The Long Haul
Friday, October 26:
Now catching up on rest, sleep, and the feel of what it’s like to walk around on an unmoving surface: American Clay Burkhalter, 12th finisher in the Transat 6.50. Clay even shaved for the arrival in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil at the end of the 4,200-mile Atlantic crossing in a 21-foot boat.
After Clay’s finish on Thursday, his shore team at Team Acadia posted these bullet points:
• Finished 12th overall; third off the starting line, at worst, Clay was at one point 26th, and ever so gradually made his way back up through the fleet, where he sailed within the top 10 boats until the last day of the race.
• Fastest speed: 17.5 knots in the first few days – during the first several days of the race when in squalls the wind would increase to as much as 50 knots.
• Scariest moments: Climbing the mast twice to untangle halyards. And, a few days into the race, when one of many squalls hit and Clay found himself moving so fast downwind that, as he put it, “All I could do was kneel in the cockpit, struggle to keep control of the rudders and hope it would pass before things started breaking all over the place.”
• Damage: Every Mini takes a pounding at sea. In last year’s Mini race from La Rochelle to the Azores, Clay was dismasted 500 miles from the finish; he jury-rigged a mainsail with the good half of the mast and managed to finish the race.
During this year’s Transat 650, Acadia did not suffer a single crucial equipment failure that Clay was unable to fix e route. His sails are intact, but for a small rip in one. However, plenty of hardware broke – from turnbuckles and blocks to a spinnaker pole, and by the end of the race, Clay was substituting hardware from one part of the boat to another.
Famous last words: “Right now, I want to go somewhere on holiday where I don’t have to look at a line or a rope.”
Thursday, October 25: When Adrien Hardy’s mast came down mid-Atlantic, he could have been out of the Mini-Transat. Instead he climbed from 10th to 6th before finishing the 4,200 mile crossing in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.
Hardy’s Brossard was underbuilt in at least one area—the underdeck reinforcing at the bow that absorbs headstay tension. Having placed fourth in 2005, Adrien rightly considered himself a contender for the Transat 6.50 in 2007 and was only 10 miles behind the eventual winner, Actual, when the forestay ripped out of the deck and the mast came down.
After considering alternative ports of refuge—everything was a long way away—Hardy decided to set up a jury rig and carry on in the contest that left La Rochelle, France on September 16. At the end, he said, “I dismasted at 0630 and at noon, the mast was upright again. I needed 12 more hours for my repairs to dry and then I left, smoothly at first and then faster and faster. When I restarted I was 10th and I ended the race 6th. I didn’t win the Transat 6.50, but I am proud of what I did. I didn’t give up.”
Wednesday, October 24: In the world of happy surprises, it doesn’t get much better than this.
When Yves Le Blvec arrived at the finish of the 4,200-mile Transat 6.50—the Mini Transat—he had no idea that he was the winner. With his radio out, he had been unable to track positions in the fleet. And that was only one element in an avalanche of good news in the face of bad. Get this:
Le Blvec almost did not get to race. His Actual was one of five boats admitted to the race in the week before the September 16 start.
He sailed most of leg two, Madeira to Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, without weather information. Lacking that, there was nothing for him to do but straightline the course, once he had cleared the doldrums, and it worked, baby, it worked.
Le Blvec did not know that his Marc Lombard-designed Actual had led into the doldrums, there to be caught but not passed, and then had left the fleet in the dust en route to a new course record. The best moment, he said, was clearing the equator, where he dismasted in 2005. After that: “I felt free. But I had to concentrate and say to myself, you still have half an ocean to cross.”
The winner’s accumulated sea time from La Rochelle, France (accounting for the stopover at Madeira) was 23 days, 3 hours, 51 minutes at an average of 7.36 knots.
In a boat 21 feet long.
Think about it.
Le Blvec arrived on Tuesday. Running second and third for leg two (not necessarily for the race crossing), David Sineau with Bretagne Lapins and Fabien Desprs with Soitec arrived on Wednesday with many more finishers closing on the line behind them.
An epidemic of ARGOS failures has left nearly a dozen boats silent, their positions not known to the race committee. This group includes some contenders along with American Clay Burkhalter, whose shore team for Acadia is offering a best-guess finish time of Thursday—Kimball Livingston