Challenging conditions for the Mini Barcelona
Wintry weather made for a wild – and delayed – start to the Mini Barcelona that set the tone for the category C race, but despite challenging conditions throughout, 19 of the solo competitors made it to the finish in a thrilling seventh edition of the biennial contest.
Originally scheduled for 1pm on Friday 19 October, the start was put back by 24 hours after the arrival of a low pressure system brought strong winds and driving rain to the Catalan coast.
The depression had moved eastwards by Saturday but with continued heavy conditions forecast offshore for the rest of the weekend, organisers Reial Club Maritim de Barcelona also took the decision to alter the course to keep competitors closer to the coast.
Thus, instead of the planned 300nm rounding of Menorca, the final route consisted of a sausage course that led southwest from Barcelona to the Casablanca oil platform, northeast to the Llosa Palamos beacon and then back to Barcelona for a total race distance of 215nm.
Despite avoiding the worst of the Mediterranean weather, however, the 23 competitors encountered plenty of challenges en route, from heavy cross seas and fickle winds to violent thunderstorms on the last night.
Race Director Jordi Griso described the conditions on Saturday as “pretty hard”, with around 20 knots of wind and a strong swell running, and they took an early toll when two Series contenders – local Mini newbie Pilar Pasanau on 519 Peter Punk (Zero) and Luca del Zozzo on 768 M Pharma Italia (Pogo 2) – were forced to retire soon after the start.
A second Italian Series entry also came to grief on the first afternoon, when Andrea Iacopini’s 682 Umpalumpa (Pogo 2) suffered a dismasting and had to be towed back to port by the accompanying boat.
Meanwhile, at the front of the fleet, a duel was rapidly developing between two notoriously fast Lombard-designed Protos – 240 Sampaquita, in the hands of Catalan Mini veteran Bruno Garcia, and Jeffrey MacFarlane of the US in only his second race on 716, newly christened www.jeffreymacfarlane.com.
Garcia got off to a better start but was quickly overhauled by the American. As so often in the Mini class, sail selection was crucial throughout the race, and MacFarlane gained valuable ground early on by sailing higher under Code 5 rather than – like many of his rivals – opting for a medium spinnaker and a more downwind course.
“This was a key decision for me, because when – as I expected – the wind went forward, the boats to leeward had a hard time holding a course while I was blasting down to the mark at 14-19kn,” said MacFarlane.
At the Casablanca oil platform he was four miles ahead of Garcia and held onto the lead for most of the fast reach 104nm to Llosa Palamos, a leg that was marked by fickle and occasionally violent conditions.
“The strategy that I chose was to stay offshore sailing under the thunder clouds,” said MacFarlane. “I would sail offshore until the wind started to back and then tack back towards land until the wind went forward under the clouds, then ride the squall back more off shore and north.
“This worked pretty well but it was challenging – the storms had huge 180 degree windshifts, with winds going from two to 30kn in an instant!”
Coming up to the Llosa Palamos mark, however, MacFarlane suffered two rounds of gear failure in the shape of damaged outriggers and a jammed spinnaker halyard. Repairing the former cost time but it was the latter that cost him the race when it subsequently broke, leaving him to finish under Solent only.
That allowed Garcia, never far behind, to take the lead just before Llosa Palamos and extend it to 40 minutes at the finish line – an improvement of a place on the Catalan sailor’s last Mini outing, when he came second in the Barcelona race in 2008.
Despite the disappointment at the end, however, MacFarlane described himself as “very happy” with his second position. “Thanks to TEEM Lorient, who loaned me a new fuel cell, the energy problems that I had in the Around Islands Race in Valencia were sorted and I was able to focus on a good weather strategy,” he said.
“This race showed me that I and the boat have incredible speed and with more time and training in the boat I’m anticipating a very promising 2013 Mini season.”
MacFarlane is now heading back to La Grande Motte for repairs before setting off on the 1,000nm solo qualifying passage required for entry into next year’s Mini Transat.
Making up the podium in the Proto class was another Catalan sailor, Edgar Salo Navarro, on 684 Mini Nui, while of the aspirants to Series status the two Argos finished in fourth (Gerard Marin on 836 Argo Mas) and seventh (Joel Miro Garcia on 835 Dame Argo), with the Richard Hewson-skippered RG650 in between in sixth position.
The Series class was a more open contest but gradually developed into a three-way battle between AIR winner Andrea Pendibene on 520 Marina Militaire (Ginto), fellow Italian Alberto Bona on 507 Golden Apple (Pogo 2), and local sailor Didac Costa Carcereny, last seen piloting Sampaquita into second place in the AIR and back on board Ruben Castells Sole’s Pogo 2, 657 Peor Para El Sol.
Didac Costa Carcereny was first around the Llosa Palamos mark but lost ground on the last leg to finish third, nearly 90 minutes behind Bona’s Golden Apple and half an hour behind Pendibene.
Bona’s victory came on the back of a successful home season, where he took top spot in Italian Mini championship thanks to a first place in the San Remo Mini Solo and seconds in the Archipelago 6.50 and Grand Prix d’Italie.
Previously a Proto sailor – he campaigned 221 Moonfleet in Italy last year – Bona acquired his Pogo 2 for the 2012 season and is targeting a Transat next year. The Mini Barcelona was his first international Mini race and the Italian said he was delighted with the result.
“Winning in Barcelona was the best possible conclusion to the season,” he said. “The race was just 200 miles, which isn’t long, but does mean that you have to push really hard all the time – and the Mini class always has plenty of good sailors, so there’s strong competition.
“The low pressure system meant that we had a lot of different conditions, and although the wind was always manageable the cross swell was hard on the boats. And the continual rain didn’t make it any easier!”
Bona agreed that sail selection was key. “At the start the choice after the mark upwind was whether to go for a big spinnaker or go for a medium and stay on course,” he said. “I went for the latter and it was a good choice as we then had the wind shift to the south.
“Going up towards Palamos, when the wind got stronger after sunrise and was blowing from around 145 degrees, I decided to sail a little higher to take the rotation of the wind near the coast. I sailed very fast with a Code 5, I turned the mark in second position and then I pushed really hard on the last night in testing conditions, with a lot of thunderstorms and frequent wind shifts.”
The conditions also claimed another victim from the Series class on the leg back to Llosa Palamos. Belgian sailor Sofie de Clercq had struggled with autopilot problems from the start but was forced to retire halfway and nurse her Ginto, 648 Ville de Marseillan, back to Barcelona after one of the backstays broke at the masthead.
With the last qualifying race of the Classe Mini season now over, Ministes will now be looking ahead to next year and – in most cases – the Transat. The final course for the latter is due to be revealed in on Saturday by Douarnenez Courses, the new French race hosts of the event, as will eagerly awaited details of the date of departure. Full details will be available next week from Classe Mini website.