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Challenging race along St. Lawrence River starts tomorrow
Transat Québec Saint-Malo © Lloyd Images

Challenging race along St. Lawrence River

Transat Québec Saint-Malo 2016 – Tomorrow, Sunday July 10, 2016 marks the start of the ninth edition of the Transat Québec Saint-Malo upstream from Quebec City at the foot of the Plains of Abraham.

Four 50-foot multihulls will be the first to set sail down the majestic and ever-elusive St. Lawrence River. A quarter of an hour later, 20 monohulls will cross the starting line.

Crews will have their work cut out deciphering the charts and navigating the subtler aspects of this tricky 371-mile route as they strive to reach the bay of Gaspé as quickly as they can before embarking on their epic crossing of the North Atlantic. And the river won’t be the only challenge of this unique crewed race from west to east, with icebergs off the southern coast of Newfoundland for the yachts to navigate around on their way to Saint-Malo.

Twists and turns in the river

First of all, though, competitors will be steeling themselves for three or four particularly challenging days as they wind their way along 371 miles of St. Lawrence shoreline with four mandatory marks to round at Rimouski, Matane, Gaspé, and Percé, and countless obstacles to steer clear of, including marine traffic exclusion zones in nature reserves, islands and islets and cargo shipping lanes. There are so many navigational factors to take into account that localized weather conditions will pale in comparison.

For the first time in the event’s history since 1984, competitors will have to deal with a strong northerly headwind blowing right up the river. Fortunately, the current will be flowing in their favour—at least for the first few hours of the race—helping crews to clear Île d’Orleans, the long island east of the starting line.

All the crews will be racing against the clock, then, to not only stay ahead of the fleet but also to make sure they don’t miss any of the waypoints mapped out by the reversing flow of the currents, as well as an area of high pressure forecast to settle over Newfoundland Sunday evening. The broader forecast of weather conditions in the North Atlantic shows a strong southwesterly flow moving in below Newfoundland, paving a fast lane for crews to sheet in and head home.

Who will step into Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron’s shoes?

In the absence of two-time defending champion Halvard Mabire and his companion Miranda Merron, winners of the race in 2012 and 2008, the field among the 19 Class40 entrants is looking wide open. “I could picture there being as many as six or seven potential winners here,” says Phil Sharp (Imerys). Returning to the class he loves so much ten years after his solo Route du Rhum win, the British skipper is one of the favourites, along with the competitors who pipped him to the post in The Transat bakerly race back in May, Thibaut Vauchel-Camus (Solidaire En Peloton-ARSEP) and Louis Duc (Carac). All three skippers have brought seasoned ocean-racing crew members aboard, a clear sign of their thirst for success.

Two female sailors may well stand in the way of their ambitions, though. Isabelle Joschke (Generali-Horizon Mixité), keen for revenge after having to retire from The Transat bakerly while leading the pack, has enlisted her mentor Alain Gautier and class veteran Pierre Brasseur to join her on board; together, they form a team that commands serious respect down by the wharves in Quebec City. In spite of her humble and unassuming manner, Catherine Pourre brings some impressive 40-foot experience to the race, with her tried-and-tested Mach 40 Eärendil and a three-strong crew of experienced seafaring yacht racers.

Also keen to turn the tables in his favour and eager to put the disappointment of his retirement from the Plymouth to New York race behind him is young Saint-Malo native Maxime Sorel (V and B). With Luke Berry and Bertrand Delesne by his side, he’s looking forward to getting back on track as he works toward the next Route du Rhum.

Class40 is an international class, and plenty of nationalities represented in this Transat Québec Saint-Malo race are perfectly capable of making their presence felt. Spanish sailor and architect Gonzalo Botin and his yacht Tales II—the winning boat in the 2014 Route du Rhum with Alex Pella at the helm (who is crewing for Sidney Gavignet this year aboard the MOD 70 Musandam Oman Sail)—is one of the dark horses in the race, together with keen German amateur Burkhard Keese and Black Pepper/Les p’tits doudous by Moulin Roty, who’ll be counting on the experience and expertise of skipper Armel Trippon.

Japanese sailor Kitada Hiroshi (Kiho) silenced many critics by finishing his first solo transatlantic race back in May. He too knows how to find great crew members, and is hoping the talents of Rémi Beauvais, Jean-Christophe Caso, and Mark Smith will help him climb the rankings.

