Irina Gracheva Takes on the Mini Transat

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There’s nothing mini about the Mini Transat 6.5! Aquapac ambassador, Irina Gracheva will set sail this Saturday.  

“Life on board has become easier, drier and more comfortable.” 

Irina Gracheva, a 34-year-old Russian, is one of just 87 people who have qualified for this year’s Mini Transat; a biennial solo transatlantic yacht race for 6.5 metre boats over 4,000 nautical miles that starts at La Rochelle on the west coast of France to the Caribbean.  

Irina has been training for years. Amongst all her essential gear, she has a complete range of Aquapac products. We wanted to find out how prepared she felt just days before the race begins.  

“As a child I fell in love with the sea. From the age of 12, I started sailing and racing in Saint-Petersburg dedicating all of my free time to yachting. From that point on, my way of life became sailing. My journey to solo ocean racing was long and I discovered not only the nice and romantic side of sailing, but also how to overcome difficulties and to work with my hands and head.” 

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Why are you embarking on this particular adventure? 

“Racing with a crew, I have always had the question in my mind: ‘what exactly is my own contribution? What could I achieve being just alone on boat? Am I strong enough?’. I discovered the Mini Transat race and thought it was really cool. It was small enough for my forces yet crazy at the same time and in just 6.5 meters boats crossing the Atlantic Ocean!” 

Can you tell us a little about the race and what will be expected of you?  

“The emphasis is primarily on the ability to work with sails, independently analyse the weather conditions and navigate with a minimum number of technical devices. Chart plotters are prohibited as well as any equipment capable of analysing the forecast and automatically recommending courses. Any connection with the shore is prohibited, including the usage of satellite phones.  

“Because of the strict regulations, skippers must be good navigators, well versed in meteorology and be able to prepare the yacht technically. They must be strong, tough and able to cope under pressure in demanding circumstances. We will be sleeping no more than 20 minutes in a row for dozens of days.” 

How has your training gone? 

“In 2019, no more than 90 participants were allowed to participate in the race so a real battle unfolded for this opportunity! I had to go through a series of qualifying races and had to gain plenty of practice in the severe Bay of Biscay and Atlantic. It is mandatory to do a solo non-stop sail for 1,000 miles from France to the Irish Coast and back again to as part of the qualification process plus no less than 1,500 miles racing in Class Mini official races. “ 

What about juggling work and sailing – how do you find the time? 

“I am very lucky person, with a lot of support from my employer. I am a Project Manager for Nord Consulting who offer consulting services in the field of certification of industrial equipment. I am allowed to work outside of the office so require just internet and my computer to get the work done.  

“Nord Consulting is also my biggest sponsor; they helped me to buy the boat and start my adventure! The most important sponsoring they have done has been to allow me the opportunity to manage my time by myself and maintain my job whilst at sea without connection. The boss of the Company is one of my biggest friends and she believes that one of most important things in life is to fulfil your dreams and act brave.” 

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What’s your packing list for an adventure like this? Which Aquapac products are you relying on? 

“Each race we need to take with us a huge amount of rescue and safety equipment, tools, navigation maps and books plus personal belongings, food and water. 

All this equipment is pretty heavy, and I need to move it inside of the boat from place to place to create the necessary heel or boat trim – process we call “stacking”. We can’t perform well without stacking on Mini because the boat is so small and light. For best results, everything should be laid out in convenient bags, and each bag should have its place and order of movement. 

“All personal items, such as clothes, shoes and my sleeping bag, go into large Aquapac bags. These dry bags can be compressed with special straps, releasing extra air through the air valve. The bag itself weighs almost nothing.  

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“The necessary tools on board, sail repairing materials and practical items are put in a small 40-litre Aquapac duffles for the duration of the race. It’s essential these things remain dry as tools will quickly rust in saltwater and the sail cloth cannot get wet. 

“My shore equipment also needs protection – especially as my computer is always with me – as well as the fancy clothes I want to wear on arrival. For this I have an Aquapac waterproof backpack. 

“I also use Aqupac waterproof cases for my tablet and phone. Separately, I protect my passport and wallet and use a bigger case for navigation maps, paper route maps and my ship’s log. In small, lightweight bags, I put what I need on hand; my SSB radio, batteries and instructions for electronics on board.  

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“As a result, I manage to organise everything so that it is convenient, easy and quick to reach at the right moment. Different sizes of bags allow me to ergonomically fold them for stacking in the part of boat in which it is necessary, depending on the course and wind force. 

“With Aquapac products, life on board has become easier, drier and more comfortable! Aquapac is the best solution.” 

Want more background information: so how did Irina get into ocean racing?  

In 2013, Irina joined the Ocean Racers community, taking part in her first-ever ocean offshore race; the Rolex Fastnet Race. Since then, she has competed in many famous and spectacular offshore races including the Middle Sea Race twice, the Fastnet Race and the RORC Caribbean 600 twice. Then, in 2015, she rounded Cape Horn and in 2017 won the Russian national award of Sailor of the Year.  

“But my major achievement is a world speed transatlantic record, Bermuda to Plymouth in 2017, made by a double handed mixed crew on a Class 40 race yacht together with famous Swedish sailor Mikael Ryking.” 

In 2018, Irina began a career as a solo ocean sailor, “I have my own yacht and constantly participate in races. I am the only Russian girl who has ever raced the Mini 6.5 taking 19th place out of 251 in the overall class rating. I’ve just passed 6000 nautical miles in my first season in the Mini 6.5 class.”