The 25-year-old winner got a complete surprise as a childhood dream was realised

I’ve tried to imagine the joy of Benoit Marie, the 25-year-old engineer and solo sailor who has just won the Mini Transat race, but really I can’t. It is, quite literally, a dream come true for him and a fantastical one, because what sailor could reasonably expect to win this most gruelling of races at their first assault?

It is 17 years since a rookie came 1st in the Mini Transat and the fabulous twist in the tale is that Benoit Marie had no clue he was winning until the driver of the RIB towing him into the bay in Guadeloupe told him so. Marie’s radio hadn’t been working for the previous three days and he’d had no position reports. He was quite unaware that he had finally managed to overhaul his main rival, Italian sailor Giancarlo Pedote.

“This race is magical. The result is amazing,” Marie commented. “I did not give up. It was a huge endeavour which eventually paid off. As Freud said: “Happiness is a childhood dream that comes true in adulthood”.

A marine engineer, Marie is very typical of the breed of energetic young inventors and innovators who populate the Mini class, most particularly the Open division of scarily canvassed prototype designs. I’ve written about the crazy cult and extraordinary vigour of these boats and sailors, and their epic hardships, in a feature in the December issue of Yachting World. I would say so, of course, but don’t miss it, a taste of this world is like a shot in the arm!

You can get some idea of the speeds of these little 21ft racers by Benoit Marie’s pace across the Atlantic from Sada, the northern Spanish port where the Mini Transat was temporarily stormbound. His average speed over these 3,697 miles (average, mind) was 8.25 knots. Incroyable.

He commented that after he’d exited the estuary at Sada and come on course he’d been able to sail downwind the whole way. “It was totally enjoyable. I saw turtles, dolphins, I surfed at 20 knots and raced on a knife-edge for 18 days,” he effused. How fantastic.

But you do have to feel for Giancarlo Pedote, who had led on the aborted sprint that ended in Sada and for all but the last couple of days from his arrival in Guadeloupe. Pedote lost his dominant advantage when his bowsprit broke and he had problems with the head of his boat’s canting keel. Having lead for 90 per cent of the race that must have been bitter indeed.

Nevertheless, the race confirms his racing credentials (Pedote said that he would like to find a sponsor for the next Vendée Globe solo round the world race), and likewise those of his boat, Prysmian. This is the unusual scow-bowed ‘Magnum’ design created and built by the previous Mini Transat winner David Raison.

Two years ago, Raison and his design won this race by a large margin. This latest showing proves that for downwind and power reaching the scow design truly has something special.