Last minute Mini Transat preparations and a chat with the oldest member of the fleet

With less than 24 hours to the start of the Mini Transat race, the marina at Bassin des Chalutiers in the centre of La Rochelle, is bubbling. While the competitors make final preparations for their big day tomorrow, crowds of visitors are flocking to dockside to bid farewell to the 70-boat fleet. The live entertainment, bars, restaurants and shops in the marina complex, all open to the public, are adding to the party atmosphere, ensuring the 2003 La Rochelle Mini Transat send-off is one to remember.

While most of the skippers, including the young British sailor James Bird, have competed their last minute tasks and are using the remaining few hours of daylight to check out the opposition, it was interesting to meet the Frenchman Bernard Morin, who was still fine tuning his Coco 86 design at this late stage.

At 58-year-old, Morin is the oldest competitor in the race. It is also his first Mini Transat. “I heard about the Mini Transat race 18 years ago and I knew then I would buy a boat and take part one day.” Said Morin, “I bought the boat seven years ago but unfortunately, just six months later the Pogos, the development of the Cocos, were designed.”

Despite having a slightly outdated design, Morin continued his campaign and is very happy with the boat he owns. Although there are several differences in design between the Cocos and Pogos (both production boats), the Pogo are lighter, have two daggerboard as opposed to one, and are generally easier to sail, Morin believes this is not a problem. “I’m used to my boat. Okay it is heavier on the helm, has a shorter keel (1.48m instead of 1.60m), and is not as fast as the Pogo offwind, she really does excel in light airs particularly if you get the weight well forward. In fact, upwind I believe I’m faster than the Pogos and even some protos. Unfortunately for me most of the second leg is downwind!”

Morin showed his potential in the Prologue when he was with the majority of the pack most of the way but tactics coming up to the finish line put paid to a decent overall result. Morin continued: “It was a very silly mistake, I followed the others [who’d also got it wrong] rather than looking at my GPS. We sailed a mile and a half beyond the finish line and then had to turn round and beat back against a 3kt tidal stream while all those behind us were crossing the finish line.”

Whatever happens out on the racecourse, there’s one thing for sure, Morin will undoubtedly have one of the most comfortable voyages across the Atlantic than anyone else in the fleet. This aging design may not be the fastest on the water but ‘home comforts’ are a real priority for this skipper. As a production boat, which has a fixed keel and no water ballast, there’s plenty of room below with standing headroom – something that is unheard of on modern-day Minis. Morin also has a choice of comfortable-looking bunks, a stereo system, gas stove, magazine rack, penholders and table for those all-important sit-down meals. I know which boat I rather be on!