Transat Québec Saint-Malo 2016 – It’s hard to believe it was seven days ago already that 24 of the 26 boats set sail from Quebec City for 2,897 nautical miles of racing, adventure, and discovery.
After the twists and turns of the St. Lawrence River came the Gulf crossing via Saint Pierre and Miquelon, and now it’s a colossal sprint to the finish across the North Atlantic in the cold and damp. The exceptionally windy conditions in the ocean for July have already taken their toll on one of the boats in the race.
Sidney Gavignet’s MOD 70 Musandam Oman Sail capsized in the early hours of this morning as it left Newfoundland in its wake. Safe and sound, the crew have been picked up by a passing freighter and are on their way back to Canada. Other than a few pit stops at Saint Pierre, other boats have suffered only a handful of minor issues here and there, slowing their progress for a while and contributing to a process of natural selection that has spread the fleet over an 800-mile wide stretch of ocean.
The three Multi50 front-runners are already preparing for their approach to Ireland after a battle that has been spectacular in every way, at times logging more than 500 miles a day. Never more alone in the world, Spindrift 2 is devouring the ocean on a single tack without dipping below 30 knots on the speedometer. Meanwhile, the Class40 fleet are capitalizing on the exceptional potential of their monohulls, battling it out masterfully as they surf the swells at speeds in excess of 20 knots, holding their own in a race that’s tighter than ever before with no fewer than five or six potential winners. For the 50-foot trimarans and 40-foot monohulls, the English Channel and the tricks it has up its sleeve will be the deciding factor in the next three days or so.
Musandam Oman Sail capsizes
Race Management was notified shortly after five this morning that Sidney Gavignet’s MOD 70 Musandam Oman Sail had capsized 450 nautical miles east of Saint Pierre and Miquelon. An evacuation of the crew by helicopter—Sidney Gavignet, Fahid Al Hasni, Damian Foxhall, Alex Pella, and Mayeul Rifflet—was considered for a while, but this was ruled out by the thick fog prevailing over the Grand Banks. Instead, the oil tanker Torm Alexandra veered off its course toward St. Johns, Newfoundland to come to their rescue, and by 12:15 p.m., all crew members were safely on board. The Oman shore team is already looking into chartering a trawler to go offshore and recover the platform of the overturned trimaran.
A blisteringly fast week
In spite of the incessant damp and cold, the fleet is carving a groove across the Atlantic at blistering speeds. The Multi50 front-runners are still holding their long, fast starboard reach. Arkema (Lalou Roucayrol) has stretched out its lead to 34 nautical miles over French Tech Rennes St-Malo (Gilles Lamiré), and 56 over Ciela Village (Thierry Bouchard). These are still relatively modest leads, however, considering the speeds these ultra-fast 50-foot trimarans are reaching. Thierry Bouchard, despite the handicap of lacking a Code Zero on board—the perfect sail for the conditions—logged an impressive 523.4 nautical miles yesterday, averaging 21.8 knots!
After gybing onto port tack behind the depression, the Class40 fleet are blasting along with the leader of the pack, Tales 2, now just 1,200 nautical miles away from the finish. Glued to the helm to milk every last drop of performance from their boats as they storm downwind, the sailors are consistently reporting long rides surfing the swell at over 20 knots, with some paying the price of bearing away a touch too far. This first week has been a blisteringly fast start to the Transat Québec Saint-Malo.
Time and distance have led to a natural selection between the latest-generation yachts and the older vessels in the fleet. But the winner is far from being decided yet, and the second week of the race is shaping up to be a real nail-biter with all the key Multi50 and Class40 players thirsting for glory. Now alone in its class, Spindrift 2 is closer than ever to winning one or both of its remaining challenges—to beat Loïck Peyron’s historic record and finish ahead of the Multi50s.
