October 2007

2007 Transat 650: ‘It’s A Small World’

Reprinted From Compass Points
With Permission Of Writer Wendy Larsen

Word is that the world is getting smaller. Not literally, but with regard to our connections to others in the world, it is.  This was certainly true for Dave and me on our recent visit to La Rochelle, France.  As I wrote this, the preparations were underway for the 4,000 mile race from La Rochelle, France to Brazil. 

The Transat 650’s 15th biannual race began Sept. 16.  Dave and I went to La Rochelle in order for Dave to become an official measurer for the Mini Class United States and to experience for ourselves the excitement of preparing for this single-handed transatlantic race.

The boats (like the one we are currently building) are 6.5 Meters long (21 feet) with a 40-foot mast and a beam measurement of 3 meters.  The boats carry over 1,000 square feet of downwind sail and can zip along at better than 20kn in a good sea lane. 

We met sailors in La Rochelle from France, the United States, Australia, Croatia, Poland, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Brazil.  One of the racers this year was an American named Clay Burkhalter, racing his Rod Johnston-designed Mini named Acadia. 

You may recognize Rod Johnston as the designer of the original J24.  And, this is where the world begins to get smaller.  Did you know that Rod Johnston built the original J24 in his garage?  Sound familiar? 

Over dinner, at one of those charming sidewalk cafés on our final night in La Rochelle, Johnston explained that the dimensions of that original J24 were dictated by the size of his garage. I guess he didn’t consider knocking out a wall to make more room.

Dave and I enjoyed watching the Basin de Chalutiers come to life as all the racers arrived.  Only Transat 650s were docked here during this event, and on Sept. 3, there were only seven.

Three days later, (the deadline for arriving) there were 84 boats in the basin.  The challenge for skippers was that boats could only enter the basin at high tide when a lock was opened and a bridge over the lock was raised. 

One hour after high tide the locks close again in order to maintain the water level inside the basin.  Consequently entry was limited to twice a day.

Dave spent the week measuring boats.  This is more involved than holding a tape measure and determining that “Yep, its 6.5 meters long.” 

Boats were tested for buoyancy (pulling the mast down to the water with the boat on its side, attaching 100 pounds to the top of the mast and making sure that the boat would right itself from that position) depth of the keel below the waterline and beam were measured, as well as mast height from the waterline, etc.  

Dave finished each day sunburned, tired and exhilarated from it all. 

I kept busy enjoying everything French. (We did manage to do some sightseeing while in France). My favorite memories include watching the activity on the docks with a backdrop of the old fort protecting La Rochelle harbor while being serenaded by French music, watching young children sailing small boats in a fountain in the middle of the Champs-Élysées in Paris, and cruising down the Seine at sunset with views of the Eiffel Tower lit by thousands of twinkly lights. 

The French people were delightfully charming to us everywhere we went.

In our ever-shrinking world, we met new friends from France, Brazil, Germany and New England with whom we hope to visit and go sailing again soon.