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Collisions and damage in Transat Quebec St Malo

'Laiterie de Saint-Malo - Transat Quebec St Malo'    Jean-Christophe L'Espagnol

Whilst the 7th Transat Quebec-Saint Malo was changing both the rhythm and the setting as the fleet made it into the Atlantic, the news fell early this afternoon: the trimaran Laiterie de Saint Malo, racing at full pelt at over 20 knots, hit a whale and broke its only rudder.

Amongst the multihulls this transatlantic, still led by Crêpes Whaou!, has changed tone in light of the number of collisions with sea creatures. In the Class 40 category, the pace has picked up in the downwind conditions supplied by 20 knots of breeze. A high intensity drag race is the order of the day now, as the fierce duel at the front of the fleet between Télécom Italia (Giovanni Soldini) and Pogo Structures (Halvard Mabire) testifies.

The curtain rises over the Atlantic. The banks of Newfoundland and Cape Race are now behind them and the race takes on a new twist in the open ocean. After a week of chops and changes in the contact style regatta, this Sunday remains marked by the damage suffered by Laiterie de Saint-Malo. It’s a cruel blow for Victorien Erussard and his young crew, who have been working flat out to make up the ground they lost on the leader in the Saint Lawrence Bay.

Under the influence of a low wedged right up to the north and generating downwind conditions to its south, Crêpes Whaou! is still leading the way at a fine pace. Franck-Yves Escoffier and his crew have devoured 320 miles over the past 24 hours. In their wake, Laiterie de Saint Malo had also switched to overdrive. The crew were extremely motivated and were using the passion of their youth to get the very best out of their 20 year old steed, which is very at ease in the open ocean. Proof if there were need that value has nothing to do with years.

This didn’t take into account the unfortunate surprises the ocean has in store sometimes however. Victorien Erussard and his crew have been forced to return home by their own means using a spare appendage. The Atlantic remains scattered with pitfalls and obstacles and the list of collisions just continues to grow. Indeed it is hard to forget that the catamaran Délirium also suffered a similar misfortune in the form of a defunct port rudder. 600 miles behind Crêpes Whaou!, skipper Hervé de Carlan and his crew are today bringing up the rear of the 50 foot multihull fleet off Cape Race. They have been joined by the IMOCA monohull Cervin ENR. Yannick Bestaven and his men are now back in the race after a 24 hour pitstop to the south of Newfoundland to repair the port rudder bearing, that too damaged by an encounter with another whale …

Amongst the 40 footers which have made their entrance to the open ocean, the transatlantic is being raced in quite another style. After a coastal regatta with numerous upsets, some intense drag racing is now par for the course, flat out under spinnaker. Aboard the 40 footers, the sailors are unable to hide their satisfaction at having caught a favourable breeze in their sails. After the passage of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon in a thick veil of fog and often evanescent breeze, the crews are tasting the pleasures of being able to slip along at speed. Right across the fleet, the speedometers are displaying double figures in conditions which favour acceleration. Spirits are high as Miranda Merron on 40 Degrees bears witness:

'The boat’s great! We’re flying along the Grand Banks and we can now see for half a mile which is brilliant! It’s raining but the visibility is much better. We had 25 knots which wasn’t bad but now it’s down to 20. Sea conditions are very pleasant and quite flat with little waves to surf down – really very nice conditions, apart from no sunshine obviously! This is why we came here to do this race – to go downwind fast. We saw a tiny bit of the very north of Saint Pierre and it looked stunning. We really enjoyed the first part of the race – it was fantastic. It’s a great race as it’s so varied. I think those up front will keep the good wind for longer but that could all change. It’s a very good atmosphere aboard and the boat’s running very well. Everyone’s really enjoying it!'

The banks of Newfoundland in their wake, the students of this class are now strewn about the ocean. The deficits are now stretching latitudinally for the 17 yachts. Still holding onto their lead, Giovanni Soldini and his Italian crew (Télécom Italia) are setting an infernal pace, yet Halvard Mabire on his latest generation Series Pogo is still managing to shadow them, 2 miles to the north. The latter has covered 260 miles in 24 hours in these favourable downwind conditions.

Late update: 07 18h36 - Bowsprit problems for Giovanni Soldini on Telecom Italia.

'We have just made a half an hour stop due to a broken bowsprit this morning resulting in the spinnaker going into the water. One of our sails is torn and therefore unusable so we are a little disadvantaged under certain downwind sailing conditions. What is certain is that we will continue to fight and right now we’re making 12-13 knots in 20 knots of breeze.'

Tonight Telecom Italia are still at the front of the fleet making good speed so it would seem at present that the damage has had little effect on their progress.

Quotes from the Boats:

Victorien Erussard (Laiterie de Saint Malo):'We were making 22-23 knots. I was down below with Loïc Escoffier. We had made up some ground on Crêpes Whaou! and were discussing our strategy for the coming hours. Loïc Fequet was at the helm. We felt a violent impact and were thrown a good metre. Nobody was injured, but turning back to look at our wake we saw a whale… and the rudder. We didn’t see much more after that as we struggled to slow the boat down. Spirits are pretty low. We’ve installed an emergency rudder, but it is better suited to traversing a bay rather than the Atlantic. I don’t have much confidence in it. We have dropped the mainsail and we’re making headway under ORC which we’re trimming to maintain a little control. We are 350 miles from Cape Race (SE of Newfoundland). We’re going to have to make it back by our own means and we’ve only got 40 litres of diesel and only 5 days of food left. We were right in the action and were beginning to think of the finish on home waters. The race is now over and going home just won’t be the same…'

Yannick Bestaven (Cervin ENR):'The locals of the little village of Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, were really great and very kind. We had to moor in the port but there were no pontoons or anything so we had to skim the rocks a little. We didn’t do any serious damage though! We had pretty much everything we needed aboard in terms of carbon etc and we eventually managed to get 4l of resin from a fisherman, who was a little loathe to give it to us initially just in case he needed it himself. The repairs to the bearing took a while as we had to clean up the hole first and then try and get some extra tools from the locals. We then set about sticking the rudder bearing back together which took us most of the day by the time we’d got the necessary material ready. Then the resin took quite a while to dry given the high humidity levels. We then reinforced the area around the bearing by which point it was 4 in the morning, so we left if to dry whilst we slept for 4 hours as we were all really tired. In our 24 hrs there we probably saw _ an hour of sunshine but other than that we were fogbound so we didn’t really get a chance to do any sightseeing or even eat a nice lobster!'

Cecile Poujol (Destination Calais):'Conditions have changed quite a lot. For the first 5 days we were tacking in light winds, in general with everyone side by side. We had to keep close watch on what was happening around us to check everything was alright etc. We passed Saint Pierre and Miquelon yesterday which was great. The fog lifted just as we got there and closed in behind us afterwards. Since then it’s been a cavalcade to the Atlantic in the fog again. W

by Mer et Media


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10:25 PM Sun 27 Jul 2008 GMT

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