Here’s what the competitors had to say:
Chantal Coquelin – Guadeloupe Dynamique
“The crossing is going very well. We’re in the midst of the usual fog in these parts. We were sorry to hear about Musandam Oman Sail’s capsize, which happened in our immediate vicinity. We’re sailing in 15 knots of wind and the seas are quite choppy. We’re battling against the Class40s and giving it our all, while trying to conserve energy with the manoeuvres. We’ve brought in a watch system on board and the shifts are working out well. It’s cold, especially at night. We can’t wait for the sun to come out again.”
Thierry Bouchard – Ciela Village
“We’re on the approach to Ireland and have heard the bad news about Musandam Oman Sail. We know how dangerous these multihulls of ours can be. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve had some pretty fast conditions on board, but nothing too risky and hard to handle. Here aboard Ciela Village, we don’t have the same sail configuration as our stablemates. It hasn’t always worked to our advantage, but we’re fighting it out until the bitter end. There’s going to be a transition period on the way in to Ireland and lots of things can still happen as we head into the English Channel. While I hail from the Mediterranean, I’m quite familiar with the Brittany coast thanks to racing plenty of times in the Tour de France.”
Victorien Erussard – Solidaires En Peloton – ARSEP
“Yesterday was really disheartening. We lost our medium spinnaker, the right foresail for the conditions, and that cost us a good thirty miles off the head of the fleet. The SPI fell into the water when a strap between the sail, the sock, and the halyard broke. We tried our best to recover it, but it was already caught underneath the boat. In a nutshell: one torn, unusable spinnaker and one broken bowsprit (the pole at the front of the boat holding the bottom of the foresail in position). Fortunately, we had a spare on board, but it took time to get that ready and set it up. Then we didn’t have the right sail to get going again quickly. Thibaut had to scale the mast to fix the Code Zero halyard. Since then, we’ve made a comeback and have clawed our way back into fifth place by passing downwind of the pack. There’s plenty of hope yet, and we’re not giving up. The wind is forecast to drop and that means we’ll have the right sails again for the angle and strength of the wind.”
Brieuc Maisonneuve – Ellipse
“All is well, despite the loss of our medium SPI. Since then it’s been pretty high-octane stuff flying the SPI. It’s a lot of fun sparring with the others out here. It’s cold, though, and the only duvet we have on board is like a washcloth. We’re manning the helm around the clock. The fog lifted this morning to reveal slightly overcast conditions. We’re working hard to make up for losing that sail, but we’re having a blast. We clocked 27 knots surfing one wave as we went past Saint Pierre. That was pretty sweet!”
Alexandre Schwed – Matouba
“We’ve still got more than 20 knots of southwesterly wind here, and we’re flying the SPI in the fog. It really is damp out there. We had some mainsail issues and had to stop at Saint Pierre to fix it. The folks in Saint Pierre gave us such a fantastic welcome, and we set off again on top form. We’re trying to catch up with the pack now and are spending lots of time at the helm, especially at night. The swells are smooth and we’re surfing our way along.”
Karine Fauconnier – Arkema
“Whereas it was impossible to sum up the St. Lawrence leg in a single word, the North Atlantic is living up to its reputation and there’s only one word for it: damp. We’re speeding over the waves, surfing the swell and getting pretty wet. We’ve only pearled a couple of times. But it’s a fast race, compared to the English Transat Lalou’s just done going the other way. It’s hard for us to take a look at the groove we’re wearing on the chart and imagine sailing the same course upwind—eek! Thanks, Lalou, for bringing the boat across to America for us against wind and tide so we can enjoy taking the fast lane home again. Actually, our skipper’s only too happy to take his shift at the helm and push the dials up over 25 knots. What a great race this is—and the finish is going to be intense as well, with the lighter conditions waiting just around the corner.”
Estimated arrival times, subject to change
– Multi50: Wednesday July 20 – Early hours of the morning
– Ultimate Class: Wednesday July 20 – Early morning
– Class40: Saturday July 23 – Midday
All programming information and details on registered crews can be found online at website.
by Dominique Jobin