Sailor Diane Reid is racing across the Atlantic solo, and in a boat you can fit in your living room.
Just 6.5 metres long, but almost half as wide, Reid’s ‘Mini’ series sailboat is small but sturdy – a good thing as she races her first Mini Transat, which this year means sailing non-stop from Spain to Guadeloupe with forecast winds of up to 40 knots.
“She can handle 30 knots with no problems at all,” Reid said, writing two days before setting sail in Sada, northwest Spain. “Minis are built for large sea state ocean conditions, barreling downwind as fast as they can go.”
At 41, Reid is a sailor made for distance races. Her first memory is of gripping a sailboat rail at age four, the wind howling as her mother taught her to balance the boat by staying on its high side.
Reid can now count 15 years of national and world competitions, starting with team races in the plywood Thunderbird that she and her husband Paul rebuilt at Ashbridges Bay Yacht Club.
After going solo, Reid did a few laps around Lake Ontario, then graduated to her longest race to date – a 1,300-mile trip around the Bahamas, in perfect weather.
Asked to weigh her sunny Bahamas trip against the Transat, Reid said, “There is no comparison!”
Endurance is key to any long solo race, she said, even in protected waters.
“We sleep in short cat-nap bursts of 20 to 30 minutes,” she said, adding that she mostly sleeps out in the cockpit where she can react quickly if the wind shifts.
But in an Atlantic crossing, sailors face constant, crashing waves.
Every time they gybe or tack – maneuvering the boat so they can swing the mainsail to the other side – Reid said Transat sailors have to “move the stack,” meaning they move all the heavy gear onboard to balance the boat.
“The brain muscle gets very deprived.”
But for Reid, nothing at sea can be as draining as the whole month the 84 sailors in this year’s race were stuck on a dock in Sada.
Bad weather forced officials to abort the first part of the race, which normally starts in Douarnenez, France (more than two-thirds of Transat sailors hail from France; Reid is the only Canadian).
Not long after the fleet left Douarnenez, Reid said they met strong winds at cross-angles to the waves coming off the French coast, and all in a three- to four-metre swell. One sailor’s mast snapped, another broke his rudder.
Even after they quit racing, just sailing to Sada was a challenge.
Reid’s solar-powered batteries were so low she had to hand-steer all night with back-up lights taped to her boat and a handheld radio and GPS beside her.
But, unusually for a race where sailors normally have zero radio contact besides a daily weather report, Reid got lots of help from fellow sailors.
And on Wednesday, the fleet finally set off, rounding the northwest tip of Spain and plunging south to the Canary Islands, from where they will strike out on a nearly three-week ocean crossing.
Radios or not, Reid said she will be learning a lot from everyone racing beside her.
“There is a massive learning curve from the front of the pack to the back of the pack,” she said. “This is a development fleet for people who want to go around the world.”
To track Reid’s progress, visit One Girls Ocean Challenge.