It was with huge relief that Raphaël Lutard moored his Mini 6.50 Arkema 3 in the port of Le Marin in Martinique late yesterday, after 18 days 04 hours 09 minutes and 58 seconds sailing solo, in the second leg of the Mini Transat – La Boulangère 2019 race. Plagued by technical glitches throughout the voyage, the 24-year old skipper showed incredible determination and great maturity over the 2,700 mile course between Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands and Martinique. After clutching 8th place in the first leg, Raphaël truly stepped up to the plate for his very first solo transatlantic crossing.
Raphaël’s reactions as he moored in Le Marin:
How are you feeling after 18 days’ solo sailing?
I’m very pleased to have made it!! It was a long and challenging crossing of the Atlantic, and very lonely. It’s good to see people!
It should have been a record-setting second leg, but it turned out to be very long. Can you tell us why?
It was a record 2nd leg for the leaders… but I really felt that every weather event closed in behind them. We encountered squalls and plenty of windless zones along the northern route. I was expecting a long swell to be able to push ahead, but the sea was all over the place. Sometimes I was surfing one wave and next I was struck broadside by another… They weren’t really the right conditions for speed, especially with several technical bugs.
Can you tell us a bit more about the trouble you had?
It actually began before the starting signal of the 2nd leg. I had made changes to a faulty cable the day before, the cable that connects the aerial to the VHF antenna at the top of the mast. It was all working well after I’d finished setting it up, but once at sea, I noticed that the cable was loose. So I sailed back into port to climb to the top of the mast and secure it better. I left port a few minutes after the fleet, so it wasn’t a big deal. But that first night, with a surge and the boat violently plunging into a wave, it all got disconnected again… I sailed on without aerial, so without any information about the wind or its direction. Whenever I went to sleep, I switched on the automatic pilot in compass mode, but it wasn’t really ideal.
"My only objective then was to finish the race with a boat in one piece on arrival."
The second major damage was to the keel, which started to move a lot under the boat. The faster I was sailing, the more it moved. I was really afraid I might lose it, and so I decided to keep my speed down to preserve the boat.
How did you manage to keep your spirits up?
When you take part in a Mini Transat, you can have two distinct goals: to aim for a good sporting outcome, or to go where the wind takes you. When I set out from the Canary Islands, I had the former goal in mind, but that soon veered to the second, literally. My only objective then was to finish the race with a boat in one piece on arrival.
What was the biggest challenge for you in this race?
Solitude. My VHF radio wasn’t picking up signals well and for 6 days I didn’t speak to anyone. That was quite a harsh experience. You reflect, you ask yourself questions…, but that was because of the technical problems I suffered. This solitude wouldn’t have been so difficult to bear if I had been fully engaged in the sporting competition. I’m happy with what I have achieved, pleased to have arrived safe and sound, but above all relieved! At long last I’m now going to have a chance to rest up!