Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Student Mark O'Connor Qualifies for the Mini Transat Race

21st August 2022
Solo sailor Mark O'Connor using a sextant on board his mini class yacht.
Solo sailor Mark O'Connor using a sextant on board his mini class yacht

Dun Laoghaire sailor Mark O'Connor has solo transatlantic ambitions and here, the 23-year-old UCD engineering student details his journey to 2023 Mini Transat qualification

To qualify for a Mini Transat, one must complete 1500 miles of Classe Mini Regattas and complete a 1000-mile solo qualification loop.

The Atlantic route takes you from France, around the Scillies to avoid the Penzance TSS, to Conningbeg, to the Rochebonne Plateau (near to La Rochelle) around Ile de ré (La Rochelle) and then back to where you started. I am pleased to say that I have now completed both of these! I departed for my Qualification on the 6th of August 2022, and it took me 8 days and 18 hours to complete the 1000nm (1852km) course. Below is a brief summary of the trip. I have now collated my necessary documents and submitted them to the class in Lorient for Ratification.

I have since delivered the boat to Concarneau for my next and final regatta of the season, the Dou Concarneau. As the name would suggest, it is a double-handed race, consisting of 330 miles starting and finishing in Concarneau. It is in Concarneau that I am planning to spend the winter as I have found a place in the Mini “Pole au Large” Training Centre. I am really pleased with this, as it is such an amazing opportunity to improve my sailing from some of the best coaches in the game.

I left Douarnez on the Friday with a fresh NE breeze, which gave me a nice fetch through the “Chenal du four”. A leaking petrol can was a slight nuisance as it was making the cockpit smell, but I was careful to ensure that it stayed in the cockpit and that no petrol made it to the inside of the boat. After a day or so, when the waves calmed down, I was able to decant the remained of the jerry can into the outboard.

Leaving the bay to start my Qualifier. Courtesy Flag flying in front of the Cap de la Chevre Coast Guard StationLeaving the bay to start my Qualifier. Courtesy Flag flying in front of the Cap de la Chevre Coast Guard Station

The first crossing of the English Channel was very pleasant, with 16 knots for a one-sided beat. A wind shift mid-way through allowed me to make the Scillies without a further tack. Having my phone on board was a bit of a novelty, as I wouldn’t normally have it for Mini Races. Getting forecasts and updates from Home was nice, but it was also a bit of a distraction at times.
After the Scilly Isles, the wind dropped off, which meant it was slow going on a beat up towards Waterford. About 20 miles from Conningbeg, the wind filled in with about 12 knots, which meant I rounded in the early hours of the morning. Then it was a 120 mile Run back down to the Scillies, unfortunately, the wind shut off the day after turning back south, meaning I was in for my second drift day of the qualifying loop. However, I had heeded the advice given to me by fellow ‘ministes’, and brought a few books to read when there was no breeze. (This particular day, I finished Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died Twice’, which I would highly recommend). These calm days were also a great opportunity to get sight readings using the sextant and to take recordings of the Forecasts revied via the LW radio. Both of which are mandatory requirements for the qualification.

Rounding Conningbeg cardinal mark during the nightRounding Conningbeg cardinal mark during the night

For my second crossing of the English channel, I had a lovely stable 15 knots just over the back quarter for the first 3/4s of the crossing. Just after entering the channel, I managed to wrap the kite during a launch just after sunrise which made a small tear. Nothing unrepairable, but this meant I was back to the Medium Spi for a couple of hours while I dried it and patched it up. This nice 15 knots of breeze picked up to 30 knots of breeze as I came around the outside of the Ushant TSS. This was great fun surfing down the waves at 8 or 9 knots. This lasted well into the night. Just after midnight while I was surfing with the code 5 spinnaker up, I had a flyby by the ocean 50, Gitana at 26 knots!

All the surfing made for great progress towards the Rochebonne plateau, which I rounded on day 6. It was a tight fetch into La Rochelle to round Ile de Ré, which gradually turned into a run later in the day. It was again light winds by the time I had reached Ile de Re and set up for my approach to the bridge. Unfortunately, the tide was against me in this narrow straight. Therefore I crossed it, and tacked in close to the shore and the commercial port in order to hide from it. I spent the next few hours under the cover of darkness tacking alongside the cargo ships and sneaking closer to the bridge. As I was getting ready to pass beneath it, the wind increased, and the tidal stream was easing so I managed to pass through with little interference. I even overtook another Mini during my short tacking efforts! Not that it was a race, but the satisfaction of knowing my efforts were rewarded was a great moral boost. After passing clear of the fish traps, it was time for a well-deserved sleep, while travelling under the code 0. I made good northerly progress for the rest of the night and the next morning all while catching up on some valuable sleep. It was later after I had passed the Glenans around noon, I encountered my third and final ‘drift day’. This one was the most frustrating by far, As I only had around 50 or so miles until my finish, but with 1/3 knots of wind, I wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. I spent the day doing some small splicing jobs around the boat and a general tidy up.
Arriving at the La Rochelle/Ile de Ré Bridge with 27 degrees at 9 o'clock in the eveningArriving at the La Rochelle/Ile de Ré Bridge with 27 degrees at 9 o'clock in the evening

Around seven o’clock that evening, the wind filled in. With the wind, however, came the lightning squalls. I went from 3 knots to 20 in the space of fifteen minutes, needed to reef the main in between. As a precaution, I unplugged the VHF antenna from the masthead. The lightning storms kept rolling in all night with winds reaching 25 gusting 30. It was under these conditions that I had to cross the notorious Raz de Sien in, with the current against me. When the lightning started to fork a couple of miles from the boat, I decided it would be a good idea to isolate the batteries and electronics, ie, I’d be flying without my instruments or autopilot.

Thankfully by the early hours of the morning, the storms were mainly in the distance, so I was able to turn back on the pilot and get some quick naps. Around 6am I could once again see the Green light at the end of the pier wall of Douarnenez, meaning my 1000-mile qualification loop was at a close.

My Take home lessons from the qualification loop were, 1) Always triple-check things, especially when you are tired. It's worth taking the extra 30 seconds to catch a problem rather than wrapping a kite etc. 2) Preparation for the smallest things is key. One of the nicest luxuries was putting on a fresh and dry set of socks! Before I left, I vacuum bagged some of my clothes in preparation for the cabin being soaked with water. This paid dividends after a week at sea. Prepping my food by making it easily accessible and divided into day bags meant it was easy to be disciplined with rations, and I would always have something to hand 3) Don’t stress about things you can’t control; the wind will come or it won’t.

Published in Solo Sailing Team

About The Author Team

Email The Author is Ireland's dedicated marine journalism team.

Have you got a story for our reporters? Email us here.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open. is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button