Nick Bubb on Northern Computers reports on the doublehanded Course Des Lions where he finished fourth overall

The 25-strong Mini Transat fleet left Port Camargue for the start of the Course Des Lions (Mini Transat qualifying event) in a 10 knot westerly breeze on 3 May. The original entry list of 33 was depleted due to damage sustained during the previous race.

After some initial tricky wind shifts due to gradient and land breeze convergence, there were no surprises as the favourites took up the battle for the early lead. Sam Manuard, winner of last month’s L’Odyssee d’Ulysse race, and local hero, used his knowledge of Camargue Bay to edge ahead of Team Mclube (Jon Mckee – double Olympic medallist- and Brian Thompson – current holder of the 24hr distance record, 697 miles onboard the super cat Maiden.) Northern Computers, with Quantum Sails boss John Parker joining me for this race, were just astern, battling it out for third with the Spanish team Aquamos and the French Mini Clipper Voiles.

After several hours these two lead packs converged to provide some intense close racing with all five boats taking the lead at some point. We took the lead briefly, only to be thwarted by a huge fishing net blocking our path. Some close quarter manoeuvring saw Sam Manuard and Team Mclube re-establish their lead and also saw Moulin Roty – winner of the second leg of the Odyssee d’Ulysse, join the lead bunch. At the first waypoint off Cap D’Age, the first six rounded within five minutes of each other, fantastically close racing. These six boats then showed their class to eventually move clear ahead of the fleet never to be caught. The leg down the coast towards Spain saw the fleet plagued by light airs, turning the race into a navigational nightmare with very light breeze filling in and dying just as quickly. By the time the lead bunch arrived in Spain, Sam Manuard, Aquamos, Moulin Roty and Team Mclube held an hour advantage over Clipper Voiles and us on Northern Computers. The breeze started to build from the east and soon a race of attrition began.

A total of 250 miles of upwind sailing in 35kts in a 6.5m boat is not for the faint hearted. Living conditions quickly deteriate into something akin to an ice cold shower on full blast.

As the fleet approached the Hyere Islands, just before the final turning point, Aquamos had retired due to an unfortunate injury to the co-skipper, and Clipper Voiles had dropped back due to a broken boom. As Sam Manuard, Moulin Roty and Team Mclube headed inshore of the Islands, we went round the outside and things were looking good until, in the middle of a huge sea, a police launch arrived and re-directed us inshore because of an ongoing submarine exercise in the vicinity. This cost us several hours and perhaps any chance of a race win. The narrow gap through which they were re-directed was another issue as the wind funnelled through and increased in strength yet again. This laid the boat flat on her side and as a result put a rip in the mainsail. However, after doing some quick temporary repairs we were back in the race. Moulin Roty was first home with Team Mclube in second, despite snapping a rudder in the extreme downwind conditions. Sam Manuard finished third.

We sailed a conservative leg home, safe in the knowledge that there was no close completion behind and ensuring that the mainsail survived the race. Clipper Voiles made it in a few hours later to complete the top five. We will now return to England to overhaul the boat and prepare her for the Mini Fastnet (14-22 June)