Transat Québec Saint-Malo – After grappling with heavy conditions in the Atlantic, the super-light multihulls battling it out in the Transat Québec Saint-Malo presented by the City of Lévis are now sailing into calmer waters as the depression peters out south of the Irish coast.
As the Maxi trimaran Spindrift 2 rounds the obligatory Fastnet Rock, a few miles further south the three front-runners in the Multi50 race are entering what is arguably the most strategic section of the race in the face of a moderate easterly flow that is forecast to back westerly at times as they close in on the English Channel.
The Atlantic has truly been on top form all week long—much to the delight of the multihull and monohull skippers, who only a few days ago were passing the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon. Through cold, foggy conditions—and in spite of the incessant walls of frigid seawater spraying them in the face with every wave—the crews managed to extract maximum performance from their boats sailing downwind under their large spinnakers, Code Zeroes, or gennakers.
The times logged by the respective classes will go down in racing history, with the Multi50s covering more than 520 nautical miles some days, and the 40-foot monohulls reaching peaks of over 370 miles a day. It started off like a Tour de France inshore race along the shores of the St. Lawrence before opening up into the ocean leg, and the Transat Québec Saint-Malo is now taking on more of a Sunday regatta feel in its final phase as the crews come to grips with the currents and light winds between Ireland and Brittany.
After the no-nonsense, unbridled sprint across the ocean, it’s more of a strategists’ game now as the race becomes all about local knowledge and sailor’s instinct. For the Multi50s and Class40s alike, the Transat is far from handing down its verdict yet.
Three races in one!
“It’s like having three races in one!” said Isabelle Joschke this morning, summing up the general consensus among the players in the 2016 Transat Québec Saint-Malo. Still grappling with a strong northwesterly wind, the Class40 fleet continues to perform the same delicate balancing act that started four days ago. Their challenge is to blast down the well-organized lines of swell with as much sail as the boat can carry without crashing or breaking any equipment. It’s an exercise that demands great focus and skill at the helm. Riding the waves at speeds often pushing over 25 knots, the Transat racers have certainly proved they have what it takes. And while Thibaut Vauchel-Camus and Phil Sharp both had torn spinnakers to deal with, they only suffered very minor setbacks as a result.
All the way from the ever-impressive leader Tales II to Manu Cousin (Groupe Sétin) in 15th place, the fleet is thriving—or just barely surviving—on the sheer speed and adrenaline of these icy-cold, damp conditions. With the northwesterly wind expected to hold for the next 24 hours, the approach manoeuvres below will be starting to take shape soon for many boats, if they haven’t done so already. Light summer conditions are prevailing in the English Channel, and while the racers might be happy to see the sun come out again after a noticeable absence, they’ll be bringing out every weapon in their arsenal to glean even the slightest advantage from the peculiarities of navigating the waters between England and Brittany.
A whole new phase will begin as the boats enter the Irish Sea and the race becomes all about positioning, hard work, intuition, and how well the sailors navigate their way around the twists and turns of the Brittany coast. Will Gonzalo Botin and his Spanish crew have enough of a lead to claim victory in Saint-Malo after their spectacular show of speed? There are still plenty of racers in with a chance of taking the win—Phil Sharp (Imerys), Catherine Pourre (Eärendil), young blood Jules Bonnier (Cora-Moustache Solidaire), and even veteran Benoit Charron (Région Normandie)—and only time will tell as they begin their final approach Thursday morning.
Spindrift 2 slated to reach the finish in the early hours of Wednesday morning
Spindrift 2 will have blasted across the entire Atlantic at more than 30 knots on a single tack. Now just 340 nautical miles from the finish line, the Maxi trimaran could be the first boat to sail in below the ramparts of the walled city of Saint-Malo—as early as the wee hours of Wednesday morning—setting a new record for the race.
The three front-runners in the Multi50 fleet are expected to cross the finish line a few hours later, having made remarkably good time on the ocean leg as well. While he was unable to shake off his two rivals in the last few days of sheer insanity blasting along at over 25 knots—with French Tech Rennes Saint-Malo reaching a peak of more than 33 knots with Yvan Bourgnon at the helm—Lalou Roucayrol (Arkema) has the advantage of a boat that is truly a force to be reckoned with in lighter conditions. Can he manage to hold off both of his rivals at the same time? We won’t know for sure until Wednesday morning.
Transat Village opens its doors in Saint-Malo
The Transat Québec Saint-Malo Village opened its doors today and is open to visitors until July 28 at the Saint-Malo wharf in front of the Palais du Grand Large. With homegrown Quebec music, a bar, expo area, offshore race updates for diehard fans, and interviews with crews on arrival, it’s the place to be in Saint-Malo!
Here’s what the competitors had to say :
Phil Sharp – Imerys
“We are now at over half distance in the Transat Québec Saint-Malo and in second place behind the Spanish on Tales II. The last few days have been seriously wild with some incredibly fast downwind sailing. Daily mileages have been over 350 miles per 24 hours, which is something I’ve never got close to before in a Class 40. Last night we had our first major upset, which lost us some six – seven miles and may affect our performance at times for the rest of the race. The wind had reduced quite a bit during the night so we decided to put the big spinnaker up in place of the small.
