300 days to go!

This last week for me marks the beginning of a very exciting road – I’ve now officially registered for the Mini Transat 2013 – what hopefully is the beginning of a new adventure.

October seems a long way away till the start but when you start to break it all down with 300 days to go to the start there really isn’t much time. The racing calendar starts mid March and is pretty full on until the end of June when the deadline closes for qualification. Before then I need to have complete 1000 miles of official races as well as my non-stop 1000-mile qualifier.

All things going well I will be moving to Lorient mid January to start training with the other Mini’s. Leaving me 2 months to learn as much as possible and get to know the ins and out of my little boat. It’s really important to get into a routine and make sure every task can be completed without much thought process. If you can do this you are more likely to be able to perform when under pressure and with severe sleep deprivation. Equally sailing against other Mini’s is vital to be able to gauge your progress and to improve. How do you know if you’re slow or fast if you have nothing to compare yourself too?

In other news, on Thursday I took to the water with local company Sailspy Uk Sailing the leading provider of GoPro® video cameras and specialised accessories to the sailing industry. With not much wind and Baltic conditions it was a short session on the water, getting as much footage as possible. All in all it was a very successful day and I’m looking forward to working with them throughout the year.

Everything is starting to shut down for Christmas now. The boat is due to come out the water this week and be prepared for towing and the move down to Lorient early in the New Year.

Vive la France

This weekend saw a trip to Paris for the Boat Show (Salon Nautique). The sole objective for the trip was to attend the registration and opening of the Mini Transat 2013.

The weekend started with a 4.30am wake up Friday morning to catch the Channel Tunnel across to Calais. We took a leisurely drive down towards Paris, stopping off for lunch and the usual shop to stock up on duck, cheese, mustard and wine; as well as an unexpected snowball fight as we all got a bit excited to be surround by the white stuff. Arriving in Paris mid afternoon, we had a look around and checked into the hotel. You know you have a good view when you can see the Eiffel Tower from the toilet seat! In the evening we dressed up and headed towards the Arc de Triomph to the Yacht Club de France for their annual RORC dinner, which also happened to coincide with my birthday.

After a somewhat merry and late night with everyone from the RORC it was time for a Mini day at the boat show. I spent the morning wondering around the show looking round various stands from sail makers, to electronics and equipment suppliers. As well as a less expected stand that was selling glasses to help prevent seasickness. Seasickness is caused by the confusion in your head, with your body telling you that you’re moving while your eyes remain stationary. The idea behind these glasses were to tell your eyes you were moving, and they supposedly have a 100% success rate. Potentially a big hit for sailors who suffer from seasickness – fully crewed sailors be warned, side effects included bullying and ridicule!

What really stood out for me at the show was that there were stands for such prestigious races as the Vendée Globe, Transat Jacque Vabre, Solitaire du Figaro and more importantly for me, the Mini Transat.

Four o’clock came quickly and I watching the overall prize giving for Class Mini for 2012. The stand was buzzing with fellow Mini sailors getting excited for the official announcement and opening of registration for the Mini Transat 2013. At 16:30PM, the Class Mini flag was raised and fog horn blown – the 2013 Mini Transat has now officially begun!

Mini sailors are all very friendly and we all spent the rest of the afternoon chatting away. It was very interesting to talk to David Raison who has been competing and designing Mini’s since 1999 and most recently designed and raced prototype 747, winning the 2011 Mini Transat. His design is similar to that of a Topper, with a flat bathtub like shape bow. After quizzing him on his inspiration, it was interesting to discuss how he came to the idea after being inspired by the blunt bowed US scows, looking to minimise the waterline length in attempt to get planning quicker.

After the boat show a group of us ventured across Paris to find some food before joining the famous Mini party on a barge on the Seine, not too far from the Eifel Tower. The barge was absolutely packed full of sailors from all different backgrounds. Unfortunately I had to get back to UK and leave “early” at midnight to race to the channel tunnel. I’ve since been told that the party continued on till 06:00AM, I guess that’s what happens when you get a room full of sailors that are used to being sleep deprived.

