With just over three knots of SE’ly breeze, it was the dreaded current of the Saint Lawrence River which set the tone amongst the 18 Class 40s setting out at 1500 hrs UT and the six Open 50’ trimarans and four FICOs released by the starting gun at 1530 hrs UT, for the start of the 7th Transat Quebec Saint Malo.
Setting out 30 minutes after the Class 40s, the multihulls and the FICO Classes saw themselves subjected to the same pattern. Gennakers for the multis and asymmetric spinnakers for the monohulls enabled them to contend with the current and from the outset the favourites took the lead. Pierre Antoine and his 'Imagine' demonstrated their ease in the light airs but soon saw a comeback by 'Crêpe Whaou!'.
A fierce duel raged between the most high performance multihulls measuring 15.24 metres and the only Imoca 60 footer of the fleet, Cervin ENR skippered by Yannick Bestaven. The ‘local’ of the stage, the ever popular Georges Leblanc, didn’t disappoint his countless supporters as he set off under big spinnaker in 4th position, ahead of the trimarans driven by Hervé Cléris (Prince de Bretagne) and Victorien Erussard (Laiterie de Saint Malo). The Belgians aboard 'Ocean of smiles' brought up the rear.
As regards the Class 40s, the experienced Italian, Giovanni Soldini, almost let himself get carried away by the current, his Class 40 Telecom Italia being reversed towards the starting line just a few seconds from kick-off. Pushing along at 4 knots, the current in the great river will continue to set the tone amongst the racers until the tide turns tonight. Patrice Carpentier and his 'Entreprises Lorraines' delayed hoisting his gennaker until the last minute and it is he who was first across the start line thanks to some spotless timing, leaving the British sailor Miranda Merron (40 Degrees) to leeward. Using his advantage Patrice Carpentier pushed towards the north bank of the river whilst the bulk of the fleet opted for the south bank. Ahead a compact crowd gathered along the bank from the start line, nearly three kilometers upstream, and all the way to the tip of the port. The yachts were clearly drifting rather than being pushed by the wind, and the fleet of 40 footers were quickly strewn right across the immense river. Quotes from the pontoons:
Hervé DeCarlan, 'Delirium': 'This Transat is in part a reward for all those who have helped me build this catamaran. We won’t be the quickest to get to Saint Malo that’s for sure, but we’re going to concentrate on sailing cleanly, in order to make Brittany in as short a time as possible having taken the time to enjoy it. My two children are accompanying me, including Joris who will celebrate his 20th birthday in two days time.'
Jean-Edouard Criquioche, 'Esprit large': 'We have all racked up as much sleep and energy as we can. We are ready to do our best to negotiate the first days of racing, which promise to be difficult in terms of breeze with an upwind section in light airs. Our gamble in setting off with a crew of five should therefore prove interesting from the first few tacks as we will be able to be sparing of our efforts, whilst our adversaries will be flat out with the trimming and the numerous manœuvres…'
Benoit Parnaudeau, 'Prévoir Vie': 'The past fortnight in Quebec has been an absolute dream. The public and the organisers have shown themselves to be incredibly receptive and extremely kind to us, anticipating our every need. It’s a fantastic country which I’m keen to return to as a simple tourist…'
Boris Hermann, 'Beluga Shipping': 'The last night went really well and the whole crew is in great shape. We are setting out free of nerves and stress as the weather forecast is particularly mild. We think the Canadian authorities have made the river very safe so our only concern will be tackling the currents in order to escape the Saint Lawrence as quickly as possible.'
Cécile Poujol, 'Destination Calais': 'A big thank you to the people of Quebec who have been fantastic. We are already in race mode as we have thoroughly studied the effects of the currents and the pitfalls of this river course. With the little low forming in the Atlantic, we mustn’t drag our heels in the Saint Lawrence as the first to touch the strong NW’ly breeze could head off towards France very quickly and open up a big lead…' www.quebecsaintmalo.com