Ultimately there was very little separating the top two sailors with their radically different temperaments and track records at the end of this first leg. The former had the status of defender in this race and was constantly calling himself into question regarding his position within the Mini fleet. The second had decided to consider this race as a journey of self-discovery with nothing to lose enjoying what he can come to the circuit to search for. One came from north-west, the other from the north-east and yet Arthur Léopold-Léger and Ian Lipinski ended up crossing tacks barely two miles from the finish of this first leg. Another hundred metres or so and we might have seen a reversal of the ranking, that’s how close a call it was for the top two.
No news is… Right out of the blue, Arthur Léopold-Léger admitted: “In the end I’ve spent more time on the boat during this leg than throughout the whole of the pre-season events…” And so it was that the Mini-Transat La Boulangère wasn’t necessarily the most pressing of concerns for this sailor from La Rochelle, whose primary focus of late has revolved around developing his business as a company director. Indeed, this 2017 edition was in part an opportunity to set the record straight following the 2013 edition, and also about undertaking a voyage that he had been promising himself for over ten years. To ensure he had a positive experience to take away from this first leg, Arthur decided never to listen to the rankings and to sail his own race. It was only on the final approach to the Canaries that he realised that he was about to pull off a blinder.
Under pressure Ian Lipinski is quick to acknowledge the fact that if there is one point he needs to work on, it’s maintaining the even temperament required by any good racer. For the past two years, the sailor from Lorient has become rather accustomed to reigning supreme in the Mini races and now, for the first time, he has felt the very real pressure of a fellow competitor, who posted a more pugnacious performance than planned. Despite knowing his boat inside out, Ian also knew that the very light airs wouldn’t give him the edge, especially given the fact that he sometimes finds it hard to maintain the Olympian calm necessary for successfully negotiating light conditions. Convinced last night that some of his rivals had already arrived in Las Palmas, this morning’s discovery of the day’s ranking proved to be a lovely surprise and with his spirits buoyed, the sailor becomes invincible once more. A fact he proved once more in this first leg.
Quotes from the boats: Ian Lipinski: “For the past two days, all I’ve seen is my rivals making up tens of miles on me. It’s felt like I wouldn’t get through this. As you don’t know where the others are, your mind soon starts racing and you imagine that you’re the only one to have gone off on a limb on a catastrophic option. Last night, I was convinced that a whole bunch of skippers had already made it into Las Palmas. My game plan at that point was to limit the damage, not go for the win. The race isn’t all about these last 300 miles either though. Once again, I’ve had an absolute ball sailing this boat. I’ve discovered lots more things, another way of using my keel to make the boat lighter and a new way of helming in heavy seas. This boat is such a melting pot of considerations that you feel like you’ll never cover all the angles. Roll on the second leg with some beefy trade winds, that’s all I ask…” Arthur Léopold-Léger: “The first two days I was ill and in such conditions it’s hard to get the boat making headway properly. I listened to the rankings and I was tenth in the prototype category, which was a long way off what I was aiming for. At that point, I decided I wasn’t going to listen to them any more, just sail my own race and do my best. I pushed the boat flat out on rounding the TSS, in seas that weren’t great, and that enabled me to pick my way up through the fleet as I’m essentially a racer at heart. After that, the end of the course was more peaceful. On a personal level, I don’t have a problem with light airs and I manage to stay calm and focused. It was only once I found myself neck and neck with Ian that I understood I’d ranked well.”