Is it a Dinghy or a Yacht?
Either way, it's a serious Ocean Racer. It's spectacular, adventurous, extreme, but WHY???
With six bold steps you've walked from stem to stern. The mast is almost twice as tall. And, at three metres wide, the boat looks like a big pumpkin seed!
Mini Class boats are used in the Mini Transat, a biennial 4,000 mile race across the Atlantic, founded in the late 1970s. Last event, 70 boats raced from France, via a stopover in the Canary Islands, to Brazil. The Mini Transat is to shorthanded sailing what karting is to Formula 1 racing, it's the little sister of the big short handed races like Around Alone and the Vendee Globe, with just as much or even more adventure!
A lot of names on the entry lists turn up later in the bigger short handed races - Ellen Macarthur, Nick Moloney, Thierry Dubois to name a few. The race formula is simple; sail as fast as you can across the Atlantic in a boat shorter than 6.50 metres, or about 21 feet long! There's also a very popular annual series of shorter races for the boats in Europe, sailed single and double handed.
With limits on overall size and shape of boat, the Mini designer works within a "box" rule. The rule also limits the materials used (to control costs) and imposes some strict safety requirements on these baby ocean racing boats.
The strength of the class lies in Europe, mainly in France and Italy. The open character of the rule has made the Mini a testing ground for designers. Ground-breaking boats have sailed the Mini Transat. Innovations like the swing keel, twin rudders and water ballast were brought to perfection on these little boats. They can hit 20 knots or more in a seaway!
How does it feel to spend a month crossing the Atlantic in a tiny, fast-sailing, over-canvassed skiff? Sleeping is a problem, noise is infernal and waves are smashing into your face the whole time. Like living in a washing machine strapped to the back of a bucking bronco. The chance of a big wipe-out (knockdown) is always in the back of your mind! Waves and squalls with enough power to snap your mast. And then there's the nosediving...
Dangerous? It can be, of course. Thatâs ocean racing. After 20 years or more, the Mini class recognises the risks - the safety and experience requirements for skippers are incredibly strict, and the boats are tough, real tough. In fact, the rules require them to be unsinkable - even if holed!
Wild Child was the first Mini 6.50 built in Australia. It was designed by New Zealander Murray Ross. Phil Bower finished the boat off himself from a moulded hull and deck with the help of solo sailer Alan Nebauer, and a selection of dedicated friends and industry professionals. Merf Owen (Kingfisher & Hexagon) designed the internal structure, canting keel, canard & rudders. David Lyons (Vanguard, Newcastle Australia, Cuckoos Nest and more) designed the rig, which was made by Whalespar. Sailcloth was supplied by Dimension Polyant and sails made by Ullman Sails. Fittings were supplied by Harken and electronics by Navman and Raymarine. The support from the industry in getting the boat together was fantastic.
Phil Bower is a Wollongong based sailor, who at 27 already has amassed an impressive sailing resume. Phil races boats from 16 foot skiffs to large ocean racers, with 2 Sydney -Hobart, 8 Southports, top 10 in skiff state & nationals for several years, State Flying Ant champ & 2nd Aus champs already under his belt. In Wild Child Phil has completed two solo Trans-Tasman crossings, winning the Solo Tasman - New Plymouth -Mooloolaba race earlier this year against boats twice his size!
Phil's plans for the boat include the CYCA winter series, local short-handing & possibly Hamilton Island Race Week in 2003, building to a European campaign and the Mini Transat in 2005.
Phil is looking for sponsorship to develop the boat & fund the campaign. Phil says, "the Mini's a fast and furious OCEAN RACING SKIFF ON STEROIDS an ideal transition for young sailors who want to get into the fastest growing, and most exciting area of offshore racing right now - Short-Handing".
So far, only a handful of Minis have been built in this region, Chris Sayer in NZ has built two, and is currently building one side by side with Liz Wardley, a talented young sailor with the last Volvo Around the World race under her keel. Mike Smith in Melbourne has Ellen Macarthur's 1996 vintage Mini. Local builders have also built several boats for European sailors, including a Robert Hick built Merf Owen design for a UK client.
SSAA also sees the Mini as an ideal entry point for young sailors
wanting to graduate into short handed offshore racing, where Australia
is weak, despite our achievements in other areas of the Sport. SSAA is
working with designers, builders and racing authorities to promote the
class in Australia. For more information, contact SSAA.
link to details of Raeffer Govoni's attempt to qualify for Mini Transat 2007