After about half an hour of downwind sailing in 18-20 knots of wind, to our shock, the whole kite suddenly split in two, horizontally near the head, and the lower part of the spinnaker fell into the water. We managed to haul it out of the sea and we think it should be possible to attempt a repair once it’s dried out. At the moment our boat speed is good as we have our heavy air small spinnaker up since the wind is not set to drop for the next couple of days. At one point when I was on the helm yesterday we got hit by a 35-knot gust with the small spinnaker up which was pretty hairy. The boat rocketed down a wave sustaining 24 knots, before crashing into the bottom of the next wave and diving under. It is incredibly exciting sailing and the adrenaline runs, not just for seconds but for minutes at a time!”
Maxime Sorel – V and B
“Our generator is toast, and we haven’t had any power for days. Our solar chargers aren’t working because it’s so overcast. So we have no more electronics, no pilot, and no radar. We’re just managing to get half an hour a day at the computer to pick up the grib files and catch a glimpse of the rankings. Clearly, we’ve made some positioning errors, since we’re sailing old-school here. Because there are only three of us, it’s getting pretty tiring taking turns to spend two hours at the helm, keep watch for two hours, and sleep for two hours. We’re taking bucket loads of icy seawater in the face, but we’re still in the race—and we’re still on fire!”
Isabelle Joschke – Generali Horizon Mixité
“It’s been really fast going for the last four days. We still have the wind and in spite of the grey and the damp, we’re having a blast. We crossed paths with Armel Tripon (Black Pepper/ Les P’tits Doudous by Moulin Roty) this morning, which was fun. We’re neck-and-neck. We had to do a minor repair on spinnaker, which cost us a few boat lengths, and we’ve stayed pretty far north to hang onto more wind, since our boat isn’t as fast as the leaders. We have to be cunning when it comes to strategy, since we lose out in terms of pure speed. We’re getting the benefit of Alain’s vast experience when it comes to making strategic decisions.
And Pierre is quite simply the ideal crew member. We’re trying to narrow the gaps before we enter the English Channel, and we’re giving it our all. There really are three races in this Transat. The St. Lawrence was exhausting, but we were very happy to come out in front. Now after the ultra-fast stretch across the Atlantic, we’re getting ready for the equivalent of a single-handed leg in the Figaro as we come into the Channel.”
Thibaut Hector – Cora Moustache Solidaire
“We’re reaching here in a solid flow, and it’s pretty exhilarating! We’re taking turns at the helm, and our more southwesterly course is paying off for now. The idea with our older boat is to sail a shorter distance than our stablemates. There are five of us on board, and we’re all skilled helmsmen. We’re trading each other off a lot for maximum efficiency at the helm. We’re going to have to negotiate the English Channel well, and it will almost be like being back at home. We have a few ideas in mind. The boat is being very restrained, and we’re looking forward to seeing the sun again and coming out of all these grey skies. We’ve been taking bucketfuls of icy water in the face for four days now, but this Transat is such an exciting race. It feels like we’re combining a Tour de France and an inshore regatta on the St. Lawrence with a sprint across the ocean and a new tactical leg on the final approach.”
Yvan Bourgnon – French Tech Rennes St-Malo
“This express Transat has been a lot of fun. Up until this morning, there was no need for strategy since it was all about pure speed on a single reach. That was really thrilling, especially on the helm. We pushed the boat to the absolute max, and we’re happy with the result, since our boat fares better in heavy seas and the Atlantic was pretty flat from the beginning. Now a new race is beginning below Ireland, and we’re expecting lighter breezes for the next 36 hours. The wind is going to shift around a lot from east to west, so there are going to be some opportunities along the course. We’re going to have to be very aggressive on the tactical front to claw 25 miles back from Arkema. Lalou really hasn’t missed a beat. The atmosphere on board is great and we’re having a good time. It’s a fantastic human adventure. We’re happy to have milked this kind of performance out of the boat. Still in the fog here, and it’s chilly. We came within less than a mile of a cargo ship! The Multi50 Class has a bright future—the boats are safe, fast, reliable, and affordable!”
Armel Tripon – Black Pepper/Les P’tits doudous by Moulin Roty
“We’re really on fire here, and the North Atlantic is living up to its reputation. It’s going to be tricky coming into the English Channel though. We stayed a long way north so we could ride the pressure for longer and be the first to hit the shift when it came. We’ve been neck-and-neck right from the start, especially with Generali, and they’re two miles behind us right now. We’ve been jostling alongside them since day one. I think things are going to get shaken up again once we hit the Channel. The intensity of this race is rare to see and it’s a real treat for the sailors. We’re still stoked here on board and anything can happen yet. Tales II could easily falter in the lighter stuff and the fleet might well cluster again once we’re in the Channel.”
Nicolas Boidevezi – Esprit Scout
“How lucky we are! These nights of getting back to the basics and being at one with the ocean—and the emotion, thrills, and adrenaline of it all—are the very reason why sailors take to the seas. No matter how much we sweat, how tired we feel, how cold it gets, and how steep the price we pay, we need to make the most of times like these to stop for a second and just savour a moment of contemplation. Picture the scene: the seas are smooth, you’re under full mainsail flying the medium spinnaker, the moon is dazzling under a starry sky, and you can hear the sound of dolphins playing all around. What a joy it is to be at sea, so free and at one with nature and the universe. It’s our duty to preserve this movie set to make sure the film of nature is everlasting—for us, for those who follow in our footsteps, and above all for Mother Nature herself. We need to protect our nature, our oceans, and our climate since they are our lifeblood.”
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by Dominique Jobin