This month we’re championing a good friend of El Camino, Antoine Tricou, who’s about to set off on his first-ever transatlantic race. We caught up with him to find out more.
Created in 1977 by British sailor Bob Salmon and occurring every two years, the Mini Transat was developed with the aim of reconnecting with the adventurous spirit of the first transatlantic races, one of human adventure versus technology. A true solo racing challenge.
Starting on 24 September, this year’s event will see 90 sailors set off from Les Sables d’Olonne in France, with a stopover in Santa Cruz de La Palma in the Canary Islands, before arriving in Saint Francois in Guadeloupe around a month and a half later. Participants must complete the course solo and without assistance or technology aboard 6.5-meter sailboats. Previous contestants have included Dame Ellen MacArthur.
Hi, please can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Antoine, I’m 35 and from Les Gets in the French Alps.
When and how did you get into extreme sports?
Growing up, our dad was into extreme sports, skiing, and paragliding, and he encouraged us and taught us the basics. I probably first went paragliding when I was 12, but after a few flights, I ended up in the trees! I switched to downhill mountain biking when I was around 14, which I continued for a few years including at competition level.
I returned to paragliding when I was 17 and started competing and doing aerobatic paragliding. I was studying at Business School which had a special program for athletes, so would spend the morning working and the afternoon paragliding. But from December to April, I was in the Alps working as a ski instructor.
I found that I was lagging behind with the paragliding while I was skiing and had to do too much training in the spring to catch up. So, I decided to quit the competitive side of paragliding and learn to skydive, base jump and then later wing suit. I then settled into teaching paragliding and skiing as my job.
And when did you discover a love for sailing?
I think I've always liked the ocean, just to be in the ocean, it’s a cool environment. From my background in paragliding using the wind, using the wind on whatever object you try to move on the water is quite cool. Although we never really went on holiday to the beach when we were little, I did get into surfing and kite surfing.
My brother did more sailing than me. Occasionally he would organise a few of us getting together and out on a boat. We’d fit as much of our paraphernalia like surfboards, fishing rods and beers in as we could and go exploring. We did a tour of the Mediterranean.
During the pandemic, I felt like I wanted to try something new, find a new challenge. I decided to take up sailing. I found that you have to approach it the same as mountaineering: You’re at the mercy of your environment and you just have to be very humble.
What made you decide to tackle the Mini Transat?
It was completely random, I met a friend in Morzine who had done the race, and he said it’s the best thing he’s ever done in his life. So, I just decided I’d do it.
Then the next day I was on my phone trying to find a boat. When I eventually found one in Brittany – a Classe Mini racing boat - I knew nothing about sailing, so literally the guy could’ve sold me anything.
I ended up having to learn from scratch. I was on the boat in Brittany watching tutorials on YouTube of how to tack etc.
I knew after the first few months that I needed to find a team to train with - it's fine learning how to manoeuvre but learning how to cross the ocean solo is a little bit different! I ended up in la Trinité-sur-Mer where there was a guy, a trainer, who said that I could come in. They asked for my CV and all I had was two weeks of catamaran sailing when I was 14. But I think they liked my competitive sports background.
You had to qualify to enter the race?
Yes, it’s incredible, I qualified over people who’ve been sailing their whole lives. It’s a pretty tough process.
To qualify you must have sailed more than 1,500 miles in the boat you plan to compete in during the events on the Mini Class calendar. You also have to complete an out-of-race qualifying course of at least 1,000 miles. This is a circuit that goes from France up to Ireland, back down to the middle of the Atlantic and back to where you started. And during this, you have to demonstrate a lot of skills. Basically, you need to show that you are able to do everything that you will have to do during the transatlantic.
Hundreds if not thousands of people enter and only 84 people qualify.
What is it about sailing that brings you the most joy?
That’s a good question. Because I discovered that racing and solo offshore racing is 90% trouble and 10% pleasure. There's the satisfaction of dealing with challenges and you see amazing things, like you've got the sunrise or sunset all to yourself. But these moments disappear very quickly when things start to go wrong, or you haven't been able to sleep!
Tell us about the practicalities of the race…
You have to train to power nap - because you're in charge of the boat, you can only sleep for 10-20 minutes at a time and there’s no bed. I’ve discovered that thirteen minutes is my perfect amount. Then in terms of food, I'll be eating shrink-wrapped stuff. There's no kitchen on board a boat of this size, it's designed to be super lightweight. We allow for three litres of water a day. You have no internet, no phone, just GPS for coordinates and a map.
What are you most looking forward to and what do you think will be the hardest part?
The best part will be getting to the other side! No, it’s just that crossing the Atlantic is the end of two and a half years of working towards this goal. The Transat is the cherry on the cake, the whole project has been an incredible adventure. The hardest part is going to be being by myself for all that time.
Are you able to take any home comforts?
Saucisson is really my thing, everyone makes fun of me because, I always bring saucisson, hanging everywhere in the boat. Hanging in the boat with my El Camino Bracelet – I’ll need some reminder of real life to counter the fact that I’ll be completely alone.
What inspires you?
My brother. He’s very good at motivating people.
Would you rather have a sunset from your sailboat or a sunrise from the mountaintops?
This is like choosing mommy or daddy…I think sunset in the mountains. The cool thing about sailing and not sleeping is that you see the sunrise every day, which in normal life, you need to wake up early. So sunrise from the boat is amazing too.
Would you rather listen to ABBA the entire Atlantic Crossing or cross with no music? That's a tough one. I love music, I’d go mad without it. But maybe not ABBA for the entire crossing!