It’s not all plain sailing!

On Friday I took part in a training session on technical preparation and maintenance for offshore sailing by Bertrand Delesne. Bertrand has a lot of experience under his belt having completed 6 Transats, 3 Mini Transat’s, and having built his own prototype Mini.

During the day we discussed the keys to good preparation: corrective, preventive and improvement maintenance.

  • Corrective maintenance is repairing something that has gone wrong, for example tearing a spinnaker
  • Preventive maintenance could be changing the oil in your hydraulic autopilot ram or changing the batteries in your torch. Not necessarily a problem at that moment but something that could cause you issues in the future
  • Improvement maintenance is taking into account of previous issues, for example if you’re changing a broken pulley, accessing whether a higher spec model is needed and upgrading

We debated the idea of creating release mechanisms on the boat for high stress points. For example Bertrand has a pole rigged up to his autopilot so if it is put under an excessive load the pole breaks. It is designed to break to prevent any damage to the pilot ram. It is important to know your break points and be able to work around them.

We then went on to discuss fittings, rigging, electrics, boat structures and what to take on large and small races, looking through example tool kits, and working out the essentials. On a mini it’s all about saving weight and taking as little as possible with you, but also making sure you have everything you need to make repairs and maintain the boat.

The Mini Transat is mostly a race for preventive maintenance and emergency (bodge job) repairs. 55% of race abandons from the race have been due to Electrical, energy or pilot problems. Humidity and water damage of which is a huge part. Keeping humidity to a minimum is vital, which seems an impossible task on such a wet boat!!

Certainly one thing that has stuck in my head – DO NOT USE WD40 !! Much to my surprise after all this time I’ve learnt that WD40 can cause more problems than it solves and any visible improvement is merely temporary. By using WD40 also known as “Water Displacement 40th formula” I would be adding dramatically to the humidity levels on vital parts of the boat and increasing the risk of rust.

25% of race abandons are due to rigging or sail damage and 20% boat structure. During the session we looked at methods of sail repair and into detail of different boat structures and ways to fill a hole and make repairs.

Being solo and with a complete lack of all communication it is solely my responsibility to deal with any problem that arises. I can do as much preventive and improvement maintenance now to try minimise the risk. Although sometimes by making new changes you can increase the risk, it is better to go into a race and know your issues on board than to swap to something new and to have never used it in a testing race situation. My boat is currently going through a complete electric refit, with the installation of a new autopilot and computer and input system. It is vital that I test this new system as much as possible before going into my first race and get to know it like the back of my hand.


Last on the days agenda was to get our hands dirty and practise laminating, making use of simple techniques to make the job tidier and easier on a Mini. As something I’ve never done myself, I was keen to dive in and have a go.

Finally I want to say a massive thank you to Canadian Mini sailor Diane who kindly helped with translation throughout the whole session!