Well, it’s quite a while since I wrote one of these, but my new mini campaign is officially back on the road and I thought I’d drop you all a line to let you know how it’s going.
I didn’t do any races after the 2007 Transat, but there were plans afoot for me to race the new Koopmans VQ32 on the OSTAR, unfortunately it transpired the boat was not going to be ready in time. So, I approached Martin Kay of who still owns my old mini and very kindly agreed to lend me her for another go at the Transat.
Apart from being lucky enough to have been lent the boat as well as receive much appreciated help once again from my industry sponsors, I don’t have a main backer this year, so I have had to try and get the boat ready between offshore deliveries with pyd, which has left me with very little time for the refit. But, against all odds, David Rawlinson (another veteran mini sailor and fellow pyd skipper) and I managed to get GBR 500 in the water and ready (ish) for the start of the 2009 UK mini Fastnet from Plymouth.
To say It was a struggle is an understatement; four days before, she had no deck gear, no decals, no mast, no electrics, no keel and was on a trailer at Full Bar Composites in Penryn where she had been undergoing a major refit. I drove her up to Plymouth on the arrival deadline and after launching her and stepping the mast, Dave and I worked solid 16 hour days to get all the gear on and wire her up. At the race briefing three days later, we had our first pint and said, ‘She’s ready!
Well, that’s what we thought anyway! At the tow out, the first problem showed up which was that the wind instruments were not working properly which was minor, but annoying. Then, as we gently put her through her pre start paces (the first time Dave and I had sailed a mini in nearly two years!) we found that a new sheeting system I had installed wasn’t going to work. Luckily, I had prepared for this and with 20 minutes to the start set to work on changing it back.
With a real crummy start, we crossed the start line along with the 12 other mini’s and beat out into the worsening south-westerly winds to round the Eddystone Lighthouse. This was a new course for 2009, which would take us up to the Needles Fairway buoy before heading back down the channel to round Scilly, then up to Fastnet and around the Cork fairway buoy, before turning home. A total of around 700 miles (in the end, almost all upwind!!!)
We had been out about an hour after the start when the main halyard pad eye pulled out of the deck, in my dietary zeal to shed boat weight, I had changed all the metal pad eyes for carbon/spectra lashings and this one I had obviously not made correctly, either way, it was a real warning as all of the pad eyes were like this. It was a tough decision, but considering the forecast conditions for the rest of the race, we decided to turn back in order to change them back to metal ones for safety. This was a qualifying race for me and finishing way outweighed racing.
So, gloomily, we came about and sailed back into QAB where we took just over an hour to change all the pad eyes in a formula one style pit stop. It took us about another hour to get back to where we had turned, putting us about three hours behind the fleet, but although there were some serious contenders in the race, we felt confident we could catch up a little. That evening we pushed hard under fractional kite and 25 knot winds down to the Needles where to our delight we saw our first two minis. We didn’t know at this point that these were the two leading boats! They disappeared offshore whilst Dave and I took the decision to stay inshore and use the tides, this obviously paid off, as after 24 hours from the start, we were unknowingly in first place!
Dave and I just kept plugging along in the 30 knot headwinds using the headland tides to great advantage and saw no mini’s until the Scillies, where we once again saw a single good looking mini round about two miles ahead of us. The wind at this point dutifully headed us and lined itself up perfectly from the Fastnet rock, as you would expect, and so we tacked our way up to the rock in soaking wet and cold conditions. (did I forget to mention, that the pad eye problems had left some really good leaks in the deck? Well, we were sleeping in between 2 and 4 inches of water for six days… nice!)
About half way up to the rock, Dave reported that a mini had tacked behind us, we were pretty sure this was the same one we had seen at Bishop rock, so were pleased we were making good vmg. As it happens, this mini was Xavier Haize on his Manuard proto, but what we weren’t aware of was that at this point, Xavier, a single Pogo one and us, were the only minis left in the race! All the others had retired due to injury, rigging failures or other problems in the horrible upwind conditions.
The rest of the race up to the rock saw us trading tacks in the lightening winds until we finally both rounded the Fastnet, Xavier just ahead by about a mile. The wind that evening drew lighter until we were both becalmed, however, we just managed to wriggle out of it with our narrower and less ‘draggy’ hull overtaking Xavier and rounding the Cork fairway mark in first place. Once again, the winds dutifully backed and presented us with a nice tight reach back to lands end in about 25 knots.
The shipping forecast had been constantly saying the winds were going to back further round to the south and increase to gale 8, so we sailed pretty high and slow in order to get some south in hand, which was the right thing to do, so were really surprised to see Xavier crack off and point way below the direct course and head for North Cornwall!!? We thought he was crazy, but as it turned out, the wind didn’t come in from the south for another 40 hours, in fact, it actually freed off to the west which was obviously perfect for Xavier who must have had considerably more accurate weather info than us.
In these strong reaching conditions, the powerful Manuard hull excels, and there was just no way we could keep up, and so our lead slowly turned into 2nd place as we headed towards Lands End. The wind gods finally smiled on us from here on in and we managed to gennaker up to the Lizard and fast kite sail into Plymouth about two and a bit hours after Xavier in second place in class and overall.
In the end, we lost it on the return leg due to weather info and hull form power, but, what we were very pleased with was, that if you take our three hour pit stop out of the race times, we actually sailed the course in a quicker time than Xavier, and considering we were tired from launching, had old sails and no training, I think we did quite well!
The next race should probably be the Transat in September, and so from now till then, I will be based in Cornwall where I’ll be training and optimising the boat with the help of Tacsail, a great piece of software that logs your vessel data for later replay, so that you can pin point weak areas and work out your exact polars for on the water optimisation.
So, it just remains to say thanks to everyone who has helped me get back on the water and I promise to keep in touch with updates over the next couple of months.
All the best, Andrew Wood

*article courtesy of Andrew Wood GBR500 Mini Transat campaign 2009

** David Rawlinson is campaigining for the 2010 Velux 5 Oceans race

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