Follow British yachtswoman Pip Hare as she prepares for the Mini Transat Race

Read previous diary entries here.

Wednesday 11 May 2011: The Select 2011 was, as expected, a really challenging race

Billed as the toughest race on the mini calendar, the Select was not only a 300 mile race up and down the Brittany coast, around areas with unmarked rocks and reefs, numerous fishing boats and pots, tides, fickle winds and thunder storms but it was a race to qualify for the mini transat itself; and this event really did become a question of survival of the fittest, with the evolutionary prototypes rocketing ahead to finish over a day ahead of the back of the fleet; but determination and single mindedness being the main order of the day for everyone.

The tough qualification process for the mini transat gives prospective competitors a period of two year between races to sail the required number of miles; being a 1000 mile med or atlantic course alone, and 1000 miles in races including a race with a leg over 500 miles and a solo race.

The earlier you finish your miles, the further up the entry list you are.

The select was the final piece in the jigsaw for many people wishing to compete in the transat this year and a crucial part of the puzzle as it was the first solo event in the Atlantic; therefore with an entry list close to full this was a race which must be entered and must be finished.

The light and variable conditions broke many hearts and smashed many hopes as 18 boats from the fleet retired and five boats did not complete the course in the time limit.

For me it was a race with many mistakes and many hard lessons learned.

During the first night I developed problems with the power supply to my instruments and my pilot; all the electronics except the GPS started flicking on and off, the pilot cutting out so I could not leave the helm.

I later discovered the problem was with a new power supply I had routed to the pilot during some work in Italy; I had moved the power supply which fed both the pilots and the instruments, it had become damaged and when the boat heeled over the batteries were leaning on the cable and breaking the connection.

As I developed the problem during the night and close to the rocky shore of Belle Isle I was not prepared to leave the boat unattended and go below to solve the problem; so I started an epic period of hand steering which saw me sail from the top 20 to the back of the fleet by not using my brain.

When dawn broke instead of leaving the boat and going below to find the problem I stayed on the helm. There were was a front passing over and many other boats around and I was not confident to leave the boat without a pilot.

I carried on making excuses like this for well over 36 hrs, becoming more and more tired, never leaving the helm, not eating or sleeping, losing mental sharpness and places in the fleet.

Eventually after rounding the bottom mark at Sable d’orlonne and realising that if I did not sharpen up I would not make it to the finish line in time.

I gave myself a mental slap round the face; I was sailing in around 3 knots of wind and realised I had an important opportunity. I must first sleep and then find and fix the problem with the instruments. No ‘ifs’! It just had to be done.

Two hours on and the boat had not sailed far but I had my instruments and pilot back online and was refreshed, feeling rather foolish and back in the game.

The rest of the race was just about beating the clock and I gritted my teeth and was determined to get around.

As the wind fell with 50 miles to go, my brain started to work in over time, the cockpit looked like Carol Vauderman had been onboard as every 30 mins with each adjustment of speed I was writing equations with a white board marker to calculate the minimum speed I needed to get to the line in finishing time.

Meanwhile another part of my brain was trying to work out the strategy for qualifying if I did not finish the race.

As far as I could see the next sensible option would be to put my little boat back on it’s trailer and drive all the way back down to Italy to take part in the San Remo Solo; the next solo race on the mini calendar; I knew the MAP (the next solo event in France) was already full and after that it would be getting very late to get on the list.

Luckily for my van I eeked to boat over the line with 2h30 to go on the time limit.

Disappointed with my result but absolutely elated to have qualified.

When I got the shore the race director welcomed me and said ‘Pip, how was your first race?’

I replied telling him I had suffered from a problem with my pilot and had hand steered for over 36 hrs.

His reply made me smile and was a reflection of what has become very evident from my first interactions with Classe mini and it’s members, and what had been impressed upon us Bizuths (first time racers) at the pre race breifing; we overcome our problems and carry on, we get ourselves home or to the end of the course no matter what, we never give up.

He said ‘So now you have finished a race like a proper mini sailor!’