As at the start of each and every year Tip & Shaft goes around the different offshore racing classes to look ahead to the coming season. After the Ultims last week now it is time for the Mini 6.50s, a class that is still stronger than ever at nine months before the start of the Mini Transat, which has new organisers.
574 members in 2022 (462 in 2021), 46 numbers assigned (21 in 2021), these figures amply demonstrate the rude health of a Mini class which, each year, attracts more and more sailors. And so now there are waiting lists for almost all the circuit races, particularly in the Atlantic basin. In an attempt to satisfy everyone, the Mini 6.50 class set up a preference entry system which the class tries to improve year on year.
“This year we have tried for to simplify the registration process, explains Jean Marre, who at the end of last year succeeded Amélie Grassi at the head of the class. Racers no longer need to pay the registration fees when they are on the waiting list. They only pay when they get on to the main list, and that prevents them from having to spend a lot of money at the start of the year only to end up not doing a lot of races, and conversely the organizers from having to reimburse them.”
Clearly demand is not weakening. Projects now start way ahead of the Mini Transat, their main pinnacle event. “We see more and more skippers who prepare their Mini over three years. That allows them to have less pressure”, confirms Julien Pulvé, trainer at the Centre Excellence Voile of La Rochelle which this year welcomes sailors preparing for the Mini Transat 2023 and 2025.
A high demand for training
Launched in September 2021 La Rochelle centre offers as well as a berth a full package of sporting support for its members from training on the water and shore based work and training. La Rochelle is of course not the only centre to emerge, demand has exploded so much that training centres have multiplied. Lorient Grand Large, under the leadership of trainer Tanguy Leglatin, is full with three groups – two in series, one in prototype – about 35 active racers. Also full are La Rochelle (25), Orlabay in La Trinité-sur-Mer launched in 2022 (25, the coach is Daniel Souben), La Turballe (25, Hervé Aubry), Roscoff (16 to date, against 12 in 2022, under the guidance of Damien Cloarec), Concarneau (15, François Jambou).
Others still have places available, such as in Les Sables d’Olonne (about ten runners expected this year according to coach Charlie Thirode), Le Crouesty, Ouistreham (12 Minis including 6 properly active) or Douarnenez, the group being relaunched in 2022 by Douarnenez Courses. “There were three of us last year, there are now three or four, so we are looking for people, the goal is to have at least six boats,” explains coach Kevin Bloch. On the international side, Barcelona have 24 Minis this year, “a growing number” according to Anna Corbella, who takes care of the local structure.
This strong demand for coaching and programmes is proof that the profile of Mini sailors is changing. “The level of investment is much higher than what it was before and our dimensions have changed”, observes Damien Cloarec, while Tanguy Leglatin adds: “We tend more and more towards professional projects. It is also linked to the price of boats which has exploded quite a bit. The highly motivated amateurs have gone by the wayside a bit. Today, to perform, you need a structured project and enough time.”
The prototypes are back in force
The price of the boats? “A fully equipped new production Mini like the Maxi is around 120,000 euros, a prototype can cost up to 300,000 euros,” replies Jean Marre. As for operating budgets, here is the big gap. The president of the class, who races in the series division, estimates his costs to be around 30,000 euros annually, where Marie Gendron, on a pro project in prototype, speaks of 80,000 euros, the Franco-Polish Caroline Boule, whose Verdier design Nicomatic was fitted with foils at the end of 2022, of 100,000 euros (she only has 25% for the moment).
These may seem significant budgets but nonetheless there is this renewed interest in prototypes: in 2022, 10 new proto sail numbers were assigned compared to 4 in 2021, 2 in 2020 and 3 in 2019. “We think that we will be able to have to 35 prototypes on the Mini Transat, which hasn’t happened for a long time [31 in 2013, less than 30 since then, editor’s note], predicts Jean Marre. This can be explained both by the saturation point having been reached in series and the new quotas put in place last year to favour prototypes. But the phenomenon was this surge in interest for new prototypes, it’s super interesting. And it allows us to maintain the role as a development hot house laboratory.”
According to Geoffrey Morel, who added C foils to Tartine, Axel Tréhin’s old Lombard design, different architects have entered or returned to the class. “At one point we came close to becoming a one-design fleet with only Raison designs, but fortunately, a few foilers have arrived, Finot designs as well and that makes for a fairly diversified line-up.” As for the production Minis, here too, the fleet is diversifying with, after the Wevo 6.50 from the Italian shipyard Cima Boats, there has been the launch of the TM650 based on Magnen/Cabaret designs by Technologie Marine at the end of 2022. Both should be homologated in series from 2024 – 10 examples must have been produced and one must have finished a category A race without major structural damage.
The Mini Transat changes organizer
As usual the 2023 season will start in the Mediterranean in mid-March with the Arcipelago 650, on April 13 in the Atlantic with the Plastimo Lorient Mini which, for the first time, will be raced in mixed doubles. “I pushed a lot for this because we realize that without this kind of measure, not much happens, I think it’s up to the Mini class to be a driving force on this kind of topic” , asserts the race director, Yves Le Blevec. The announcement was widely commented on within the Mini community, in particular by co-owners who are deprived of the possibility of sailing together.
“I think it’s a bit of a misconception,” says François Jambou, “Maybe we have listened to the sirens of a fashion that may have an interest in certain sports, but not with us. Admittedly, there are not yet enough girls, but I think we are a fairly exemplary sport in this area – one of the only ones not to have a gender classification – and particularly in the Mini class.” Caroline Boule believes: “It’s good to promote women in sailing, but I’m not convinced that imposing this idea it is the best solution, perhaps it should have been encouraged with concrete measures such as financial bonuses.” Jean Marre says he will debrief and analyse objectively after the first time.
Following the sad passing at the end of 2022 of Marc Chopin, whose company Korrigan was in charge of the race, at the end of the season the Mini Transat will have a new organizer. “We had to respond very quickly that’s why we didn’t call for tenders,” explains Jean Marre. “ We studied two very strong files, we chose Versace Sailing Management, Emmanuel Versace’s company, which had the advantage of already organizing the Transgascogne and which had scope and availability after the cancellation of The Race Around.”
They had to move quickly as many agreements were nullified by the change of organisers, “We had to resume all the agreements that had become obsolete due to the change of organizer, so they went back to the partner communities to be approved”, confirms Emmanuel Versace, about to finalize agreements with Les Sables d’Olonne (start), La Palma in the Canary Islands (stopover) and Guadeloupe for the finish. The other priority is to complete a budget that Denis Hugues, race director, considers to be about “900,000 euros to 1.2 million depending on the edition”, then to find a title partner for about 400,000-450,000 euros – according to Versace – to replace Eurochef, who did not wish to continue after the 2021 edition. “It’s going to be complicated given the timing, but we have a big advantage and that is the number of entries” says Emmanuel Versace. Denis Hugues confirms: “We opened the notice of race on Monday, we already are at 115 pre-registered as I speak to you now (Thursday), so that should be a major appeal to a partner.”
Photo: Vincent Olivaud