American solo sailor Jay Thompson is preparing to cross from New York to Lizard Point in his Mini 6.50 to establish a new small boat Atlantic crossing record

Small boat Atlantic crossing records are always fascinating. What motivates a skipper to test the limits by sailing offshore in a 21ft yacht?

For American sailor Jay Thompson it is his desire to highlight that the Mini 6.50 is a seaworthy boat, and that this popular French class has potential beyond the Mini Transat.

‘The whole point of the Mini 6.50 class is to innovate and prove that it is something of value. Some people question the boats because of their size, but there are strict rules around construction and these boat are really very seaworthy. There are hundreds of these boats here in France and people are interested in sailing them further. Hopefully by completing the record, it will open doors to others,’ explained Thompson.

A group of people around a Mini 6.5 with a red hull

The launch of Speedy Gonzalez, which was designed by Guillaume Verdier, far right. Credit: Coconut Sails Team

Although the Mini 6.50 has been sailed across the Atlantic, from Cape Verdes to the Caribbean, no-one has ever sailed one from Ambrose Light, New York to Lizard Point. The World Sailing Speed Record Council will be monitoring Thompson’s attempt, which will take place at the end of August.

The 37-year-old will be attempting the record in his foiling Mini 6.50, Speedy Gonzalez, which was designed by Guillaume Verdier, who he met during the 2016-17 Vendée Globe.

An aerial view of a small boat which has a red and black hull

Jay Thompson raced Speedy Gonzalez to 9th place in the 2021 Mini Transat. Credit: Coconut Sail Team

Thompson built the boat himself in a hanger in France, and worked with Verdier on a new T-rudder system, which allows the rudder to flip up if it hits something in the water.

He raced the boat in the 2021 Mini Transat, finishing 9th overall out of 90 competitors, with a time of 27d 03h 03m 49s.

‘The boat is an ever evolving process; you are always making small optimisations to make it better, but there are some changes I’ve made for the record attempt. For the Mini Transat, I used 100% solar energy but I will now have different trackers on board, a computer to download weather, and an Iridium GO! These things all consume more energy than what we were allowed in the Transat so I have installed a Efoy methanol fuel cell onboard to keep them powered,’ he explained.

Small Boat Atlantic Crossing challenge - Jay Thompson, pictured crouching by the side of his boat

Jay Thompson learned to sail at the age of 16 while at high school in California. Credit: Coconuts Sail Team

Thompson, who has lived in France with his family for the last five years, said physically he is ready for the challenge of a small boat Atlantic crossing, and he has been studying the weather ahead of the record attempt.

‘The most important thing for me is to understand the weather and be able to have good routing. I have been studying a lot of historical data and looking for patterns in the current models to work out the best time to leave from New York. There is always the potential of a big storm, but it is just a question of choosing the right time to avoid the depressions. I am hoping to leave around the 20 August or 22 August if the weather is right,’ he said.

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From 2006, Thompson spent 10 years cruising the world with his wife, Natasha and children on their Germán Frers one tonne 12m prototype, Messenger.

The boat was built in 1982 for the classic one tonne circuit before it was abandoned. They renovated the boat while living onboard it.

‘We were basically camping onboard as we didn’t have much money at the time,’ recalled Thompson, who first learnt to sail at the age of 16 while living in Newport, California.

People standing on the deck of a boat

Jay Thompson and his family spent 10 years cruising around the world before settling in France, where Jay has set up the Coconuts Sail Team. Credit: Coconut Sails Team

After being bitten by the sailing bug as a teenager, racing in 420s and Lasers soon followed before the Marstrom 32 circuit, TP52s and F16 World Championship.

But in 2008, Thompson discovered what he really wanted to aim for.

‘I really fell in love with the Vendée Globe. It was Sam Davies I was following as really, she was the only one communicating in English at that time. I was always really interested in doing this type of racing, so I came to France and ran into Conrad Coleman, who was way behind schedule for the 2016 Vendée.

‘Initially he couldn’t even pay me but then he signed a small sponsor and I was able to continue working for him. It is such a small world so you get to know other people really easily, so I have gone on to work for other teams like Boris Herrmann and then this January, Sam Davies asked if I would work for her on the new Initiatives-Cœur, so I am now there as a préparateur,’ he added.

Thompson’s ultimate ambition now is to skipper his own Vendée Globe IMOCA 60.

His record attempt can be followed at Coconut Sails Team:

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