerly-awaited announcement of the final course and date for the 2013 Transat at its new home in France, Douarnenez – for more details contact Classe Mini.