Transat Quebec Saint Malo: Crepes Whaou! in steady breeze two days from the finish

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The bulk of the troops in the 7th Transat Quebec Saint Malo are traversing a zone of transition in the weather which is favouring the leaders. In the 50 footer camp led by Crêpes Whaou! there is everything to play for amongst the pursuers, who are beginning to stretch away from the Class 40s. Between two systems, the crew have had to get their brains into gear at the chart table as well as manœuvring on deck. The focus of the race now seems to have shifted with some big strategic decisions the order of the day. In the 40 footer camp, Mistral Loisirs and Pogo Structures are benefiting from their S’ly position. They have made good their escape whilst their pursuers labour in light evanescent airs generated by a ridge of high pressure. As regards the large monohulls, solely An Ocean of Smiles seems to have a reason to smile today. Midway across the Atlantic, the fleet are anticipating the passage of a new low, which is likely to generate around 30 knots of breeze, to the delight of the leaders…

The calm before the storm… A certain status quo reigns over the water in this 7th Transat Quebec Saint Malo. The weather has dished up a transition zone prior to a new low and downwind conditions, which everyone is hoping to catch in their sails as they make towards Saint Malo. These conditions are something that Crêpes Whaou! alone at the head of the entire fleet with a 500 mile lead over Imagine (Pierre Antoine), has been enjoying for some time: “There’s a steady breeze enabling us to hurtle along at 19-20 knots as we drop off the waves. Conditions are almost perfect for achieving a good crossing.” Clearly this is not something those behind want to hear, particularly those on Saint Malo Team at the very back of the fleet. The FICO monohull is only today sampling the local specialities of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon: light airs and pea-souper fog!

The multihulls accelerate…
Franck-Yves Escoffier and his crew are making the most of the conditions to power along. The weather is fine, the seas are smooth at 50°N and 20°W, and the crew are still expected to cross the finish line from Thursday. Elsewhere in the multihull fleet, with the exception of Délirium (Hervé de Carlan) which is bringing up the rear, all the crews have nevertheless managed to lengthen their stride and get some distance on the rest of the fleet. 2nd, Imagine skippered by Pierre Antoine is having to keep tabs on the threat behind from Prince de Bretagne (Hervé de Cléris), which is making an average of 15 knots and continues to eat into their lead.  They have 1,200 miles to go and have already escaped the ridge of high pressure still causing their pursuers some trouble.

There’s everything to play for on the Atlantic chessboard however. The weekend promises to be a real spectacle on the pontoons of the pirate city of Saint Malo. After welcoming Crêpes Whaou! the crowds will doubtless be just as keen to pay tribute to Laiterie de Saint Malo’s fine performance too. Despite being deprived of a rudder, Victorien Erussard and his crew, natives of Saint Malo, are back in race mode after locating the instruction manual of their limping steed, which they are managing to steer with their headsails at an average of a dozen knots!

Class 40: a ridge of high pressure on the back…
Amongst the Class 40s, the race has been coloured by a day of transition. Two of the most loyal figures at the head of the fleet have managed to get away from their pursuers. Incredibly inspired, Oliver Krauss’ crew (Mistral Loisirs - Pôle santé Elior) have successfully and happily escaped the light airs which punctuate the passage of two lows. “We knew it would be important to be up front over the past few days as a door has closed behind us now, making it pretty tricky for those the other side. We’ve really been going flat out since Newfoundland to get where we are today. We got here through being quick and gybing further south than our playmates. We’re fairly happy with our performance. We’ve got a few little repairs to do but we’re concentrating on looking after our spinnaker and our gear and trying not to wipe out! We’re very motivated and glad to be in the thick of the action. We’ll have to wait and see what happens next!” The result of all this is that they are well positioned for the next stage in the course but they will still have to contain the trio aboard Pogo Structures (Halvard Mabire), decidedly still very much in the match just 17 miles astern.

One transatlantic, several races
In their wake, the deficits are stretching ever further with each new ranking. Lots of their competitors are caught in the clutches of the calms of the ridge of high pressure and it may be a while yet before they reap the benefits of the elusive low!
What is clear in this Transat Quebec Saint Malo is that multihulls and monohulls, amateurs and professionals, each of them have their own fates and no boat and no crew have had the same experience as another. Today then we leave the final word with Pierre-Yves Chatelin aboard Destination Calais, 13th and 250 miles behind the leader in the Class 40s: “After a night becalmed, everything has returned to normal. We’re upwind in 15/17 knots of breeze and it’s raining... All this is not exactly a bundle of fun, but we’re continuing to work hard to gain ground on our closest neighbours. The weather is not on our side, but we’re trying to make headway as fast as possible nonetheless aboard "Destination Calais". Ocean racing isn’t always easy, it’s a euphemism! Rest assured that there are good times, like last night when a school of dolphins accompanied us for an hour in the calms… it was magical!!”

