50ft tris in the Quebec-St Malo

New class set to be line honours favourites in this weekend's transat

Friday July 18th 2008, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom
With three days to go before the start of the seventh edition of the Transat Quebec Saint Malo, at 1500GMT on Sunday 20 July, the 28 crews will soon be underway on the 3,000 miles of racing east across the east Atlantic to St Malo in northern Brittany.

All the boats are now tied tothe dock as today has been the final opportunity under the rules imposed by the Race Committee to carry out the final tuning and trials on the St Lawrence River. Forced to remain moored up, the 110 sailors from Italy, Germany, England, France, Belgium and Canada are now pouring over charts trying to draw up their race strategies. While it may be premature to talk about the weather, nonetheless there is still a lot of discussion on the pontoons in Quebec about how to deal with the trip down the great St Lawrence river with all its inherent dangers, such as its currents and eddies, its rocks lying just under the surface and the wildlife and whales. Everyone agrees that the 370 mile voyage down the river is a major hurdle, and nobody wants to trip up.

For a long time, remaining in the shadow of their larger fully professional ORMA 60 big brothers, the smaller 15.24m long multihulls are now the boats set to take line honours in the Transat Quebec-St Malo. With no ORMA 60s taking part this is the occasion to demonstrate what they are capable of - of their performance while remaining vaguely affordable.

While 50ft multihulls have been competing in transatlantic events for decades, an Open 50 multihull class was only created in 2002. At present given the popularity of the Class 40 and the demise of the OMRA 60, their future is looking strong.

The bench mark Open 50 multihull is Franck Yves Escoffier's VPLP-designed Crêpes Whaou!, whose performance during the most recent ocean races has shown her nipping at the heels of the larger ORMA 60s.

The aim of the Open 50 multihulls is for them to appeal to amateurs and professionals alike, and Escoffier has been using his boat and his success in recent years to spread the word to racers and sponsors looking to back interesting projects. The Transat Quebec St Malo is the first occasion that these boats are effectively the premium class.

Designers, Marc van Peteghem and Vincent Lauriot Prévost originally came up with Crepes Whaou! in 2005 - ostensibly a 10ft shorter ORMA 60, but much simpler.

" Crêpes Whaou! neither has foils nor a canting mast, and no daggerboard with a trim tab," explains Escoffier. "That however does not mean she is not a racer, as with a ratio of weight to power of 45 m2 per tonne, she is very close to the 50m2/t of the ORMA 60s. However, handling her is much less complicated. Instead of sailing on one float in just 11 knots of wind, it is more like 15 knots of truewind," Vincent Lauriot-Prévost explains.

Crêpes Whaou vital statistics
Launch: 2005
Length: 15.24 m
Beam: 14.55m
Weight: 4.2 tonnes
Upwind sail surface: 170m 2
Downwind sail surface: 245m 2

President of of the Open 50 mulithull class is one of the sailors who has sailed longest in this type of boat: Brest-based orthodontist Hervé Cléris is been racing multihulls of this size across the Atlantic for more than 20 years.

His family of Irish extraction, Cléris was born in 1948, in Plozevet, in southwest Brittany. In 1975, he qualified as an orthodontist. He opened his own practice in Brest in 1977. In 1983, he got hold of a second-hand catamaran in Vannes, and showed what he could do in the Trophee des Multicoques in La Trinité-sur-Mer. In 1985, he competed in the Royal Western YC's two-handed Round Britain Race, which he was to repeat in 1989.

In 1986, Cléris competed in the Route du Rhum, aboard his 40ft catamaran, Fnac. "I was the underdog in the Rhum, with the smallest boat in the fleet, where there were 35 boats altogether," he remembers. Unfortunately in his first transoceanic race, just 24 hours in Fnac capsized in the Bay of Biscay. A difficult airlift followed as he was suffering from a fracture in both hands... a huge blow for the Breton, who lost everything. Except his desire. Four years later, he won the 1990 Route du Rhum in his new 50ft multihull. Cléris continues to sail multihulls of this size ever since.

In 1991, he won his class in the flly crewed Round Europe Race. In 1992, his scored a win in the OSTAR, setting a class record which was to remain until 2005. He followed this in 1996 with a class a win in the Quebec St Malo, while the following year he win his class in the Transat Jacques Vabre. His reign in the class came to an end in 1998, at the finish of the Route du Rhum he was pipped to the post by Franck-Yves Escoffier, leaving him as runner-up.

In 2002 Cléris got together with the other skippers of 50ft multihull to form their own association. Since then he has continued to race winning the first Saguenay - Saint-Pierre - Vendée race in 2003. In 2006, he was seriously injured during the Jean Stalaven / Côtes d’Armor Multihull Trophy when his dismasted... a year of physiotherapy followed.

Very involved in the 50ft class, Cleris is convinced that his 15m multihull class has a rosy future aheadi.

Perhaps the most optimistic news for the class is that former Orange 2 boat captain Yves le Blévec, last year's winner of the Mini Transat, has opted to follow in the path of Escoffier. The build of his VPLP-designed trimaran is soon to start. And if sailors as well qualified as le Blevec head down this route - who will follow?

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