The general meeting of the Mini Class, which took place last Saturday in Paris, ratified a number of measures, including, for production boats, the freezing of new designs from 2024 and a progressive limitation on new constructions. Jean Marre, who handed over his chair as President to Romain Bigot, talks to Tip & Shaft about the 2023 season and the AGM.
▶︎ How would you sum up 2023 and in particular its flagship event, La Boulangère Mini Transat?
It was another record year in terms of participation, with virtually all the races running at full capacity. We had some concerns about the frustration that the registration system might have generated, but in the end, most of the skippers were able to keep to the schedule they had planned. As far as the Mini Transat is concerned, we consider it a success because it was a really complicated challenge to organise it in eight months after the change of organiser, following the death of Marc Chopin, and with a fairly limited budget.
▶︎ And what about the sporting side?
We had a great race, with a lot of twists and turns and a second leg that was great to follow, very challenging, it had been a long time since we’d had a crossing like that in strong winds. All the skippers found it really tough, but it gave us a chance to get some feedback on the reliability of the boats and the damage they had encountered. The racers in the Pogo 3 (Verdier design) showed that they were still there, even in strong wind conditions in which we could have imagined that the Maxi (Raison design) would be a notch above. It’s great news because we’d like to avoid ending up with a kind of Maxi one-design, and it also helps to keep prices down, as the P3s stay in the game for a lower price. In the proto class, we’ve almost reached the maximum quota we decided on (31 entries for 32 places), which means that the measures we put in place to revitalise the category have were the right ones. And what’s interesting is that there was some competition up front, something we’ve had less of in recent years.
“We want to promote SAS”
▶︎ At each edition, there are more candidates than places in the race. Are you going to keep the same qualification system, based on the number of miles sailed?
Yes, we’re keeping the same principle. We’ve asked ourselves whether we shouldn’t be relying on other criteria, and that may be something we’ll have to look at in the near future, but not for the 2025 edition because the qualification process is already underway. At the same time, we know that our ‘survival’ as a special class – small boats, no telephone on board – also depends on these rules, and guaranteeing a minimum number of miles allows us to legitimise our practice with the maritime authorities. On the other hand, we wanted to enhance the value of the SAS (Les Sables-Les Açores-Les Sables, every two years) by no longer making it a compulsory passage to the Mini Transat, we want it to become a real objective, which is why we’ve halved the number of qualifying miles for the Mini Transat: instead of 2,600 miles, those who finish it will score 1,300. This decision is also justified by a principle of fairness: until now, you were almost obliged to go through the SAS to qualify in the series for the Mini Transat, but it’s a race in which those who have time and money sign up first. With this measure, the chances of qualifying are balanced out a little, and the SAS is no longer necessarily the judge of peace for qualifying.
▶︎ Isn’t there a risk of reducing its appeal?
That’s a risk we’ve identified, and we’ve tried to imagine possible scenarios. It’s up to us to convince our members to make it a real ocean objective. There are also more and more people who, because the Mini Transat is saturated, but also because they don’t want to go back to cargo ships, are making the SAS the priority objective of their project. So between these people, those who loved doing it in 2022 and those who want to go for the 1,300 miles, we’re thinking that there’s a way of filling the 72 places.
“We want to have time
to define our future gauge”
▶︎ The AGM also voted in favour of strong measures concerning new production boats. Can you tell us more about this?
Yes, we have frozen the launch of new plans from next year, but we have also decided to limit the construction of new production boats to 25 boats in 2024. This figure will fall in subsequent years, which could mean that no new boats will be built by 2030. The reasons for this are both economic and environmental. Over the last two years, we’ve built 80 boats, which means a new fleet between two editions of the Mini Transat for gains that aren’t huge after all! We now have enough Pogo 3s, Vectors and Maxis, or Pogo 2s for the smaller budgets, for people to have fun. We also want to freeze these constructions to give us time to define our future rating. This measure will inevitably have an impact on the shipyards, but we’re protecting them by banning new designs, and we also want to allow those who haven’t yet made a return on their investment, in particular Technologie Marine with the TM650, launched this year, to do so.
▶︎ What will the new measurement system look like?
Certain objectives seem obvious to us, such as lowering construction costs – today’s boats are too expensive, up to €150,000 fully equipped for some – by imposing processes that require less structure and labour. We also want our boats to be more solid, so that they last longer. Then we want to integrate the environmental dimension by promoting recyclability, i.e. going back to the concept of series production of a boat that can be used for cruising, and by integrating biomaterials into the tonnageif that’s possible
▶︎ Finally, can you tell us about the 2024 timetable?
The Channel/Atlantic calendar remains unchanged, apart from the fact that we’re launching a 500-mile single-handed race reserved for older boats, which will be organised in Ouistreham, a sort of Mini Normandy Channel Race. We’ve had a lot of discussions about how to raise the profile of these boats, and we think that launching a new race reserved for them is the best way of doing that. It will also enable the skippers, who generally have smaller budgets and fewer opportunities to free themselves up, to put in some miles with a view to the Mini Transat. The term “old boat” wasn’t easy to define: in series, it means boats up to and including the Nacira (launched in 2008), and in proto, those that were measured before 31 December 2009. Other than that, we’ve also revitalised the Mediterranean circuit, which was struggling a bit, with a lot of work by the Mini Italia class to enable skippers to sail in Italy and then Spain, thanks to a new race linking the two countries.
Photo: Qaptur / La Boulangère Mini Transat