Minis Head Into The Big Blue

CAPE VERDE ISLANDS--The leading boats in the Mini Transat have around 1,900 miles to go and have left all vestiges of land behind them when they passed between the two most northwesterly islands on the Cape Verde archipelago, Santo Antao and San Vincente. Yves le Blevec of France had a narrow lead over Britain’s Brian Thompson as they headed out into the broader wastes of the Atlantic Ocean.

This event is a great leveler of the sexes and while the majority of the competitors are male, the women amongst them are providing tremendous competition with Frenchwomen Jeanne Gregoire on and Karen Leibovici on and Britain’s Samantha Davies giving the leaders a run for their money. Gregoire, with a spinnaker pole problem, and Leibovici slipped out of the top ten at Cape Verde, but Davies improved her position with Aberdeen Asset Management to be eighth at the turn.

The next hazard which the 54-boat fleet will encounter, on the leg across to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, is the Doldrums belt which is currently right in their path, but the tightly packed group is expected to have Force 3-4 easterlies for the next few days. Gregoire is busy repairing her spinnaker pole for this downwind-fest that the skippers of the Minis so enjoy.

Perhaps most surprising about Yves le Blevec’s lead in this race is that his boat is one of the older generation Finot designs. The Frenchman has supremely prepared it. Thompson has a Simon Rogers design that has a radical keel that not only swings from side to side but also swings fore and aft. Thompson had to make some minor alterations to the pivot point in Lanzarotte at the end of the first leg, but his close scrap with le Blevec-he did lead three days ago-shows that any fault has been cured.

There are other problems for the lone skippers - flying fish! Gregoire Comby came under a sustained attack from these on Tuesday night and resorted to the safety of his tiny cabin. It was virtually impossible to stay on deck as they flew over at head height. At least he had full use of his auto-pilot on Calle Ocho Café Cubano, which is more than Christian Saury whose Intentia has been dogged by constant electrical problems and has slipped to the back of the fleet.

Yannick Bestaven, the first leg winner in, is currently third, 12 miles astern of Thompson, who is three miles behind le Blevec. There is then a gap of nine miles to Ronan Guerin in L’Artisanat. All ten of the leaders are in the one-off designs, but in 11th place on the water, 50 miles behind the leader, is Olivier Desport in My Workplace, the first of the Pogo one-designs