>Mini Fastnet Race 2004

Selling #348 “Netcarrier”, Allocating #433 “Amazigh”

Funny how things go full circle. On my premier mini race- the double-handed “Odysee Uylsees” in April 2003, me and my crew Natasza Caban were in the pub for the going away party for the skippers in Antibe.

Not unusual we were in a pub but as I was brand new to France and didn’t speak French- I looked for anyone ‘willing’ to speak my less-beautiful sounding native tongue.

I ended up next to a tall guy named Sam Manuard from Port Camargue- France. Turned out he’d done the transat before on a previous design of his own- finishing in a respectable 5th place.

Anyway, low and behold- the three brand new- “Tip-Top 2” sister-ships (#431, 432, 433) encircling my Seb Magnen designed #348 “Netcarrier” were designed by Sam. This race was their debut and they looked interesting for a couple of obvious design features.
…Sam went on to win aboard his #431.

Fast forward a season later- broke but with a good boat and the Class Mini introduction for the next season of carbon masts for the mini. I briefly due to finances put my boat up for sale at the end of the 2003 season.

Corentin Douguet, who’d done a previous Transat 650 contacted me hoping to buy #348. But with my back against the wall, a good boat and no money in sight- I stubbornly refused and vowed to do another Mini Fastnet before I drowned in debt… He went on to buy Loik Lebros’ Sam Manuard designed #433 “Amazigh”.

While I had a perfect sponsor for the boat in- “Netcarrier” and partner equipment sponsors- “Siemens, Kenwood and ACR- I knew that eventually things would turn around and I’d find some money, hang myself or rob a bank.

As I put #348 “Netcarrier” away for the winter in Francois Robert Chantier in Lorient- I weighed my options. I would return to Hawaii to do yacht deliveries but it was difficult because I had just one quiver of sails and desperately needed new ones, a refit and a carbon mast to remain competitive- saying nothing of the next race season operating budget.
Fastnet first then kill myself …

Off we go…

My French crew- Ronan Guerin- had used Corentin Douguet as a preparateur for part of his 10 Figaro Race campaigns. I was good friends with Corentin but for some reason he no longer had love for Douguet… “Corentin is a bad-boy, we must beat him…”

Ronan steered the start ‘Figaro-style’. A dog-fight starting line jostle- the gun, then a split tack away from the bulk of the fleet into clear air… 2nd place into the windward turning mark. 2ND all the way to halfway thru the 700-mile course to Land’s End England where the wind died and the strong tidal currents reshuffled the deck of cards.

On a close reach with 15 to 18 knots of breeze the next morning- Corentin Douguet powers from a mile below our port stern quarter- climbs past our stern, and just several hours later is off our windward starboard bow… Then gone. A horizon-job and not a thing we could do about it. The Manuard design is more powerful- with duel lateral water ballast tanks and the canting keel etc. She is visibly sailing many degrees higher and more upright… gone and no tactical solution or passing lanes- goodbye.

Around Fastnet Rock we’re in 8th…

Burning down-hill after Fastnet- a 24-hour dog-fight with Tanguy de Lamotte and crew Jacques Vincent (8-round the world races to credit). Surfing up to our stern every few minutes- its touch and go hour after hour. We’re grinding the spi- sheets- the mainsheet- sending “Netcarrier” and still we can’t break away into a manageable lead. Just one good wave and they could get thru our leeward wind-shadow and drop us into 9th place.

Our private battle meanwhile enabled both of us to pass several minis- including Corentin who was now half a mile off our starboard stern quarter. The next morning in lighter wind- Tanguy is front of us but I reel him in and pass to windward.

Now it will all come down to the inshore or offshore option. 50/50 chance. You live or you die. We play the offshore card- covering Eloise’s “Vectuer Plus” now just 30-miles to the finish.
A quick stealth jibe before Eliouse sees us do it and we are to windard and snatch his placing away. Hours later he snatches it back just a mile downwind of us. Entering the Bay of Dournanez with 8-miles to go- we’re angry and determined to defend my previous year top-five result.

