by Soazig Guého
The eighth Transat Quebec Saint Malo set off from the Old Port of Quebec yesterday, thousands of enthusiastic spectators bid farewell cheers to the twenty five entries who face the 5000 km Ocean adventure. Strong currents, sandbars, logs and marine animals associated with a southwest wind and easing breeze at nightfall made for challenging conditions requiring special attention of the 103 competitors over the first sixteen hours of racing.
Transat Quebec Saint Malo 2012
Key was to reach the first course mark, La Malbaie, on the northern shore of the St. Lawrence, before the turning tide. Cardinal FenêtréA, the trimaran skippered by Erwan Le Roux is well beyond the reach of its main rivals in the Open Class. A hierarchy emerges from this first night of river navigation among the classes. The favorites lead, whilst the majority will round the Rimouski mark later today. 200 miles remain to reach the river mouth for the sailors who anxiously remain glued at the helm as they listen to the whales blowing.
Twenty-four hours into racing and the positions become clearer in the larger 40 feet class. Three groups have formed and leading after an ideal start, Aurelien Ducroz paves the way on board Latitude Neige – Longitude Mer after passing the Rimouski buoy, the second of the six course marks set before the 6 partner cities. Just behind, world 'free-ride' ski champion, Thierry Bouchard on board Comiris-Elior holds on to a 1.2-mile lead over Geodis raced by the experienced crew of Fabrice Amedeo and Armel Tripon.
'Gliding down the St. Lawrence since the start has been a challenge. We got up to 20 knots from the southwest; it has been a very trying first day, but at least we are right into the race. There have been lots of up and downs and this morning found we were within just 500 metres of many of the competitors. We have to remain really alert. We are pleased with our second place', explained Thierry Bouchard over the radio call in this morning. 'Especially when you consider the level we are up against,' continued Bouvard.
Jörg Riechers’ Mare, despite a torn spinnaker, and Sébastien Rogues’ Eole Generation - GDF Suez cling on behind having managed to avoid the pitfalls and vagaries of the river overnight.
Whilst matters go pretty well at the forefront of the race, the trailing boats in the fleet continue to struggle, now lagging 55 miles behind the leader, is a group of four Class40s who encountered difficulty negotiating the confluence of the Saguenay River. Louis Duc’s Avis Immobilier, Denis Van Weynbergh’s Proximedia, Benoit Patenaude’s Persévérance and Jean-Edouard Criquioche together with Anna-Maria Renken’s international crew on Sevenstar Yachttransport have fought for seven hours to extricate themselves from the complex passage of the Saguenay in the lighter breeze.
Only Transport Cohérance with Benoit Parnaudeau and Louis Duc were able to battle out 19-mile lead over Avis Immobilier having opted for a more westerly course.
The group of 10 Class40s sandwiched between the leaders and trailers attempt to hold the 10-mile margin to a minimum. Winner of the last edition, Halvard Mabire on Campagne de France leads the way for this group that spans back 12 miles. The very light conditions have been hugely testing and David Augeix on EDF Engerfies Nouvels proves it well. The oldest boat on fleet currently lies in 13th place having opted for a southerly course along the rivers whilst Stéphane Le Diraison has not been able to hold on to the lead he so brilliantly obtained at the start following a tactical choice just after the ile d’Oléans. IX Blue ranks ninth between Michel Kleinjans’ Roaring Forty 2 and Mathias Blumencro’s Red.
'Trying to gain some ground on the inside of Rimouski we found ourselves in a wind hole for two to three hours and ended up losing eight miles. You just have to remain philosophical about it; we still have 2,600 miles to go!' observed Michel Kleinjans. Indeed, the road is still long yet for these 20 strong class entries, but 'the race is not won on the St. Lawrence but it can be lost eight miles,' muses Jean Claude Maletais.
Five very different entries compete in the Open Class on the Transat Quebec Saint Malo. It is of little surprise to see the latest generation Multi50 FenêtréA Cardinal, skippered by Erwan Le Roux, leading the way towards the St. Lawrence River mouth. Le Roux and his crew of three have negotiated perfectly the first hours of racing, reaching La Malbaie, the first of six course marks that mark the exit of the great river.