Now back to the UK I have a few days to get my registration form in for the Mini Transat and make the early deadline. During the boat show 43 entries were made within the hour, each announced by the sound of the foghorn. The official list will be announced in a couple of weeks, then I will be able to gauge how realistic it will be for me to gain one of 84 places on the start for the Mini Transat 2013. Although the list will give me an idea of what’s to come, you can never predict the number of dropouts and when places may become available to move up the waiting list. It is important for me to assume I will have a place and to train and prepare as if I will be in Douarnenez next October on the start line.

Bring it on!

Let the race begin!

Last week began with a morning at Spinlock learning about their range of products, from lifejackets to clutches and looking into lifejacket design and the reasoning behind all of the Spinlock deck vest features. Spinlock have recently announced a new design to update the existing XAS clutch that will be released in about a year. This new clutch allows you to take it apart without removing it from the deck, ideal for use on a Mini as Lizzy discovered. It is a bit of a mission to take our current halyard clutches off, you have to remove the coach roof!

Talking through the various clutch types and their properties, mechanisms and loading limits was fascinating. It also made me realise how important it is to take apart and clean your clutches. The majority of clutch failures are due to lack of maintenance, as the accumulation of gunk in the bottom of the clutch can obstruct movement of the mechanism and stop the cam from closing properly.

The rest of the week consisted of admin work, with a mix of scheduling, budgeting and a bit of website work (coming soon)! Unlike the Figaro, the Mini has a very flexible programme within the Academy. It is down to me to organise my programme for the year and work out all of the logistics.

In order to qualify for the Mini Transat 2013 starting in October, I need to complete a 1000nm solo qualifier as well as 1000nm of official Mini races, one of which has to be over 500nm and one has to be solo. This vigorous qualifying procedure has been put in place since the 1999 Mini Transat when about half of the fleet gave up and many beacons were activated.

The Transat is very popular and with only 80 places available, it is a race just to qualify and get a place. Rules say you have to complete one race within the year of the Transat (although it doesn’t have to count for your qualification). As long as you’re using the same boat and no dramatic changes have been made to the design or set up your, qualifying passage and other races can be completed previously.

Entry opens for the Transat at the Paris boat show on 8th December and shortly afterwards the list of entrants will be published. From then I will be able gauge the places available. I imagine the list will be full from day one of people who have already qualified! From the list there is then a waiting list for applicants and places will be given as they become available. Having just joined the Academy and taken over the Artemis Mini 438, I have no miles to my name. So for me next year will be a race to qualify and get as high up the waiting list as possible, then just wait and hope for a place on the starting line.

Let the race begin…

And I thought France was all sunshine and good wind…

The highlight of this week has been my trip out to Lorient, sailing with Chris Luekermann, a German Mini sailor, during a weekends training with top French coach Tanguy Le Glatin.

Over the weekend I’ve learnt more about sailing the Mini than my whole time out on Basecamp in Cowes. This has shown me just how important it is to train with other Mini’s and get immersed in the French way.

While out in Lorient I spent a couple of days looking around Lorient and researching what’s available and how everything operates. Including a trip to the maritime museum, talking with Classe Mini and Lorient Grand Large, which is an association set up to help offshore sailors, providing training and day to day help. As I arrived two Nacira’s were being measured, which involved measuring the keel, width of hull, mast height as well flotation tests to test its righting weight. It was fascinating to see how it’s all done, and even though it wasn’t my boat I felt nervous for the other skippers, it will be my turn soon!

Training consisted of speed testing and manoeuvres, comparing obtainable speeds and angles between boats using different sails. The idea was to find out which sail was best suited for the given conditions (no wind) swapping between the genneker, code 5 and grande spi! Saturday we had sub 5 knots all day and torrential rain – it seems it doesn’t just rain in the UK. Sunday was glorious sunshine and varying wind between 3 and 15 knots (dream sailing!).

During my visit to the maritime museum I had to the chance to test out the idea of model boat racing, which is becoming more and more enticing, given the current weather. I’m now definitely hooked on the idea of getting my own, particularly after my upgraded experience to a 1m on a canal. Seemingly my Dad and friend Paul Peggs have a collection of four 1m RC boats (although one currently stuck in a weir)! which they compete in friendly regattas. A perfect excuse I think to invest in my own to join in the racing!!

I’m now sat on the Red Funnel and catching up with the world after my four days away. Looking forward to a day with Spinlock today.

