Slowly, slowly in the Transat Quebec Saint Malo

Crew work - Transat Quebec St Malo
Light and predominantly light airs. In these conditions the fleet of the 7th Transat Quebec Saint Malo are certainly not going to beat any speed records. With the exception perhaps of the trimaran Crêpes Whaou! which has gained some massive separation and is closing on the archipelago of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. As it heads towards the open ocean, the remaining 26 crews in the general ranking are making laborious progress in the waters of Saint Lawrence Bay. Amongst the multihulls, the deficits are extending, whilst the Class 40s bunched up dramatically at the passage of Percé. Off Gaspésie a new start was heralded at dawn this morning as they make for the banks of Newfoundland 330 miles ahead…

50 foot multihulls: one ahead, the others behind
The fog is back but Crêpes Whaou! continues to lead as it makes it into the Cabot Strait between Cap Breton to the north of Nova Scotia and Cap Ray to the south-west of Newfoundland. At around 1000 UT, Franck-Yves Escoffier’s trimaran had given away virtually no ground, the remainder of the fleet caught in the clutches of the calm conditions, stalling as they tried to make the Percé mark. Ahead of their bows, the red tri still has 78 miles to go before they can thread their way between Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Their closest pursuer, Laiterie de Saint-Malo (Victorien Erussard), is still displaying a deficit of some 120 miles.

“We had light conditions throughout the night. At the moment the wind is picking up a little. We have 17-18 knots and are sailing close to the wind which is set to veer. We are 78 miles from Saint-Pierre et Miquelon and I hope we’re going to make it on a single tack”, confided the skipper from Saint Malo at today’s radio session. He envisaged making the 3 mile corridor between the islands late this afternoon or early evening.

Alone up front, the others behind, the multihull fleet have split wide apart. At the 1300 UT ranking this Thursday, Délirium skippered by Hervé de Carlan had not yet rounded the Percé rock and had racked up a 330 miles deficit on the leader.

Class 40: regrouping and jostling for position…
For the fleet of small 40 foot monohulls it’s quite a different story amongst the 17 crews. The context remains the same however, each of them struggling along according to the tempo of the wind, which seems set not to be very generous in its supply of downwind conditions. After experiencing the worst of the light stuff as they tried to round Percé, which the majority of them passed under the cover of darkness (around dawn in Europe or 24 hours after Crêpes Whaou!), the fleet has regrouped thanks the full force of the concertina effects. These were due to the calm conditions and the numerous wind holes, which the frontrunners were unable to avoid. The upshot of this, as the fleet make it into the Saint Lawrence Bay, is a 30 mile separation between the tail of the fleet, Groupe Sefico (Philippe Vallée) and the new leader SAIPEM-Leadership in Safety (Gwenc’hlan Catherine) and L’Esprit du Large-Tamont Saint Hilaire. The latter two are currently midway between the Iles de la Madeleine.

Today’s rankings have revealed a complete turnabout with every report and it is clear that the conditions favoured this morning’s backrunners who were able to see the pitfalls that lay ahead. As such Novedia Group (Tanguy De Lamotte) came right up through the fleet to pole position ahead of the imperturbable Italian crew skippered by Giovanni Soldini (Télécom Italia), but the duo have both since tumbled 8 miles back from the head of the fleet.

It is certainly proving difficult to see clearly then, and this is not simply down to the fog. Indeed the only certainty is that doubt reigns as a new start seems to have been given at Percé. In any case, the journey to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon remains a very long one. According to Argos at 1500 UT, the first 40 footer is positioned 75 miles to the south of the Iles de la Madeleine and 300 miles from Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. As a result they’re going to need two more days to reach the grand banks of Newfoundland if all goes well; the ocean so near and yet so far!

The good news of the day comes from Saint-Malo Team, the large monohull skippered by Denis Douillez and forced to make a stopover in Matane, on the Gaspésie coast to have its mainsail track repaired. After performing the necessary work with the faultless support of the locals, they are ready to head back into the race. The captain writes: “On arriving in Matane yesterday we were a little demoralised as we wondered how on earth we could get the necessary parts over 800 km from Montreal: two metres of track, plus 15 inserts. That was before we considered the kindness of the inhabitants of Matane. In addition we were given fresh supplies of drinks and smalls desserts. We should take to the sea again this evening with the promise that we will return here one day”.

Quotes from the Boats:

Meike Schomäker (Beluga Racer): “Day 3 of our trip. Beluga Racer was making 7.8 knots of boat speed under the moonlight last night as we sail ever further along the Saint Lawrence and get ever nearer to the Atlantic Ocean. We’re still about 2-3 days from the open sea though. It really is a special transatlantic regatta, as it’s reminiscent of an inshore race initially. Julien has just come up from his warm berth up onto the deck but the night is quiet, contrary to the day. Making 13 knots of speed over the ground in fog can be a little scary when you suddenly hear a warning signal from a passing freighter. Conditions are such that we’re having to do a lot of hand steering. Another interesting part of my first Atlantic crossing is the fact that we had to drop anchor briefly at the start as the wind was so gentle in relation to a strong current on the nose. Today the mood onboard is good as we have high hopes. The main thing will be getting out of the river so we’re focused on escaping the Saint Lawrence!”

Sam Manuard (Novedia Group): “It’s amazing that we’ve come back into the match at the head of the fleet; it’s really incredible. We lost 10hrs 30 mins through running aground and the adventure proved to be fairly perilous. 2 days on and we’ve made it right back up through the fleet, which is something we couldn’t have dared hope for. It’s very odd! We’re fairly at ease in terms of speed, but above all we’re sailing flat out and aren’t taking our foot off the accelerator. We rounded Percé by nightfall and the pierced rock is certainly imposing and strange. We’ve still got a good way to go from Gaspésie to Saint-Pierre and it’s not very wide yet. Between here and Newfoundland we’re going to have to tackle a wind shift…”

Giovanni Soldini (Telecom Italia): “The past 48 hrs have been very difficult and it was hellish in the calm conditions. We were stuck fast, powerless as the others made up the ground on us and then we all got going again together. We’re hoping for the wind to establish itself a little more as we’ve had calm conditions since the start, changing tack and never on a direct course. We’re going to need some wind or we’ll just get stuck here for a month. We’re itching to get into the Atlantic and more stable winds. It’s nice to be sailing together. We’re trimming and focussing on speed. The E’ly wind looks set to shift round to the SE, E and then S and we’ve got 10 knots of breeze, which isn’t catastrophic. There’s fog and humidity but we’re doing fine and the pace is sure to pick up.”

Halvard Mabire (Pogo Structures): “We were prepared for a new start to the race from Percé but it would have been good if we’d had a committee boat (laughs). We’re all neck and neck and it feels a little as if all the hard work which was done on the way down the Saint Lawrence has been reduced to nothing… We rounded Percé in the early hours (0430 UT) with a full moon and a blanket of stars: it was really very pretty. And here we are back in the mur