Quotes from the Boats:
Halvard Mabire (Pogo Structures):
“I’m sitting at the chart table. We have a good heading and sufficient speed. We’re currently in a transition phase so we’ll have to knuckle down so we don’t miss the right wagon. The most significant thing of the day is the fact that we can see! It’s changed our lives to be free of the fog. However the wind is extremely shifty in terms of direction so we’re having to monitor it closely. The boat’s not doing too badly. She’s keen to get home to Finistere. The skies are very overcast with squalls and the odd clear spell with some sunshine. It’s not at all uniform for once unlike the fog. We decided to play it light so all our food is freeze-dried. The main disadvantage is that it’s a very individual way of eating. Everyone prepares their own meal and we lack the social aspect of eating together around the table. Anyway, the important thing is that we’re still in the running and we haven’t burnt our bridges in the race. It’s well known though that in the Transat Quebec Saint Malo the winners always come from behind so it’s not over yet!”

Franck-Yves Escoffier (Crêpes Whaou!): “All’s well aboard. There’s no breakage. It’s a shame we haven’t got any direct rivals very close by but it’s nice to see Pierre Antoine (Imagine) up in second. Though I’d have preferred it to be Laiterie de Saint Malo of course! We’re going to remain vigilant right the way to the finish and try to get good average speeds. We made a few gybes overnight and another this morning and then it was Yves Le Blevec (Orange II boat captain and top Mini sailor) and Christophe Aillet’s watch. They hoisted the gennaker and full mainsail as we’d been sailing with one reef. We’ve still got a big swell at the moment and there is slight cloud cover, the sun just peeking through, which is ideal. At the end of the day we’re likely to have very light conditions to starboard so, if all goes well in the meantime without any whales or breakage, we should get to Saint Malo on Thursday.”

Loic Escoffier (Laiterie de Saint Malo): “At the end of yesterday afternoon the wind eased and shifted round a bit so from 3 reefs we changed to 2 reefs and then staysail rather than ORC. The mainsail is open and we’ve now got a 4 hr watch system, steering with the staysail on the winch to keep on a precise course, within 5/ 10 degrees. We managed to maintain a good average speed last night without a rudder. I knew the system would work but I didn’t realise it would be this successful! It’s a great morale boost! We’ve got downwind conditions and if we manage to maintain a constant speed of between 13/16 kts as we did last night, then we should be able to stay with the wind for a fair while. We’re refusing fresh supplies from any cargo ships at the moment. As long as we keep in this wind and don’t fall into any light airs or big seas, we won’t even need the emergency rudder. For now we’re going to continue to helm with the staysail winch!”

Benoît Parnaudeau (Prévoir Vie): “We’re in a slight swell upwind trying to gain westing. The name of the game at the moment involves traversing this ridge of high pressure. Yesterday we covered a fair amount of ground under spinnaker. Right now we’re beginning to hit more breeze and we’ve already got 7 knots of wind, roughly on course. It is set to fill in as it shifts round to the NW. We’ll have to wait and see if the leaders hit the wind a long time before us. I hope the NW’ly will be strong and then, given that we’re sailing between lows, we’ll get some S’ly and then hopefully make Saint Malo in SW’lies from the same system. We’re in great shape and it’s a fantastic atmosphere aboard. We’re having a great laugh! It’s been a superb battle since the start and the crew compliment each other perfectly. All’s well!”

Yannick Bestaven (Cervin ENR): “It’s a wet atmosphere aboard as we’re still being rained on. We kept in the breeze until yesterday evening so we managed to maintain our speed. Right now it’s calm as we have to cross a ridge of high pressure. We have some ground to make up on the leaders because of our pitstop so we’ll just have to hope they don’t get away from us in a different system of lows. The next 24 hrs will be a bit difficult while we traverse the ridge and then we should hit steadier downwind conditions. We have a watch system involving 2 teams of 2 doing 4hrs on, 4hrs off, so there’s plenty of time to sleep. We were pretty tired when we left Port aux Basques (pitstop to repair port rudder bearing) after working round the clock, and sailing in light airs is just as wearing as you have to be on top of your game as regards the trimming etc. It’s a drag race right now and my focus is on getting to Saint Malo as soon as possible so I can get the boat back to La Rochelle to properly repair everything and prepare for the Vendee Globe. In short we have no time to lose and we’re doing our best with the wind we have. For now I have to say that the Vendee Globe is a long way off as I’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do before I can make the start but I’m continuing to battle to make it a reality!”

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 29 July 2008 )