One of the inspirations that led to Bob Salmon inventing the Mini Transat in about 1976 was the burgeoning costs of the O.S.T.A.R. From that race’s invention and first edition in 1960, it had exploded to the point where the boats, and equipment, were light years past the budgets of the average bear. The first O.S.T.A.R. had five boats with everyone sailing “what they brung,” boats they already owned. The second, in 1964, had fifteen entries and thirteen finishers. This second race signified the beginning of the end of the O.S.T.A.R. as the five pioneers saw it. Won by a young French Navy officer, Eric Tabarly, in a custom-built 44-footer, defeating all the original five, who came back to show the first race was not a fluke. Tabarly blitzed the track, finishing in 27 days versus Chichester’s 40, four years previous.
By 1976, the fleet had grown in numbers and size of boats: 125 entries and two boats over 100 feet, one of which was a mere 236 feet, both skippered, of course, by Frenchmen, Tabarly winning again in 23 days in a 70-footer. Salmon sailed in the 1972 race, and one imagines he was flabbergasted at the vertical trajectory of the race, sizes of custom boats and budgets. Lo the Mini Transat was born.
Well, what goes around comes around. “It” has happened again. As originally conceived, the Mini Transat was a race populated by modified production boats. Today, the Mini Transat has gone full O.S.T.A.R. with new custom boats in the 250,000, 300,000-euro range, foils, autoclave carbon mini monsters, all fully sponsored and largely French. Though in this current race there is one American and interestingly a Russian entrant, Irena Gracheva. Glasnost redux. Irena would be the first Russian entry, except she was in the 2019 race, until her rig fell down.
Enter another visionary type, similar in many ways to Salmon. A former competitor in the BOC, expedition leader, adventure sailing organizer, including a re-construction voyage of Bligh’s passage 3,000 miles across the South Pacific, and so on. Meet Don McIntyre. Sound familiar? McIntyre is the Aussie behind the Golden Globe (redux) a repeat of the original Golden Globe, that which rocketed (later Sir) Robin Knox-Johnston to maritime fame, etc. A solo non-stop circumnavigation, most recently, 2018, won by (another) French legend, Jean Luc Van Den Heede, this race is for the everyman, more or less, who can muster a vintage boat from about 30 to 40 feet and has the stones to sail it around the world, non-stop, alone, navigating with a sextant, etc… Humm, thinks the effervescent Don, what else can we do? Answer? A Mini Transat boat for the 2000s. The Globe 5.80 (5.8 meters or 19 feet), the same size as Sopranino. File under what goes around…
The basics: a one-design boat, designed by a Polish guy named Janusz Maderski, to be built, from a kit McIntyre owns the right to, in plywood, by the average bears (of which there appear to be many) intended to be a small, inexpensive, solo ocean racer. The plans are 300 Euros. The pictures on the class website show a boat that might be called the Anti-Mini. Closer to Sopranino than a scow bow, foiling, €300,000 custom mini. A not unattractive profile for a 19-foot, hard chine sailing boat to go in the ocean, AND able to be lived on for some time. The freeboard is high, though nicely incorporated into the nineteen feet LOA. A short, fixed sprit, fractional rig with a modest squarehead main, low-profile cabin, and a cockpit to sit in. Transom hung rudder, and of course, a windvane. But wait, that’s not all. McIntyre founded the Golden Globe Mk2, has a second edition in the works, as are plans for a same idea race but like the early Whitbread races, crewed, in 50- to 60-footers. Huh ho, I hear you thinking, no, he cannot be serious, really?
Yes folks, the Globe 5.80 class already has a lot of the infrastructure in place to conduct a “circumnavigation” race. Heck why not, an Italian guy has circumnavigated in a 5.60 Mini, and the hard way, by the Five Capes. McIntyre has, or is in the throes of, producing the Mini Globe Race 2024. Yup, a singlehanded circumnavigation, in a self-built wooden 19-foot boat. Now, before you reach for the paper towels to mop up your coffee, it is not around the Horn. They cut through the Panama Canal, but still, remember dear reader the number of small boats that have made single- or double-handed long distance ocean passages. William Albert Robinson, Alain Gerbault, Ann Davison, David Lewis, Jean Lacombe, Blondie Hasler, Val Howells, John Guzzwell, the Hiscocks, Bob Nance, Ellam and Mudie, Humphrey Barton. McIntyre’s own boat is called Trekka, presumably as a nod to Guzzwell and his boat of the same name aboard which he cruised around the world in the 1950s.