Le Roux has been steadily building the lead on the closest competitor, Lamiré Gilles from St. Malo and his 60 foot trimaran Défi Agglo Saint-Malo. Much of the lead can be explained by the unfortunate breakage of four of the mainsail battens on board Défi Agglo Saint-Malo following a complicated gybe at the confluence of the Saguenay River, ensued by a floating log that had become lodged between the foil and the float. The battle to catch up with their rivals now continues. A Multi50 leads and a 65-foot VOR closes the march; Georges Leblanc, Quebec’s iconic sailing figure struggles to make progress against the river currents.
Ocean Phoenix navigates with the four Class40s caught off Tadoussac. The Italian 50 footer, Vento di Sardegna led by Andrea Muras continues to maintain the objectives he has set himself; namely keep up with the best Class40s and is due to round the Rimouski buoy behind the small group of five Class 40s. Erik Nigon on Un monde sans Sida has proven to be the best 'sparring partner' with whom to face the navigational challenges of the St. Lawrence River.
Michel Kleinjans, Roaring Forty: 'Everything is fine on board, except that we made a muck of it this morning by going too near the coast! Probably due to wanting to do some sightseeing…! The sunrise was worthy of a picture postcard, with whales whistling and seals swimming around with the fog just above the water and the sea shimmering like a mirror in the light breeze…Trying to cut corners on the inside of Rimouski, we got caught in a wind hole for 2/3 hours and ended up losing eight miles. We ate the home made Canadian bread with a good coffee and morale went up a couple of notches this morning.'
Pierre-Yves Lautrou, Partouche: 'Following a week of preparations in Quebec, the St. Lawrence was beginning to really get to us. The Quebequois kept telling us just how unpredictable, often violent and then just how beautiful it could be. Those who had done the delivery had many stories of extreme moments of high winds and then complete calms. Even the local weather forecasts struggled to decipher conditions on this powerful river. So it has quite simply been an extraordinary day for racing.
Wind, sun, heat, stunning start under spinnaker with gybes and a battle that lasted into the evening and the passage of the mark of Malbaie. I have not counted the 'gybes' on Partouche, but I can tell you that water bottles have been been going down and that the battle has been tough with the crew not flinching at doing manouvers in gusts of 27 knots.'
'We had to choose sides on several occasions - north or south of this or that island? - And these choices have already scattered the fleet. Frankly, sometimes you want to pull your hair out, but what a treat, what a race!'
And then there was the River. Its currents twisted, changing colours, incredible effects of site, its coasts postcard, it’s unique names ...
'I just wake up from a nap. Outside, the mist fell with the wind. The water is smooth. Gusts of warm air and cold alternately sweep over. And then you hear the animals in the water ...'
Ryan Bremeyer, Mare: 'Wow! What a first day! After a reasonable start but not extraordinary under spinnaker, we snuck into the fleet and we even managed to take the lead three miles in. Then disaster! We tore the big spinnaker in a squall, when we sailed in shifty winds against the current.'
'We have been disabled while Remi (Auburn) and I have spent hours trying to fix it to re-hoist. Repairs were made gluing parts, but we will need to finish by sewing it to use it in full confidence which will take another three or four hours to do.'
'We passed the first two marks and each time the banks are crowded, with the people of Quebec out to encourage us. It is so great to feel such support from the crowds who are so in to the race.'
Six points mark passages must be done along the St. Lawrence River, competitors must pass through six buoys that also serve to award the prizes.
La Malbaie: First to pass - all categories - Cardinal FenêtréA / Erwan Leroux
Rimouski: First monohull all categories - Latitude Neige – Longitude Mer / Aurélien Ducroz
Matane: First Class 40 monohull -?
St. Anne des Monts: First monohull all categories -?
Gaspé: First Class 40 monohull -?
Perce: First all multihull classes -?
Transat Quebec Saint Malo website