Mini Transat départ Les Sables d'Olonne

How the Mini Class is coping with the explosion in the number of racers

Experiencing notable growth during 2020 and 2021 the momentum in the Mini 6.50 has really exploded this past winter. The Mini Class has recorded a marked increase in requests for membership and  the waiting lists for events are getting much longer. That is worrying for those seeking to qualify for the 2023 Mini Transat. Tip & Shaft did some surveying as the season opens in the Mediterranean with the Mini Golfe.
While offshore racing as a whole in France is on the uptick, today the appeal of the Mini Transat today seems unprecedented. We have to go back to the years 2006-2008 to find such enthusiasm. Even last year 2021, the Mini Transat recorded its historic record of participants (90), proof of the high level of demand which has gone up a notch again this winter. Since January 1, the Mini Class has actually assigned no fewer than 30 new sail numbers (20 on average over the whole season in past years) and the record of 300 members should be soon be surpassed (294 to date and the season has not yet started).

Winner in prototype on the 2007 edition and race director of the Plastimo Mini Lorient as well as Mini in May, Yves Le Blevec is not really surprised“The average profile of the minist is a young graduate who wants to offer give him or herself a break, a gap, before their professional life takes off. These people are a decent, solid proposition in front of a bank lender and the adventure continues to make sense. Once you have crossed the Atlantic alone no one can take it away from you.”

Race Director of the Mini Transat and Les Sables-Les Açores-Les Sables Denis Hugues puts forward several strong factors. The very good weather in 2021 created a demand for outdoor marine adventures that is certain. And there is no doubt also there is the positive Vendée Globe effect. The Imoca class saw 18 former minis on the last edition of the Vendée Globe. Out there all the young people in the sailing clubs dream of the Vendée Globe. And of course they logically start by thinking of the Mini! “.

Waiting Lists Are Extended

This tidal wave of enthusiasm creates problems for the sports organization this season. Having become a classic on the circuit, the Mini in May has 84 available entries but received twice as many entry requests! For Les Sables-Les Açores-Les Sables, 108 applications were submitted for 72 places, compared to the 54 boats that took part in this same event in 2018 (which is the last edition in the same format). There is great pressure from racers to increase the number of entries but that means more pontoon berths, more support boats, more trackers…”, attests Denis Hugues.

Faced with this influx of new racers who then face the risk of not being able to accumulate the qualification miles required for the major category A races (1,500 miles for the Mini Transat), some Mini sailors fall back to events that struggled to fill their entries in past years, such as the Calvados Cup, which is now sold out. Others are setting their sights on the Mediterranean circuit, which should will see its entry lists expand in 2022.

Several avenues have been explored by the class to meet this exponential demand such as new pre-season races, or the Mini Transat could be organized every year instead of its biannual rhythm, but neither idea has stuck so far. “It was about the prospect of taking the risk when this high level of demand prevails but then it does not prove to be sustainable. We know from experience that the very high level of demand today may drop tomorrow justifies Amélie Grassi, elected president of the class for 2022. “We prefer to work in close liaison with the race organizers and stick to our system put in place from 2019.”

Protos encouraged 

This systme requires each skipper to establish a list of races in which he or she wishes to participate in the year with a number corresponding to his priorities. They are then cross matched with those of the registrations for the races and the class operates a breakdown so that the maximum number of number 1 choices are granted. “All of this generates quite tedious data processing work, but it does work quite well!” confirms Camille Croguennec, in charge of the data program for the class.
In the meantime the traffic jam at the start of the races applies more to prototypes because of the establishment of quotas which guarantee them 40% of places on the Mini Transat and now 35% on the pre-season races for the first time. “It’s a new rule that we adopted because with the preference system there was a risk of having no Protos at the start of certain events“, explains Amélie Grassi.

So the newcomer to the circuit who would like to be sure of sailing as much as possible will prioritise choosing a prototype rather than a production boat. “If you want to complete a Mini project in two years, today a proto is the best guarantee of success, confirms Denis Hugues. In fact this year will see the launch of eight new prototypes a figure well ahead of previous years. Six of them are Raison designs: an individual build, two made for the Japanese team DMG Mori and three in the new mould of the IDB Marine yard who intend to produce the Mojito 650 (a cruising version of the Raison design).

“This is the bonus. People want prototypes, as long as it works for them straight away,” comments architect David Raison. A new foiler based on Manuard designs for the Pole-French Caroline Boule will challenge the supremacy of the Raison designs this year, as well as two prototypes built by their respective designers, Yann Le Dantec and Matéo Lavauzelle.

Build yards and training centres growing too

This new demand for prototypes shouldn’t overshadow the overwhelming demand for production boats which are still in the majority. IDB Marine has just delivered the 42nd Maxi650 (the winner in series in 2021). With a production capacity of around one boat per month  they have a full order book until… June 2024! With the Vector 25 units have been built with still “5 to 6 orders to be fulfilled”, reports designer Etienne Bertrand. As for Structures, the builder of the Pogo 3s, they have 5 boats to deliver by the summer before stopping the series“We have too much work on the Class40s and on the cruising boats to continue” explains Tanguy Bouroullec who is now in charge of production. “It’s true that we’re thinking about a Pogo 4 but we haven’t started the studies and it won’t be for the Mini 2023 anyway,” says the third (in prototype) on the last Mini Transat.

This busy market benefits new players, like the Technologie Marine yard which says they have 9 new TM650s, based on plans by Sébastien Magnen, reserved. Intended for Gaël Ledoux, the first should hit the water in early May. The project seems to be well timed for the TM650 to be classed as a production boat for the next Mini (10 units must have been produced). But one of them will have to race Les Sables-Les Açores-Les Sables this year, finishing without major structural damage, a new rule requirement.

To support the explosion of practice in Mini, new training centers have emerged. After Douarnenez and Ouistreham last year, Orlabay, just launched in La Trinité-sur-mer, already has 30 members! “Working with the Mini today means being part of a group dynamic. Newcomers are often very organized people. They want to progress and the demand for coaching is considerable,” explains Yves Le Blevec who contributed to the start up of Orlabay where Daniel Souben is a coach. In total, no less than 10 active training centers, open or dedicated to Minis, exist on the French coast, to which are added those of Barcelona and Genoa in Catalonia and Italy!

Photo: Alexis Courcoux

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