Sailing the Mini Transat

The annual Mini Transat kicked off on September 25, 2023. Quantum Sails partner, Peter Gibbons-Neff, Jr. of PGN Ocean Racing set sail as the only American amongst 90 sailors. The Mini Transat is a unique, single handed offshore race, beginning annually in Les Sables d'Olonne, France.

The relationship between Quantum Sails and PGN Ocean Racing began with Peter and Quantum Sail Consultant Scott Nixon, and grew to include Quantum sail designers and Mini experts, Gildas Dubois and Sven Krause. We took some time below to speak with Scott and Gildas about their thoughts on working with Peter and the Mini Transat.

Scott Nixon, Global Offshore One Design Director at Quantum Sails:

Quantum: What stood out with your interactions with Peter? What did you think about his ambitious goals of sailing in the Mini Transat?

Scott: I have known Peter since he was a Jr. sailor and have been good friends with his family for a number of years. I sailed with his father’s Farr395, “UPGRADE”, here on the Chesapeake Bay. His family was well established in the local Annapolis sailing scene. I have also sailed with him on some larger big boat programs locally and in the Florida winter circuits. I have nothing but respect for what he has done at the United States Naval Academy, in the United States Marine Corps, and now supporting our veterans on the water with U.S. Patriot Sailing. His Mini Transat program is impressive to say the least. As the only American in the race he has really embraced single-handed sailing in these small boats. He has worked really hard over the years to qualify and prepare for this year’s race. It has not been easy but with all of his training he is so well prepared I am sure he will have a great showing. 

Quantum: How did you connect the dots with Peter to Quantum Sail Designer, Gildas Dubois?

Scott: Peter and I discussed his sail program after he bought the new boat in 2021. I did not know a lot about the Mini’s so I contacted Gildas right away. He is the Quantum designer and expert in the Mini class. He has been an open book and shared his latest designs and set-ups with Peter and I. The first set of sails we did for the 2021 summer sailing in France came out well. Gildas was on site in La Trinitée and Lorient to meet with Peter and helped to get him dialed in right away and to maximize his class sails and crossovers.

Quantum: As a local to Annapolis, and having seen the boat, did you coordinate the sails and how did you help the rest of the Quantum team? 

Scott: After the first inventory we did for Peter he was able to log in a lot of sailing miles in the tough Mini fleet in France. He learned a lot quickly and realized that single handed sailing is taken very seriously in France. He liked the Quantum designs and was comfortable with our local service here in Annapolis and more importantly, we had experts like Gildas in the field at all the major events to support our clients. Also having some great lofts like Quantum Sails Lorient meant he could service his inventory easily with the local experts. Some of the Mini class rules changed, so updating a few sails to fit the rule on specs had to be done for this year’s latest sails and race. 

Quantum: What part of Peter’s story most resonates with you, the sailing community in general, the Annapolis community, racing, or other? 

Scott: When you meet Peter or sail with him, you get to see how passionate he is about sailing. He not only sails for himself but all the sailors he has worked with over the years in the US Patriot Sailing programs, at the USNA and locally here in Annapolis. He works hard at preparation and this was honed in from all his training serving our country. We all will be cheering for him and watching the red white and blue PGN Ocean Racing Mini head offshore when the race starts.

Quantum: What is unique to this sales process versus, say a cruising customer?

Scott: Identifying what the client needs and finding solutions so they can achieve their goals are key. All customers have certain ideas of what they want to achieve on the water so aligning your assets to help make this process smooth is really what can help make their sailing a success.

Gildas Dubois, Quantum Sail Designer:

Quantum: Can you tell us more about the Mini Transat 650 Class and how you make design decisions? 

Gildas: The Mini Transat 650 class is made of two groups of boats: Prototype and Series. The box class rule defines what is allowed or not for each group.

Prototypes are all different. They can be built by anyone, and the class rule is a bit more "open". Series, on the other hand, should be made by a shipyard and need to have at least 10 boats similar. The rules are a bit more strict. Peter’s RG 650 is a Series.

The goal of the rules for the Mini class is to maintain a balance of reasonable budget, performance, and safety.

Quantum: Can you tell us about your history designing sails for the Mini Class?

Gildas: I am quite familiar with this class. I have made successful Mini sail designs for more than 20 years now, and also made a lot on the floor, on the sewing machine. I could say I am an expert. And I live and work in Vannes, which is very close to La Trinitée sur mer, and also Lorient, two major centers of activity for offshore distance racing in France, with a lot of single handed projects, such as the Mini 650.

I personally raced a couple of times on different Mini 650 boats, but most of the time I sailed for sea trials with sailors in order to work on designs.

I also have my own project to make the Mini Transat in 2025 with a series boat as well, so stay tuned!

Quantum: Are all Mini’s the same? What are some challenges for designing Mini sails?

Gildas: Regarding design, the number of sails is limited for budget reasons. So the goal is to cover all wind range and sailing angles with only six sails. That's why the design of the sails need to be versatile. Then there are some choices to make, but the list of sails is more or less:

  • Mainsail with 3 reefs
  • AP Jib with 1 reef
  • Storm Jib with 1 reef
  • Code Zero  - furling
  • Asymmetrical A3 Spinnaker (heavy medium) with 1 reef
  • Asymmetrical A2 Spinnaker (medium light)

Because of the trade winds, The Mini Transat is mainly downwind, so you need to be sure that the downwind range is properly covered.

You also need to have a sort of "spare kite", because if you have an issue with your big kite, it's very penalizing. To prevent this, we put a reef on the A3. You can use this A3 reefed, as a fractional heavy kite. If you have an issue with your big kite, then you can shake the reef out of the A3 in order to have a reasonable kite to finish the race. Reefs are a way to make the sails versatile. Another way to maintain performance and versatility is with cableless technology. This keeps things easy for the solo sailor, allowing for asymmetrical reaching sails.

When considering construction, because we’re building these for offshore sailing, you need to be focused on durability. But not too heavy construction, as it is a light boat built for racing. 

Quantum: You went sailing with Peter; what was it like to sail with someone from the United States looking to take on such a big challenge as the Mini Transat that has historically been dominated by French and other international sailors?

Gildas: I sailed with Peter in La Trinitée two years ago to check the first set of sails made for him. It was easy to design sails from France even though he lives in the United States. Working with our iQ technology in the design process, input from Scott Nixon, Peter, my background and expertise, we efficiently worked through the process.

It was also good to meet in person to check if every single construction detail worked well. I used to sail with an international crew, so it was easy to communicate. The class Mini 650 is more and more international.

Keep Up with PGN Ocean Racing

To read more about the history of PGN Ocean Racing, see our timeline of his progress: PGN Ocean Racing: The Road so Far.

Cheer on the start of the 2023 MiniTransat, and make sure to follow Peter’s journey on his Instagram account, Facebook page, and website, PGN Ocean Racing.

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