“Fix-bayonets!” To say we attack is understatement. Grinding the sheets of the masthead kite and main on a reach while pumping the tiller off small wave crests in the 15-knot breeze- we give it our all.

And slowly very slowly, we are reeling “Vectuer Plus” back in. Now just a mile from the finish- the boats close-reaching, hot and barely able to hold onto our mast-head kites, Eloise is crouched in the cock-pit doing nothing but nervously smoking a ciggerrette and staring back down the barrel of our gun waiting for us to pounce.

His crew looks back over his shoulder every other moment as well and they are both on a hair trigger as they know we are going to go for it when there is technically no way around and no race course left to speak of.

Poker stares and we are just 3-feet behind “Vectuer Plus”, the committee finishing boat and marker a minute away and Ronan draws his weapon in a blur. We luff-up hard and just-just, just barely slide above them a foot away- choking them- it’s a bar room brawl- they can’t breath- we’re taking their breeze.

But still yet, to lay the finish line, we’ll both have to jibe. It will have to define the meaning of perfection or we’ll die. It’s us or them. Off we go, adrenline pumping, both of us broaching in front of the committee boat, meters from the line, keels on the wrong side, mainsails pinned hard up against running back-stays and kites flogging as we hurry to reload.

WE DO IT! We defend the top five and we hold onto my 5th of the year before in a vastly more competitive fleet that saw ORMA trimaran members and many of the top French navigators in all racing disciplines crew!

As we come into the dock we have two surprises, one good and one bad. We beat Tanguy and Jacques- they ended up in 7th but Corentin Douguet nipped us into 4th. “It’s not possible Ronan cries jumping off the boat seemingly ready for a fist fight and to bring the race ashore.
So after the 2004 Mini Fastnet, I asked “my” friend Corentin Douguet if I could crew back to Lorient with him aboard “Amazigh”. After beating us into 4th in the Fastnet- it would be interesting to sail with our concurrent – Ronan’s “bad-boy”.

It was a very light wind sail to Loqmiquelic, Lorient- however it revealed hints of “Amazigh’s” potential. He agreed to sell her to me for 75,000-euros if I put down a deposit to reserve her a year in advance. It would be a positive move for me because I could sell my boat for the same price- go look for money and “Amazigh” would at the minimum have a new carbon mast and 2nd quiver of replacement sails for the Transat 650 2005.

…It would be a bad move if the “bad-boy” destroyed the boat or got run over by a ship mid-Atlantic! But before Corentin started winning everything and had his sponsorship powerhouse- “LE.CLERC/BOUYGUES TELECOM”- I believed.

On our sail to Lorient I asked Corentin who he thought would win the transat. He said- “Me”. It reminded me of the calm confidence I’d once seen displayed from my skipper- then 20-year-old Liz Wardley prior to the 1999 Sydney to Hobart Race when she said to the crew- “We’re going to win. Because we can!” And we did.

Now post Corentin’s victorious 2005 domination and record-setting Transat 650 during which he reduced the elapsed race record time by over two-days- he’s laughing with me in the bar in Lorient. “You chose to buy the boat before I win everything… maybe I could have gotten more money for the boat.” Yeah but I believed in you- bad boys always get the girls…

IRC (www.racetheworld.net) joins team as official race tracker. This state-of-the-art system that is used for the rugged Paris-Dakar road rally will enable us to keep the public informed via remote positioning and live Iridum interviews from anywhere in the world.

NEWS 08/04/07

6th in Open Demi-Cle with crew Jacques Vincent, Mini Fastnet cancelled due to extreme weather, 27th with broken pilot in Trophee Marie Agnes Peron, 12th in Open Sail Simrad with Jacques Vincent and withdrew from Transgascogne due to extreme weather that capsized three boats and 7 epirbs activated. Messy season but learned allot and will apply the many lessons to the coming years of the program.

Other news- team-mate Natasza got married and left on her round the world a week ago- good luck mate!


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