Time flies when you’re having fun…

Another busy week at the Academy and with winter fast approaching, there definitely isn’t enough light hours in the day to get everything done. We’ve now been in Cowes for two weeks and the pace is still full on.

The beginning of the week saw a trip to Chichester University for a lesson in strength and conditioning with Academy Physiologist Paul Wallis. We ran through techniques needed for lift training and ended with a typical weights session. Paul will now be putting together a programme for each of us to work on over the next few months, until we meet again.

Now the boat is in the water I’ve finally managed to get out sailing. Thursday and Friday graduate sailor Nick Cherry joined us to do some coaching. We looked through Adrena and the electronics on board the Figaro’s quickly in the morning and then hit the water. This was to be my first sail aboard Artemis 483 with Lizzy. With a steady breeze, we tacked all the way up to Newtown Creek and came back down with the kite before joining in with the Figaro’s for a quick race. On Friday we had a lot more breeze and again we tacked up towards Yarmouth and Lymington, hoisted the kite and flew back towards Cowes. It was great to get out in a bit of breeze and see what these boats are really made for – surfing downwind.

On Saturday Artemis graduate sailor Aaron Cooper came over to Cowes and we spent the morning looking at rig tuning both on the Figaro and the Mini while the wind filled in. In the afternoon we went out and did some sail testing on the Mini’s new Doyle main sail in what little breeze there was. Getting back into harbour proved interesting, with little wind and strong tides, our little 2.2hp outboard struggled to make headway.

It’s amazing how responsive and sensitive the Mini is, it’s like sailing a dinghy. Where you sit and move around makes a huge difference to your performance. You can even rock the boat to move through the water, ideal when you’re trying to get into harbour with no engine.

Gale Browning describes mini life:
“Life aboard a 6.5m (21ft) sailboat in the big ocean can be very miserable. There are no accommodations below deck. In order to keep the weight down, I probably won’t even be installing a bunk to sleep on. I will be navigating with the chart on my lap and using a bucket for my nature calls… The salt water will attack my skin and I will more than likely have salt water sores to contend with. Sleep will come in 10 to 15 minute catnaps… I will be battling autumn gales in the Bay of Biscay and flat calm seas in the doldrums interspersed with severe thunderstorms and high winds.”

The more I get out on the Mini 6.50 the more I love it. Academy graduate Becky Scott, who had previously sailed for the previous two years, came over to the Island this weekend to run through the boat and hand over; talking through procedures, electrics, sails and general boat maintenance. Hearing the stories from her adventures has only exaggerated my enthusiasm for the boat, although it probably should be the opposite! I can’t wait to get offshore and try it out for myself.

Vendee Globe
This weekend also saw the start of the Vendee Globe, the squad gathering in the office at Academy HQ to watch it begin. The atmosphere in Les Sables-d’Olonne was phenomenal, with the dockside lined with supporters coming to see the 20 skippers set off. It was surprising to see how close the line was, everyone eager to start with 5 boats being OCS.

Eighteen hours on there have been two incidents already. Bertrand de Broc returned before the start having damaged his hull colliding with a support boat, he’s now all fixed and has joined the race again playing catch up on the fleet. Unfortunate for Marc Guillemot on Safran, who was forced to retire after his keel broke off during the first evening of the race. This highlights just how tough the Vendée Globe is.

Week one and launching the Mini

It has been a busy week at the Artemis Offshore Academy. The first couple of days involved a lot of admin, before we went on to a number of more practical sessions on social media, routing and a SRC (VHF) course and test, as well as receiving all of our nice shiny new and warm Musto kit.

In and around our scheduled programme the Mini has had some attention and a few things knocked off the boat list. Most importantly, a deck reinforcement patch has been put in place where the kicker attaches to the coach roof behind the mast, as a number of stress cracks had surfaced. With the British weather being as it is, I had to build a tent around the area to try and keep it dry whilst the process took place.

Friday we took a trip to Marlow Ropes HQ in Hailsham for a day of rope work. The Marlow Sales Director Paul Honess explained the pros and cons of each of their ropes available. We then had a more practical session, learning two different types of whip and splice and after a tour of the factory we load tested our splices.

