Quebec-St Malo race sets sail today
The Quebec-St Malo Race sets sail tomorrow with a fleet this year comprising 21 Class 40s, an Italian 50 footer, two Multi 50 trimarans, one ORMA 60 trimaran and a 65ft monohul.
During the skippers briefing, held in one of the rooms at the world-famous hotel Château Frontenac, Race Director Jean Claude Maltais and PRO Sylvie Viant highlighted the dangers and peculiarities of sailing down the might St Lawrence River. With almost 370 miles to Percé, before finally getting out into the open ocean, the course is scattered with obstacles and hurdles, particularly the strong currents off the six villages that have been selected by the organisers to form the 'six towns, six marks' circuit and the wind shifts and shadows created by the mountains and reliefs lined along the river banks.
Come see the show
The St Lawrence will be centre stage at the opening of the 8th Transat Québec Saint-Malo. Positioned off the Parc de la Jetée, at the foot of the two imposing bridges that connect the city to the port, the start line will be between two tugs: the Cageux will be the Committee Boat and another one will be the pin end. The boats will dock out and leave the Bassin Louise from 8:45 and all will have to pass through the locks before 9:30, set to sail against the current towards the starting area.
At 11:20 (19:20 GMT) the committee will fire the start gun for the Class40s and 15 minutes later the five big monohulls and multihulls will also take their start. Wind conditions - southwesterlies of 8-13 knots, should allow the teams to make a quick exit down the river where thousands of spectators are expected to gather to wave goodbye to the fleet.
Having gone past La Malbaie, the 103 sailors will have the privilege of being able to sail inside the Saguenay St Lawrence nature reserve, where close encounters with whales is likely. Once past the southern tip of the reserve, just off Saguenay, the fleet will once more have to head east towards the right bank, carefully negotiating the strong current and a breeze that tends to accelerate between the fjord and the river itself. The next mark is at Rimourski, some 82 miles further down the river.
Joerg Riechers aims for a hat trick
Germany's Joerg Riechers skipper of the Class40 Mare.de makes no secret of his ambition to achieve a historical triple following his win in the Solidaire du Chocolat in May and then the Atlantic Cup in June. Considered as favourite he seems to be at ease in this role: “We'll start quietly, not too fast, trying to deal with the big river traps. But, from Tuesday or Wednesday when the breeze is due to build, I'm expecting a tough race. If we don't break anything, there is a chance to do it. My crew is very strong, the boat very reliable... if we are not going to make big mistakes, we shouldn't be far from the podium. Everyone is a threat, Stéphane le Diraison and Halvard Mabire are fast, good sailors. There are at least four or five boats that are fast, but anything can happen.”
While the majority of boats in the Quebec-St Malo are Class40s, this race has traditionally been the main event in the offshore racing calendar for fully-crew maxi-multihulls and ORMA 60s to contest, this year multihulls are decidedly in the minority.
In addition to the Class40s, the 'Open' group includes the Italian 50 monohull Vento di Sardegna skippered by Andrea Maura, the 65 footer Océan Phénix skippered by Canadian Georges Leblanc. Then there are the two Multi50s - Erik Nigon's Vers un monde sans sida and the newer generation FenêtreA-Cardinal a 2009 designed by Van Peteghem-Lauriost Prévost originally for Franck-Yves Escoffier, now in the skilled hands of Erwan Le Roux. FenêtreA-Cardinal should find in Gilles Lamiré's older generation ORMA 60 Défi Saint-Malo a perfectly-matched adversary, despite the length difference (15,34 vs 18,28 m). The ancient St Malo-based ORMA 60 has recently been rejuvenated with a brand new set of sails and a wing mast that originally was on Jean Le Cam's Bonduelle.
Winner of the 1996 Transat Québec Saint Malo Loick Peyron's Fujicolor II, still holds the overall race record, having covered the 2,965 miles in 7 days, 20 hours and 24 minutes. Busy with a number of projects in different classes and circuits, Peyron is still very much in love with the race, which he has competed in four times including the debut 1984 edition aboard the giant catamaran Formule TAG skippered by Canadian multihull guru Mike Birch: “It's really the best fully-crewed event one can participate in," Loick says. “It's a fascinating course, complex, varied and the fact of starting on a river adds something special to it. It's unique, surprising and fantastic. The Atlantic stretch is not that comfortable, a bit stressful on a multihull, but the finish through the Fastnet is brilliant...”
IMOCA 60 skipper Arnaud Boissières racing on Groupe Picoty said: “When you're leaving for a transatlantic race there is always a bit of tension, especially if the first part is on the St Lawrence. It's exciting, it's a race across the Atlantic. Me, I'm quite relaxed because even if Groupe Picoty is not the boat I usually sail on, JC Caso and Jacques Fournier are determined to do well. This is my first Québec-Saint-Malo and I would love to get a good result and have some fun too. I usually sail my boat Akena singlehanded, but I enjoy a lot being part of a crew. My roots are in fully crewed races and I think it is interesting and important to try other classes and boats to get better. This Transat is obviously also crucial to train for the upcoming Vendée Globe...”
Aloys Le Claquin skipper of the Class40, Jack in the Box: “The boat is in spotless conditions, has never been better. We are the youngest team, so there are no great expectations, we don't feel the pressure. After the St Lawrence, we hope to have some good surfing conditions, to get from Saint-Pierre et Miquelon to Saint Malo as quickly as possible. We know we are fighting against some very experienced crews, but we'll push hard to get to their level and possibly beat them. It won't be easy. I've delivered the boat with Ludovic Ensargueix to get acquainted to the course, we had the chance to stop in Gaspé and met with the local people, the fishermen, the pilots who have been working and living on the river all their lives to discover a bit more about it.”
Thierry Bouchard skippered by Comiris Elior: “It's been a week here now and I really want to go. The forecast is for light wind, and we may have to go out and anchor... the first 24 hours will not be easy. One can't rely on the forecast, better to watch out for what's there, short term and by yourself. I reckon our boat is excellent in light air and if we can manage to get out of the St Lawrence among the front pack, then we can play our cards well for the finish.”
Armel Tripon on Géodis said: "We are going to enjoy this race, we are very relaxed, we want to enjoy the friendly side of it, still trying to be as professional as possible, this is what I like most about this class.. the level is very high, good sailors on each and every boat, coming from different backgrounds. It's going to be close, exciting. We'll start in light breeze and the current will reverse soon, we'll need to be shrewd. And then the ocean to cross. In 2008, after he went aground, Tanguy Delamotte managed to come back in the game, it won't be over until the finish line...”