Over the winter I’ve made a number of mods and changes to Boreal, my electrics, the ballast system and rigging being the main changes. Typically at the beginning of the winter I had tonnes of time but no money to start. Then with the support from Go Ape! And Team Concise I had funding to be able to make the changes I wanted, but less than a month before the first race. It turned into a race against time just to make it to the start. With a few hiccups we made it…not quite all systems in place but we got round 

55% of retirements from the Mini Transat are usually due to electrical failures. For this reason I have spent the time to give my system a complete refit. I ripped out all my wiring and replaced most of the cables. The Mini is very wet and with a mix of salt and humidity, corrosion is very common.

While renewing all the cables I took the opportunity to upgrade my batteries to lithium and install a monitoring system. Lithium batteries have a number of advantages, as well as being lighter in weight they are a lot more efficient as they have a high energy density, perfect for cyclic applications. Every up the mast is new too, nav light, VHF ariel and my wind anemometer, all with new cables. Every is connected up in my new electric box, with circuit breakers on every switch, removing the need for fuses. Not only have I ensured everything has been changed/checked, having done the work myself, I know the system inside out, so if there any problems I will be able to fix them myself. Whether it’s between races or even mid Atlantic, and considering the percentage of electrical issues in past transats, this fills me with great confidence going into the race.

Although we have limited equipment on board we’re restricted on ability to charge without an engine. Monitoring my consumption in and out has become a regular task. With my new battery monitor I can see exactly how many amps/watts are draining from my system. With a bit of button switching I’ve now got a gauge of how much power each item on my boat draws, both during the day and night, depending on its back lights, as well as range of consumption for things like my pilot which change.

The autopilot is probably the most energy intensive piece of equipment on the boat, but as a solo sailor also the most important. I can set my autopilot to steer either to the compass, true wind, or apparent wind. Depending on the course and wind direction I can then also change the response settings to match the conditions. I almost adjust the pilot as much as I would the sails.

Last year I was using an on deck tiller pilot, which required me to clip the pilot on and press the button to activate the system. The big debate of clipping on the pilot or pressing the button first or trying to clip it on after, all while trying to steer in a straight line – nightmare! I’ve now upgraded my pilot to a bigger more responsive system which is permanently attached to the rudder shaft below deck. With a clutch to release the system when it’s not in use.

Installing the pilot itself has been fairly painless in regards to the electrics, however I’ve had to reinforce the hull and the tiller system to withstand the increased loads endured. With a new axel/ shaft for the tiller as well as a new release mechanism, I’m bulking up all elements of the system including the bar joining my two rudders.

Before my pilot attached directly to the tiller the new pilot attaches to the shaft, making sure the system has no play is vital to the operation. If the shaft and the tiller don’t clamp together and move at the same speed and direction, there becomes an element of error, which could ultimately cause the autopilots computer to fail. As the reaction speeds and angle reference can change periodically.

I’ve been working with Lorient based company Metalunox to minimise the play, and increasing the strength of all my rudder mechanism components. The final piece is with them now, and when I return back to France next week hopefully I will be able to say we’ve succeeded in removing all the play and the system is working 100%.

During the winter I also improved my water ballast system, after being plagued with problem after problem last year. With some help from mini and boat building guru Ian Munslow, I now have a new moulded connection to my tank for the transfer tube. I’ve changed to fleible reinforced tubing to allow a bit of movement, rather than the rigid fibreglass tubes before. I’ve also now added an electric pump to the system, which in ideal conditions can fill my 200L tank in less than 5 minutes. Somewhat of an upgrade to the 15-20 minute hand pump from before!!

The existing rigging on Boreal was starting to age and stretch a considerable amount, I could rake the mast back 4/5 degrees and in two weeks it was straight again. I’ve now changed to Marlows’ 7mm Dyneema SK78 Max. I’ve also now added some rigging screws to the caps, so I can easily and accurately adjust my settings, where before I was using lashing. The first few sails was made somewhat interesting and I was having to be very careful, as all the splices were stretching in. Thus my rig was loosening off while I was sailing, and not even evenly each side!

Now we’re all go go go and nearly firing on all cylinders. I’ve got a few more bits to work out – how to empty my ballast when I’m not moving much, which is proving to be impossible, without equalising the two tanks and then opening the hatch and putting the bilge pump inside to pump out, that or reversing the piping to pump out. I’ve also got a problem with pointing upwind, so I need to play a bit more with the mast and differing rakes.

With just under 4 months to the start of the Transat, and qualification completed I’ve got plenty of time to get out and practise. Even though it feels like time is flying at quadruple speed…!