With just three days before the start of the Mini Transat, the atmosphere at Bassin des Chalutiers in the centre of La Rochelle is buzzing

With just three days before the start of the Mini Transat, the atmosphere at Bassin des Chalutiers in the centre of La Rochelle is buzzing. A total of 70 Mini yachts are packed in to the marina with skippers and support team making final preparations for the big day on Sunday.

With the entry limited to 70 boats it’s disappointing that those on the short list, some of whom have been based here in La Rochelle for weeks in hope of a last minute entry, are being sent home with their ‘tails between their legs’, to make room for the official entries.

Nick Bubb, the young British Mini sailor who had a new boat built earlier this year, qualified for the race, notched up a string of respectable results along the way, and is top of the reserve list, is currently packing up his boat ready to return it to the UK.

Although Bubb is well aware that the rules are the rules and there’s no room on the start line for more than 70 boats, it’s still a huge knock and an experience he won’t forget in a hurry. Commenting from the dockside at La Rochelle, Bubb said: “It’s a great disappointment particularly as all my friends are doing the final preparations on their boats and they’ll be leaving me behind on Sunday. However, on a positive note, I feel I’ve done my best and got the most out of my boat this year. All the hard work I’ve put in has given me the opportunity to move forward next season, and provided me with invaluable training for the Figaro next year. And the good thing about the Figaro, of course, is there’s no restricted entry!”

Unlike Bubb, who’s had time to mentally prepare himself for the fact he won’t be on the start line this Sunday, Chris Sayer, the New Zealander who finished third in the 1999 Mini Transat, has only just found out he doesn’t have an entry. According to a report by Bill Endean (Commodore, Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron) on Scuttlebutt this morning, Sayer was informed by the organisers earlier in the year that, as a Southern Hemisphere entrant, he would need to complete a 1,000 nm qualifier in New Zealand to qualify for the race. Sayer sailed from Auckland to Tauranga, to Noumea, to Sydney and return, a total distance of 3,500 miles.

However, in February Endean says the race rules were changed, requiring entrants to qualify in a 500-mile event in Europe. By then it was too late for Sayer to get his boat to Europe to qualify under the changed rules, leaving him high and dry without an entry.

For those who have made it to the ‘final stage’, it’s now a matter of running down the checklist to ensure boats are in tip-top condition for what promises to be one of the most challenging events on the solo racing circuit.

Despite being dubbed as one of the race favourites, having won the Mini Pavois and his division in the Mini Demi-Cle, Jonathan McKee says he hesitate to take on that mantle. “I’ve only been sailing Minis this year and it’s going to be a really tough field with six or seven potential winners including Armel Tripon, Sam Manuard and Frederic Duthill. I have a lot of respect for all the top guys some of whom I never raced against before. Although I’ve done a lot in dinghies, I’ve done very little singlehanded sailing so the race is going to be a big experience for me. I’m still learning all the time. I don’t know if my learning curve is far enough along to win this race or not.”

Sailing a British Rogers 99 design Proto, McKee is satisfied he has a good all rounder although he believes her slight edge upwind is possibly a result of using North Sails from the North loft in Florida.

Now the countdown is on for the start on Sunday, Mini Transat organisers are expecting more and more visitors to the marina throughout the next few days. To ensure the event is made as attractive as possible for spectators, the yachts are all lined up and numbered in order making them easy to identify. The entire marina complex, including the pontoons, is open to the public – unusual but very welcoming.