Nick Bubb took time out of his Mini Transat campaign to take for a spin

Having been following the progress of Nick Bubb, the 24-year-old, East Coast sailor who’s hoping to compete in the Mini Transat later this year, managed to track him down during his brief visit home, and take the boat for a sail.

This Seb Magnen-designed Mini, built by Nick and Nigel Waller in a barn in Suffolk (see previous story was launched at the end of February and has already clocked up more miles than some yachts cover in a lifetime.

Just two days ago Nick was in Holland competing in the North Sea race. A day and a half later he crossed the finish line at Levington in second place overall in Class 3. A tired but contented Nick commented: “We arrived here in Levington yesterday afternoon and were really pleased with the result. Although it wasn’t a Mini race it was great to get some extra practice and mileage in the build up to the Mini Fastnet which starts in France in just over a week’s time.”

Although Nick has now qualified for the Transat having completed the 1,000 mile qualifying event and a 1,000 Mini race, his entry to the Mini Transat race is far from certain. With a 70-boat entry for the race, he’s currently lying fifth on the waiting list. He’s also just learned that his main sponsors have pulled out of the deal, leaving him high and dry with little funds to support his campaign. Despite this however, he is determined to continue while investigating other sponsorship possibilities. Nick added: “Whatever happens, entry/sponsorship or not, I’m using the experience I’ve gained for my future sailing career. I can’t begin to describe how much I’ve learnt from this campaign; it’s a very important, necessary learning curve.”

As I boarded the boat at Levington Marina it struck me just how minute these Mini Transat boat are. Just 9ft longer than my National 12 racing dinghy I realised that you’ve got to be a special sort of person to race a boat like this across the Atlantic let alone anywhere else. Fortunately, Nick is one special person and has exactly the right, positive, professional attitude to give it his best shot.

Having negotiated our way under sail out of the narrow channel off Haven Ports Marina we sailed the boat down the River Orwell in a 10kt breeze on the nose. While Nick did all the necessary running around including canting the keel, setting the jib, backstay I, on the helm, put her through her paces through the main shipping channel in an effort to avoid the Orwell shallows. It was here where she performed just like an oversized, high performance racing dinghy where perfect tacks were crucial. She was incredibly sensitive on the helm and I found that once the keel came across to the new windward side during a tack, she virtually went round herself.

Because of the nature of the rig with its low boom the boat carries no kicking strap upwind, so it’s just a matter of sheeting in the fully-battened main from the central mainsheet pod situated in the cockpit. Downwind with the kite up the kicking strap is clipped on to a strop on the boom and the centre mainsheet system is transformed to aft sheeting to give more cockpit space while gybing.

Most of the control lines are led aft and situated on top of the cuddy for easy access for singlehanded sailing. But unlike other Mini Transat boats which also have the canting keel controls led aft, this boat’s keel controls are down below. Thankfully, Nick has his own system for tacking all worked out so leaving the helm during a tack to cant the keel is simple. “It takes a bit of working out, but once you get the system going, it works well. I tend to go below to cant the keel first and then tack it over while doing the runners and jib.” Added Nick.

The canting keel is complimented with the gybing daggerboard which again is used just like on a dinghy – all the way up when offwind. Also, because the boat is so light, there’s a central water ballast system which holds 280 litres. Although it’s only really used when the wind tops 20kts, and is apparently simple to use, it’s another thing to tick off the checklist every time you tack.

Despite the relatively light airs, she performed to all expectations downwind with her flat, planning, hull shape and big masthead kite. What she’s like in a blow in a big sea however, I can’t begin to imagine. “Fairly lively,” said Nick, “I’ve had a couple of interesting moments during the middle of the night in big winds with the kite up. I remember once when it was blowing really hard during a squall and I was steaming along in the pitch black before I wiped out. Fortunately I didn’t break anything. And yes, I was hooked on!”

So, with just a few days back at base before he sets off at the weekend with his boat hitched on the back of his Transit van, to France, Nick is catching up on maintenance jobs and much needed sleep before the start of the forthcoming Mini Fastnet race.

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