First we test loaded 12mm polyester, a spliced end snapped at around 4.25 tonnes, compared to a bowline at 2.42 tonnes. I think I might be splicing everything left right and centre now with my newly learnt skill. For comparison we then compared the load capacity for a tapered splice and a non-tapered splice in 12mm dyneema. Interestingly the non-tapered went at just under 9 tonnes, where the tapered held to 10.15 tonnes. Next up were our splices to see how they withheld the strain; with a splice in each end we went up against each other. Teamed up with Alex we took the victory, my splice exploding at 10.49 tonnes.

The weekend saw more boat work as well as a psychology session with Ian Brown, discussing stressors that are involved with solo offshore racing and deciphering what can be controlled, which are uncontrollable and the various coping strategies.

Launch Day
Final preparations were made Monday morning for the launch of the Mini, a quick service of the outboard, finding and measuring up the strops and preparing to be craned in. Unfortunately the company that own and operate all the yard machinery has recently gone into administration and getting launched took a lot longer than planned.

With the Mini now in the water, we’re ready to get the sails up this Thursday for the first time! But before that I have to survive a day of fitness with Paul Wallis in Chichester and a Sea survival course on Wednesday.

Would you pack up your life and quit your job for the opportunity?

Three days ago I was the Account Executive at 4T2 Multimedia Ltd, living in my own flat in Bournemouth – life was very civilised. Sailing was always a weekend hobby/addiction. Every year I set myself a personal challenge, which has ultimately led me to this opportunity.

It all started with the 2010 RORC Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race, racing fully crewed on a 40.7, spending 13 days at sea. Apart from the eight smelly men and lack of deodorant, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In 2011 I entered the RORC Rolex Fastnet, competing on my dads J105 Voador with my old Cadet helm, in the two-handed division. This was a great opportunity and a great race, giving me the chance to run my own campaign and take charge, something that I’m not used to!

After racing double-handed, I started to get a taste for sailing solo, something I’d always wanted to try. I recently took part in the Solo Offshore Racing Club (SORC) Channel Week on Voador, a week racing along the South Coast of the UK, starting and finishing in Lymington and reaching as far West as Mylor, Falmouth. Loving every minute, I knew I’d found my calling. Back in the office the week after I couldn’t take my mind off sailing and being on the water and so the research begun…


With minutes to spare I sent off my application for the Academy. Two weeks later I find myself at the trials, then the following week I was standing in the car park at work finding out that not only do I have a place, but that I get to sail on the Mini!

With only one month until it all begins, there was a lot to do to prepare.
• Quit the job
• Rent out my flat
• Move out of Bournemouth
• Move all my belongings back to the parents
• Move to Cowes

This weekend has to have been the busiest weekends of all time. With a mix of my work leaving drinks, moving out of Bournemouth, moving into my Dads and then moving to Cowes – that’s got to be an all time record for the number of moves in a 24-hour period I think!

I’m now sat on the 20:45 Red Funnel over to Cowes! Meeting at Venture Quays at 09:00 tomorrow morning, where it all begins!

Let the fun begin!!

The Only Way is French...

I’ve just got back from a weekend in Lorient with Becky, Artemis Mini Graduate from last year. It was a great insight into the Mini world and gave me an idea of what I can expect this year. Thanks go out to Tanguy Le Glatin, as he allowed me join him on his rib during his training session – a top French coach who has helped the likes of Sam Davies as well as Artemis Graduates, Sam, Nick and Ollie. My French being somewhat rusty and amateur his ability to speak almost perfect English was greatly appreciated. Especially after we’d clarified the difference between huit and frites, and that we weren’t using VHF Channel Chips!

On day 2 I joined Katrina Ham for her first sail on her newly acquired 785 Nacira design of Mini. It was great to finally get on the water and sail a mini, something I haven’t done since 2001 when my dad competed. Taking in what I’d learnt on day 1 from Tanguy and watching the other Mini sailors has been hugely rewarding. Giving me time to process all the procedures and think about everything that needs to be done before I get out and do it myself.

The whole set up in Lorient is designed specifically for offshore racing, with a multitude of prestigious boats lined up on the pontoons. Banque Populaire, Groupama 3, MOD 70’s, Class 40’s, Figaro’s and Mini’s and days previously a number of the Vendee Globe boats had left for the start in Les Sables-d'Olonne. The expanse of sailing area and the resources and expertise available for sailors is phenomenal. I left eager to get out there myself and join the town that seems to be the pinnacle of all offshore sailing.