So, what do we make of all this? Well in the U.S., not much. Nothing on any of the various media platforms McIntyre has up and running suggest anyone in the U.S. even knows about these. Except the Quantum guys in Annapolis who are making the one-design class sails. With the possible exception of outfits like Chesapeake Light Craft, I don’t think the idea of building a boat in your garage is remotely on the white board for American sailors. Although a few years ago a couple built a Mini in a shed overlooking the harbor…in Newport. And more then a few have been refitted here. So that takes care of one problem marketing this event/boat in the U.S. But the bigger conundrum is who? In the country that sent the first guy around the world on his lonesome then a hundred or so years later put men on the moon, adventure sailing is awfully thin on the ground here.
One, or at least I, cannot help but wonder why this is. I suppose if I was going to attempt a PhD in oh, I dunno, Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, or any of the other -ologies, I might be able to eventually formulate a reason why such adventures do not much appeal to the vast majority of American psyches. I don’t know why this is, but let’s look at what is needed to sail such small boats in the ocean.
Oddly enough, not a vast amount of sailing skill. Huh? Really, the authors of a number of books confess to not being particularly good sailors as they set off on their great adventures. This is not as odd as it might seem. The first time we do anything, from our 2×2 tables to Calculus, skiing, cutting a piece of wood or cooking breakfast, we do not know anywhere as much about it as we do after the 10,000th time. (cf: Malcolm Gladwell, “Outliers” and 10,000 hours).
If one looks at sailing as the acquisition of a baseline of a technical skill introduced basically in perhaps 24 hours, this is not as whacky as it might seem. I worked at Offshore Sailing School during the time I was building my Mini in 1994 and ’95, and the pitch at the time was “We can teach you to sail in 24 hours, viz three eight-hour days. By and large that was achieved. The big trick with sailing is not the sailing but the seamanship. Yes, they are close to inseparable, but even after reading all 500 books discussing voyaging and interpreting from the stories, events of good, bad and indifferent seamanship, then you need to be in a place to put your lessons into action. And the only place to do that is at sea.
Now, I am literally making this up as I write, but it seems to me a big driver for interest in these kinds of sailing kapers is curiosity. Ignoring for a moment where our curiosity comes from, wonder about what is “out there” has to be a big driver. From the first primate game enough to drop out of his, or maybe her, tree to the forest floor, to Kennedy, the Mercury guys and of course Armstrong, let alone Madame Curie, Newton, all the “explorers,” to Jobs and Ellison, the answer to this question is likely a driver of life, for them. What is out there? Can I do this? How can I do this? Why do I want to do this? What attracts me to this? What does it mean if I do this, and fail? What does it mean if I do this and succeed? Curiosity is key.
I know why I was interested in doing the Mini Transat, the America’s Cup, why I am a follower, nay an aficionado, of the solo/DH milieu. There are different reasons for each event, but behind all the reasons is curiosity.
Several years ago Guzzwell, who continued to practice as a shipwright on his return, built a 30-foot open class style 30-footer for use in solo racing. Beautifully built of course, she was named Endangered Species. I wonder if he was thinking of the timber used in her construction, or the number of people with the kind of curiosity he, and those who followed him have, or had. Certainly not in France. Curiosity there is alive and well apparently, as evidenced by the 85 or so Minis, half a dozen Globe 580s, and 74 boats in the Transat Jacques Vabre, the TJV, currently underway on the north and eastern North Atlantic. Close to two hundred and fifty souls, all trying to satisfy their curiosity, with only two Americans in the lot. Curious. ■
Australian born, Joe ‘Coop’ Cooper stayed in the U.S. after the 1980 America’s Cup where he was the boat captain and sailed as Grinder/Sewer-man on Australia. His whole career has focused on sailing, especially the short-handed aspects of it. He lives in Middletown, RI where he coaches, consults and writes on his blog, joecoopersailing.com, when not paying attention to his wife, dog and several, mainly small, boats.