The Les Sables – Azores – Les Sables race runs on alternate years to the Mini Transat. The race is a total of 2560 miles long, consisting of two separate legs: from France to the Azores, and back again. Like the Mini Transat, navigation and communication equipment is restricted so its back to navigating with paper charts and sextants!
The Azores race is the longest race of 2014 and the final goal for many Mini sailors both French and otherwise. All races and qualifying passages leading up to the Azores race come down to one start day: July 20th.
On July 20th over fifty 21-foot long boats will depart Les Sables D’Olonne on their first leg of the race. The first leg usually takes around 8 or 9 days depending on weather and is usually the tougher of the two legs due to the tendency to have more upwind sailing. Skippers will battle sleep deprivation as they try to avoid the mass amount of fishing vessels scattered around the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. Usually vessels at sea can be easily located with a device called an AIS (Automatic Identification System). Mini’s are equipped with an AIS and an alarm will sound whenever another vessel equipped with AIS comes within a set distance. The fishing vessels, however, rarely carry an AIS, making it very tricky to manage sleeping and avoiding them.
Once at the Azores the skippers will have a short rest before they start the second leg back to France on the 5th of August. This leg of the race is much more comfortable for the skippers as historically there has been more downwind sailing. This makes for less crashing into waves, and a faster ride towards France. The tactics on this leg will be determining when to gybe to stay in the breeze and using the local effects off the Portuguese coast to their advantage.
Nonetheless, this is the longest non-stop solo passage Sandy will have completed to date. It is the ultimate challenge of 2014!