by Soazig Guého
In the eighth edition of the Transat Quebec Saint Malo, Mare, skippered by Germany’s Jorg Riechers, has taken a firm hold of the lead in the Class40 fleet racing. The Sam Manuard designed boat, no doubt one of the race favourites, has demonstrated good performance and Riechers together with an expert crew made up of Sam Manuard, Rémy Aubrun and American Ryan Breymayer, has been setting a rhythm in the fresh southerly winds coming down the Gaspé region.
Crowds greet Mare passing at La Malbaie
Just four have managed to maintain the pace, making further gains on the approach to the two final marks on the St. Lawrence River: Gaspé and Percé, that they should reach later today before reaching the open Atlantic. Two more opportunities for the huge crowds who since the start in Québec have been gathering on the river banks of la Malbaie, Rimouski, Matane and Sainte-Anne des Monts to greet the sailors. Meanwhile the monohulls continue to struggle in the tricky river conditions. Just Erwan Le Roux, skippering the trimaran FenêtréA Cardinal has reached the ocean’s open waters and heads in a upwind tack to the next course mark at Madeleine Island.
Jörg Riechers has succeeded in approaching Gaspé as the frontrunner, no doubt the position he likes most to be in. 'At St. Anne, a quick peel to the Code 0 allowed us to squeak past Comiris about 100 metres from the buoy for our first city win!' exclaimed the jubilant new race leader.
As the wind continues to build, with a strong southwesterly breeze of over 20 knots, and the protection of the Gaspésie hills is left behind, conditions on the river waters become less manageable for the crews as they approach their second to last compulsory mark rounding in the Bay of Gaspé. An upwind track that puts an end to the exciting first part of the course, sailed close to the coast where fans and spectators crowded the banks to greet the fleet, marked by lead changes, gybing duels, close racing that required the best of the crews’ focus and skills.
The front pack is made of five boats that have all traded the lead place and who now prepare for 'offshore mode': Jörg Riechers’ Mare, Thierry Bouchard’s Comiris, Sébastien Rogues’ Generation Eole GDF Suez, Fabrice Amédéo’s Geodis and Aurélien Ducroz’s Latitude Neige / Longitude Montagne. Yet, behind this group the rest of the fleet is still pushing hard for a possible compression in the bay of Gaspé. Stéphane Le Diraison on IX Blue is in sixth position at less than 30 miles, David Augeix on his Akilaria EDF-Energies nouvelles is in 12th 40 miles behind the leaders and everything can still happen before the fleet heads on the long reaching tack towards Saint-Pierre et Miquelon. Luckily no issues or damage has been reported so far from the 25 boats who are about to leave the St Lawrence.
After flying past the Saint-Anne des Monts course mark last night, Gaspé and Percé today Erwan Leroux’s 50’ trimaran is bound for île de La Madeleine. Yet sailing has not been that comfortable on the leading multihull, going upwind in 25 knots and with more expected at the river mouth, in an area already influenced by the open ocean; the foul weather gear is now ready for wear. Erwan Leroux and his crew now face a further challenge after the complex river navigation; attempting to keep ahead of a low pressure system to propel them across the Atlantic in favourable conditions. Erik Nigon on Vers un Monde sans Sida is surprisingly in second position, 63 miles behind, as last night Gilles Lamiré on was forced to take an unexpected u-turn to go round the mark at Saint-Anne des Monts.
Could it have been the strong current or was it a mistake by the crew? In any case it was a change of course that cost dearly to the 60’ multihull and Défi Saint-Malo Agglo went from leading Italy’s 50’ Vento di Sardegna by 17 miles and Erik Nigon’s Vers un Monde sans Sida by 21 miles, to being fourth 90 miles behind FenêtréA Cardinal. After some technical issues on the opening hours, this new setback surely is a bad blow to the Saint Malo based crew. Canadian Georges Leblanc on Océan Phénix is 160 miles behind the leader.
'We have switched to a three hours watch system. I’m at the nav station, my eyes fixed on the computer screen, our track is nothing but depressing… it’s crazy, we are going round in circles. It looks like the Olympic logo. The weather is good, it’s warm at night, but so disappointing because what we see at sunrise it not that different from what we saw at sunset. If the wind is not going to show this pain will go on forever…'
Having awarded five prizes of the total six, the new 'Six town, six marks' circuit has proven to be a huge success, with local fans coming in droves to the river banks to encourage the fleet. 'Last night at 1am, we passed the small village of Saint-Anne de Monts, the mark was just 50 metres off the lock but still there were people there, their car lights on, clapping their hands and shouting. Amazing. It was a bit of a surreal moment, and it happened at each mark!' enthused Armel Tripon during this morning radio vac.
La Malbaie: First overall – FenêtréA Cardinal d’Erwan Leroux
Rimouski: First monohull overall - Latitude Neige – Longitude Mer d’Aurélien Ducroz
Matane: first Class40 – Eole Generation GDF Suez de Sébastien Rogues
Saint-Anne des Monts: first monohull overall – Mare de Jörg Riechers
Gaspé: First Class40 – En attente
Percé: First multihull overall - FenêtréA Cardinal d’Erwan Leroux
The only prize still to be awarded is the one for the first Class40 to pass Gaspé.
Transat Quebec Saint Malo website