2012 from whatever angle you look at it is going to be a massive year for sailing. The finish of the Volvo, the start of the Vendee and of course the Olympics in the summer polarising the focus of the world on two short weeks of competition that have been fed by years and years of dedication.
Though the mini's are in their ‘rest' year from the bi-annual transat race. Rest is far from my mind when I look at the race calendar for the year ahead. It's full, in fact it is bursting at the seams and my foot is hard on the gas looking forward to a year of learning, development and hard competition.
The season starts for me in the Atlantic with the Demi Cle, a double handed coastal race which is notorious for Spring storms and tricky navigating. It is the first race of the season for the Atlantic boats, a chance to flex muscles after the two months of training in Brittany fog we are putting ourselves through at the moment; bravado has lead to boats on the rocks and the fierce competition sets the scene for the season ahead.
Where the Demi Cle ends, the Select starts and Pornichet hosts one of the biggest single handed races of the season. A fleet of close to 70 boats battle their way around Belle Isle, down to Les Sable d'Orlonne, up to ‘the poxy' Isle de Groix (as some know it) and back home. This race is a floating test of your stress levels; as if it wasn't hard enough to navigate 300 miles of tidal and rocky coast alone; to race with close competition breathing down your neck at your every move sets the heart rate thumping and will punish those that sleep!
After the Select we have a choice and of course I am going all British.
This year is the first year that Britain will host two official classe mini events and it is a really important progression in the development of the class in our country.
In early May the new Solent650 will depart from Lymington via the Needles Channel, race down to the Poole fairway buoy and then on to Wolf Rock and back into Plymouth as a feeder race for the UK Fastnet.
This new cat C race will allow British boats to qualify for the UK Fastnet cat B race without leaving the country and runs at the same time as a Cat C feeder race to Plymouth from La Trinite in Brittany. Anyone curious about mini's should catch us rounding the Poole Fairway buoy on the 6th May in the afternoon. I will be sailing with fellow transat skipper and great friend Christa ten Brinke; come and give us a wave!
The UK Fastnet is one of the favourite races in the mini Calendar due to the hospitality of the home club The Royal Western. Well let's face it; the race wouldn't be a favourite for the course. Slogging upwind from the Eddystone to the Fastnet rock in grey cold, bone chilling damp; the British weather at it's worst, but at least we should have a blast back via Conneberg (if we can find it! Some had trouble last year) under spinnaker which made it all worth while last time.
After all this double handing I think I will be ready to bin my co-skipper again and the MAP out of Dournonez is the next race on my calendar at the end of May, and it's single handed. This course is shorter than the Select but just as competitive, last year I did not manage to enter but this year my form is in and I am on the list already. No hesitation!
Next another crack at the Fastnet; it's a shame I can't do it with RORC as well; just to make sure I was properly familiar with the form of the lighthouse.
Again it's a new race for me but the buzz around the mini Fastnet race is legendary; it's simple. A full on drag race across the approaches to the English Channel from Dournonez to the Fastnet rock and back, accepting along the way whatever the weather sends at you. Last year the poor forecast changed the course and kept the little boats on the French side.
And then the Ocean race of the year, to the Azores and back from Les Sables. This is the race I am really looking forward to. Single handed ocean racing, facing the Atlantic fronts in all their fury. The last Azores race saw a front pass over the fleet and continued wind speeds of over 30 knots for a few days. Record speeds were recorded and rigs were lost.
After the Azores things tail off in the Atlantic so I shall be heading down to the Mediterranean where there is still some great competitive racing on offer in the back end of the year.
All new this year is the AIR race which stands for Around Islands Race. Starting from the incredible Americas cup Village in Valencia, this is a drag race out to Mallorca, round Ibiza and back again. Like the Solent 650 this is an important progression in the mini calendar for Spain as it's their first Cat C race and will feed directly into the mini Barcelona Cat B race a couple of weeks later.
The race organiser is promising a massive welcome and strategically this race will be important in the scheme of qualification for anyone coming into the Classe later this year to get their miles in ahead of the Atlantic boats and so get onto the entry list for the 2013 transat.
Anyway can you see a down side from racing from Valencia around the Balearics and back?? I can't!
So after that the mini Barcelona........... or maybe not........ other plans may be afoot.......