Here’s what the competitors had to say:

Armel Tripon – Black Pepper/Les p’tits doudous by Moulin Roty

“We have a Franco-German crew, and we chose to enter the race as a foursome to strike the right balance between keen amateurs and professional sailors on board. This is a very demanding race and we’ll be happy to have more hands on deck at some points. We know the boat well, and we know one another well. We certainly have a solid hand with our latest generation Class40 boat. We’re going to have to stay very alert on a navigational level, with lots of maneuvers and potential contact. It’ll be a fight right from the starting line with lots of surprises and close calls that come and go before you know it. I have very fond memories of my experience here in 2012 with Fabrice Amedeo, when we took the lead at Saint-Pierre. We’re going to have to set off on the right tack when we hit the Atlantic.”

Manuel Cousin – Groupe Setin

“The boat arrived by freighter, and it’s our first time here. And what a pleasure it is! We’re here to enjoy ourselves. There are four of us on board, me and Yann Claverie, who’s a seasoned Mini-Transater, Damien Rousseau, and Sébastien Oursel, who’s a working partner. We have the right balance of skills. The North Atlantic will be a first for me. I know the West Indies, but it’s exciting for me to be broadening my horizons like this. We’re well aware of the historical value of this route, the Grand Banks, Newfoundland, Saint-Pierre… it’s all very exciting.

The bar is very high, with some former winners of the Vendée Globe and the Le Figaro race. As keen amateurs, with the oldest yacht in the fleet, it’s an honour for us to be here. The boat has proven with the Transat Jacques Vabre (seventh) that she’s still able to finish in the top spots, so now it’s up to us to see what we can do!”

Catherine Pourre – Eärendil

“We still don’t really know what lies ahead—close reaches, lulls, for instance. We’ll keep an eye on the currents and hope we’ve rigged the right sail. There’ll be a lot of hugging the coast and watching out for debris in the water. We have a team of racers who are comfortable with inshore sailing. We’ll also have to keep an eye out for sea ice around Newfoundland.

So basically we’ll be on the lookout 24/7 and we’re hoping there won’t be too much fog. There are lots of factors to take into account, such as getting the direction of the current right and keeping an eye out for funnel effects. We need to get to the end of the St. Lawrence as quickly as we can to catch up with the depressions in the North Atlantic. Make sure we don’t get caught by the ridge waiting after the mouth of the river. Eärnedil is a great boat, and thanks to her we can set our sights high.”

Fabien Delahaye – Solidaire En Peloton-ARSEP

“Racing with a crew changes the cards in our hands because all the boats have a top-notch sailor at the helm. Plenty of entrants think they stand a chance of winning. We’re going to do our very best with a great crew. There are a ton of obstacles at the start of the race, and these challenges will have an impact on the end result. When we get to Saint-Pierre we’ll start to assess the situation. We’ll be sailing through some pretty unforgiving areas, so we all have to be humble. It’ll be a fast Transat once we hitch onto a depression and ride it south. There’s going to be some heavy downwind sailing. I’m thrilled to be returning to the Class40 I discovered in 2013 with Sébastien Rogues (winning the Jacques Vabre).

The competition is going to be fierce, with some competitive boats all well-equipped for the race. We need to keep a solid handle on our racing machine and be up for a fight. The race might also play out in the English Channel if we hit an anticyclone that could help the stragglers make a comeback.”

Gilles Lamiré – French Tech Rennes Saint-Malo

“It’s a consistent fleet, with some superb yachts that are very similar to one another. We’re going to be sailing on sight, that’s the signature of this Transat, it’s a coastal regatta and an offshore race. We’re going to encounter some complex weather and some pretty peculiar local phenomena, by the Saguenay River, near the Magdalen Islands, lots of land effects and currents to deal with, not to mention tree trunks and whales.

We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled and be very careful. Winning The Transat bakerly/Transat Québec Saint-Malo grand slam would be a dream come true. We’re trying to stay very humble as we set sail and aim first and foremost to make it to Saint-Malo with a boat in one piece. As for the rest, it’ll be a fierce fight!”

All programming information and details on registered crews can be found online.

by Veronique Bouille

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