The Transat Québec Saint Malo originated back in 1984 and immediately stood out as one of the most fascinating events in the international offshore sail racing scene. As the start of the eighth edition draws nearer, the gun firing next Sunday, activity bustles on the pontoons of the Bassin Louise for the 25 participants.
For more than three decades, the only West to East, fully crewed transatlantic race has seen some of the offshore stars participating and winning it, from Titouan Lamazou to Loick Peyron or Franck Cammas, and has managed to keep its unique flavour and appeal. Its course, 2.965 miles, with a tricky first part where the crews will have to negotiate sailing down the St Lawrence river, with its islands, incredible fauna and strong currents makes it a race like no other and contributes to its charm.
The 25 boats, right after the start under the imposing shadow of the city walls, will retrace the course of the famous 17th and 18th century’s explorers. Confirming its unceasing success the eighth Transat Québec Saint Malo will enjoy a truly international line up with crews coming from more than twelve countries and boats flying the flag of France, Belgium, Germany, the USA, Italy and obviously Canada.
The passion for the 'their' race among local fans is evident, with enthusiasts crowding the pontoons and taking every opportunity to meet the sailors. At 72 hours from the start gun, all the crews are in Québec, giving the final touches to their boats and getting ready for the long voyage across the Atlantic.
Here is the recipe: take a French skipper, Jean Edouard Criquioche, add a pinch of international young sailing sailors like the US/Spanish Andres Soriano (who’s just finished his first round the world race), two female sailors the German Anna Maria Renken and the British Samantha Evans, mix well and you will have the Sevenstar Yachttransport crew. This truly multinational group, with so many different languages spoken had to decide the official idiom onboard and the choice fell on English.
'Samantha does not speak French at all, like Andrès and myself. Even if I know some words, in order to have everything go smoothly on board, better to speak a language we all understand. So it will be English,' confessed Anna Maria Renken.
The race features the most unusual of offshore courses. Before taking on the north Atlantic Ocean off Newfoundland and the island of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, the 25 crews will have to manage the long descent of the St Lawrence disseminated with hurdles and traps, affected by strong currents, sandbanks, a huge maritime traffic (with more than 4.000 ships passing every year from mid-March through December) in one of the areas most populated by marine wildlife. 'One does not win the race on the St Lawrence but can well lose it there;' says Jean Claude Maltais, the Transat Québec Saint-Malo’s Race Director.
To help sailors and the public alike discover the river exceptional natural environment, the organizers have created a circuit that has already recorded a huge success. This 'zigzag' will allow spectators to follow the initial miles live from six locations on the river banks in the East-Quebec area. The fleet will have to round the marks positioned just off the villages of La Malbaie, Rimouski, Matane, Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, Gaspé and Percé and the first boat to do so will also get a much appreciated prize money.
La Malbaie, on the north bank will show skippers and navigators how complicated sailing down the immense river can be. Then they will have to cross again to reach Rimouski, before rounding the remaining and more traditional marks down to Percé with its famous pierced rock, and getting into the open ocean after 376 miles of delicate and dangerous navigation.
Merit, William Saurin, Fujicolor II, Pogo Structure, Crêpes Whaoo…these boats have marked the history of the race, here is why:
- The maxi yacht Merit still holds the monohull record after 20 years, in 1992 Swiss skipper Pierre Fehlmann and his crew cover the distance in 10 days, 15 hours and 44 minutes.
- William Saurin is the biggest multihull to have taken part to the race, with her 25,90 metres the catamarn skippered by Eugène Riguidel stands 1,40 metres longer than Loïc Caradec’s Royale 2 and 2,30 metres bigger than Serge Madec’s Jet Service V.
- Loïck Peyron’s 60’ trimaran Fujicolor II is the overall record holder with seven days, 20 hours and 24 minutes.
- Pogo Structures, in 2008 Halvard Mabire’s Pogo 40, Pogo Structure was the first boat to set the Class40 reference time (13 days, 13 hours and 50 minutes), this year the class counts 21 boats.
- Crêpes Whaou! in the last edition Franck-Yves Escoffier’s Multi50 trimaran covered the distance between Québec and Saint-Malo in 11 days, 03 hours and 49 minutes, will this year’s two 50’ trimarans be able to beat her?
Jean Claude Maltais, Race director: 'We are constantly discussing the race’s timing with Race President Sylvain Gagné' explains Jean-Claude Maltais. 'We would like to have a big sailing event every year and maybe reduce the frequency of the Transat. We have been contacted by the MOD70 class and we found we share a lot, we’ll think about that and we will keep an open mind to try and showcase our fantastic race course.'
Mike Birch: 'I’ve come from Gaspé to meet my old friend Halvard Mabire. I reckon I have taken part in all of the race’s editions except one, it’s a great race and I have always enjoyed it a lot…'
Fabrice Amédeo (Class 40 Géodis): 'Going down the river will certainly be one of the trickiest parts, it requires good navigation and maneuvering skills. The high level of the fleet adds to the complexity of the St Lawrence and the first days will be exciting, close racing just off the banks.'
Erwan Le Roux, (Multi 50 FenetréA-Cardinal): 'I pretty like this idea of going around the six marks close to the banks because I expect there will be a huge public. We hope to give them a good show, it’s important. We will probably go down the St Lawrence reaching in a south-south/westerly. We know we have to be fast because there is a low pressure system developing, that we are keeping under close scrutiny. Also, getting there quickly will allow us to reach Saint-Pierre in good sailing conditions.'
Transat Quebec Saint Malo website
by Carla Anselmi
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8:28 PM Thu 19 Jul 2012GMT
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