MINI-TRANSAT

Triumph Shadowed By Loss Of Competitor

LANZAROTTE, Canary Islands-The triumph of Frenchman Yannick Bestaven with his modified design Aquarelle.com, in winning the first leg of the Mini-Transat race, was muted by the loss of one of his competitors. All searches have ceased for dental surgeon Roberto Varinelli of Italy who went missing on Sunday from his Mini 6.5 Metallurgica Calvi.

Race officials monitoring the progress of the first leg, the 1,500 miles from La Rochelle to Lanzarotte, were disturbed by the progress of Metallurgica Calvi, skippered by Varinelli. Its position and speed didn’t match that of a boat in this solo race.

Checks were made on Monday by a spotter plane, later by a helicopter, and finally by the French Coastguards aboard their vessel, Iris, which is accompanying the 57-strong fleet on this race. They reported that the boat was in good condition, sailing under autopilot, with all the safety gear in place, but there was no sign of Varinelli. It is presumed that the Italian, who had completed this race in 1999, had been washed off the boat a day earlier.

Bestaven finished at 2026 on Wednesday. One hour and 52 minutes later, his friend, Arnaud Boissires in, confusingly, another boat called Aquarelle.com finished in second place. These two are identical boats, modifications of the Sebastien Magnen design in which Magnen won the previous two of these races. The two friends helped to build each other’s boats.

Bestaven was quickly into a restaurant on the quayside at Puerto Calero - he had loaded only enough food for eight days and took 11 days 6 hours and 53 minutes. The incentive for him to finish was high, but perhaps his eating habits had altered as he lost his food bowl overboard early on the leg and was forced to eat from his bailer. There are very few spares carried on these boats.

Shortly before 3 a.m., the third boat finished. Samuel Manuard with Tip Top/Charmilles Sales, a boat that he had designed and built himself, had taken 11:13:20. He did not have to wait long to see who was next in; Simon Curwen of Britain was the first non-Frenchman, in 11:14:25. Curwen said that the first 24 hours on which the leading boats covered around 240 miles, was "exhilarating." Unlike the winner, he had prepared for a leg taking even longer, saying, "With freeze dried food, another few days food doesn’t weigh very much, there’s very little penalty in taking it."

The class rules insist that each skipper takes three liters of potable water per 100 miles of the course - about five liters per day - and Curwen admitted that he didn’t use this much. "I ditched the extra water three days ago," he said. He laughed at the idea that the race was tough and rugged, "If you get power generation and the autopilots sorted out, life can be pleasant."

Fifth to cross the line was Yves le Blevec with the Finot designed Actual Interim, while sixth was another Aquarelle.com, this one skippered by the first female to finish, Jeanne Gregoire. Seventh home was Brian Thompson, who until recently had been a watch leader on the giant catamaran, PlayStation.

Like every other yacht race, things do not always go according to plan. Roland Guerin, the pre-race favorite was dismasted in the strong winds of the first night off the coast of Spain. He put into port to replace the mast, but like Paul Beggs, who was similarly afflicted, he is right at the back of the pack.

This French-organized race, whose second leg of 3,000 miles is to Salvador, Brazil, was originally conceived by Britain’s Bob Salmon and is one which solo sailors use to make their mark in the sport. It was in the Mini Transat that Ellen MacArthur made her first competitive step towards the Vendee Globe solo round the world race as did Michel Desjoyeaux, who beat her in that race. Other well-known skippers who have taken part include world 24-hour record holder, Bernard Stamm, Yvon and Laurent Bourgnon, and Yves Parlier.