Fire, Dolphins and Baltic temperatures!

In just 10 days I will be starting my first race on Mini 438, a solo 190 mile course departing from Rome. Completing a figure of eight course round Ponza and Ventotene, a couple of small islands South of Rome. The race is expected to take between 2 and 3 days.

Before heading off for my first overnight race on the Mini I wanted to get out and have a practise. Last week Tanguy invited me to join in with an overnight offshore passage he’d organised. Unfortunately the boat wasn’t quite ready for me to join in, nether the less I made sure to use it as a learning experience and made preparations as if I was going. I took their course and plotted it out on my chart, working out distance and bearings between waypoints. Then, looking at the forecast I predicted time scales and sail selections for each given leg. Greeting those who competed on the dock I almost felt as though I’d joined them, just missed the bit of getting cold and wet.

This weekend Diane, Katrina and I decided to set our own course and head offshore for a practise. Friday night we looked at the forecast and decided upon a course, with as little upwind as possible, a difficult task when the wind is from the ENE.

A few rules were set: it’s not a race, we’re here to learn and will stick together and lastly that gennekers’ are banned as not all of us had them!

We started in Lorient and headed out the West channel together towards Ile Groix, an island SW of Lorient. Dead downwind, I hoisted my big kite and surfed down the waves towards our waypoint, popping in one gybe to make the layline. The next leg took us 23 miles SE to Belle Ile – a fetch, so the kite came down and I attached my out hauler for the jib. A vital set up for white sail reaching as it allows the slot to really open up at the top while remaining flat and powered up at the bottom. The wind was all over the place, swinging from 45 to 100 degrees and ranging from 10 – 22 knots. I decided to put one reef into the main to allow for the gusts, which made the boat a lot more manageable. I was constantly fiddling and adjusting the sails to maximise my speed, and comparing it to the boats polars. On any other day I think I would of got frustrated with the amount of change in the wind but it was great for two reasons. 1) It meant I got a lot of practise in different conditions and really got to know my sails. 2) It kept me moving and keeping busy which kept me nice and warm! Temperatures were just above freezing, probably one of the coldest nights I’ve ever been sailing.

During the long leg down I took the opportunity to get the jet boil out and heat up some food. A slightly more eventful operation than planed. Having got the thing lit after a matter of seconds the neoprene casing around the flask caught alight (not ideal when your holding it). I quickly blew the gas out and put out the flames. After a bit of radio banter and no useful comments on the VHF I tried again – on deck this time! Thankfully with much more success, resulting in a gourmet dinner of meatballs and pasta in a tomato sauce!

While sitting eating my dinner I kept hearing some weird splashing noises around the boat. I soon realised I was being chased by a pod of dolphins playing around the hull and keel. Not an uncommon sight for me and yet I still get excited like a little kid in a toyshop. This time though it was particularly special as I could see all their tracks around me as the turbulence in the water created phosphorescence. I tried to capture it on my GoPro but unfortunately I got nothing but a black screen! So now apparently it was all hallucinations and I’m talking complete nonsense. According to Katrina and Diane anyway – personally I think they’re just jealous!!

Once in the shelter of Belle Ile I shock my reef out and continued on towards our next waypoint on the SW corner of Belle Ile. From here it was a beat up to the NE corner before heading back to Lorient. Having studied the charts we made a plan to use the depth contours to aid in our navigation around the island. Using the 20 and 30m contour lines as a safe zone. Anywhere under 20m was a no go zone and we used the 30m line as a guide to tack back inshore. This was a great way of navigating as you could rely solely on the instruments and not panic about getting charts out and on deck.

Once at the top of Belle Ile we reconvened before heading the 26 miles back to Lorient. This proved the perfect opportunity for me to test out the Jetboil once again (with no fires this time) and mix up some warm porridge. We joined back together around 3am and bore away towards home. We arrived back in Lorient just after the sun came up, convenient timing to help us find our way up the channel and into the marina. A task made somewhat harder without the use of an engine.

I thourally enjoyed the passage, and my opinion on Mini’s is only getting better, they are great little boats. I’m going to need some serious persuasion to sail anything else now!!