The Québec-Saint Malo yacht race as seen by Marc Guillemot
Four days before the start of the Québec-Saint Malo race, Marc Guillemot skipper of Gitana X, looks back over the last four editions in which he ran and explains what makes this crewed ocean race so special.

A win on Jet Services V in 1988, invitation to join Mile Birch on the first Biscuits La Trinitaine in 1996 (5th), then 2nd on Biscuits La Trinitaine II in 2000 after having dominated the race until the last few miles. Marc Guillemot is the most experienced member of the Gitana Team on this legendary race from Québec to Saint Malo.

« 1988 was the famous time when Jet Services V dominated the race from start to finish. She was a really fast boat and we came out of the Saint Lawrence relatively quickly. After that we latched onto a low pressure system off Saint Pierre & Miquelon which carried us right to the finishing line. We had a lead of more than 600 miles over the second boat which came in three days later !

On the first Biscuits La Trinitaine in 1996, this was the race on which Mike Birch handed over to me after the English Transat. It was the last race we ran together. And then in 2000, we had a great battle with Groupama down the Saint Lawrence river before heading off alone south bound off Newfoundland where we pulled ahead. By the time we reached the Fastnet Rock, we were 300 miles ahead…  Unfortunately, there was almost no wind to speak of in the Irish Sea, ditto in the Channel and so the whole fleet caught up with us again. Franck Cammas was just 40 miles behind us off Ireland, 20 miles off the tip of England … and overtook us ten miles or so from Saint Malo ! Just goes to show that even with a major lead, the race is never in the bag until you make it across the finishing line. »

A tactical course

« A course which starts with a long coastal stretch as far as the Pierced Rock (mouth of the Saint Lawrence river, entrance to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence), tacking along the coast, and negotiating the currents, major wind shifts windless zones and thermal breezes… The river factor greatly influences navigation on the first part of the course. Sometimes the best thing to do is to hug the coast. Afterwards, there's the link between the river and the ocean, in the Gulf. Low pressure systems often form here before sweeping out across the Atlantic. If the eye of the perturbation lies south of our path, that means sailing head to wind in a blow and short seas. If the centre is to the north however, then we are blown along with the gennaker up as far as Newfoundland, giving the crew the chance to recharge its batteries before heading out to sea.

After Saint Pierre & Miquelon, there are a whole range of options for the transatlantic crossing. According to the classic route, a low catches up with the fleet and propelling us over to the Irish Sea where the Saint Helena High  (or a ridge of high pressure) is generally settled over Western Europe. When you are crossing the Atlantic, you have to think ahead to what I going to happen in the Channel as there is a funnel effect in the Irish Sea. The whole fleet has to sail past the Fastnet Lighthouse off Southern Ireland before heading down towards the Channel. You have to decide in the last hundred miles before reaching Ireland whether it is better to arrive from the west or the north-west depending on wind direction. You have to avoid covering this zone wind abeam if the wind starts to weaken ! In the middle of the Atlantic, (two days after Newfoundland), you really must choose your course based on what is happening in the Channel… »

A unique crewed race

« Québec-Saint Malo is the only crewed transatlantic yacht race which is what makes it so special. It's the one and only chance for the boats to be pushed to their limits on the open sea. Incredible speeds are reached out to sea ! On Gitana X, we have decided not to set up a system of watches in the first phase of the race until we are free of the river. We need to have everyone up on deck to manoeuvre and be able to react immediately just like in Grand Prix. There's a navigator (Luc Poupon), two helms who take turns (Erwan Le Roux and myself) and three other guys on the sails (Nicolas Raynaud, Thierry Duprey, Olivier Wroczynski).

After the Saint Lawrence, we can think about setting up a system of watches so that we can get a chance to rest… but it still needs to be fairly flexible in order to adapt to the conditions as necessary. There's no guarantee that we'll get much sleep before we reach the Atlantic Ocean ! Anyway, each time we manœuvre, everyone will be  up on deck with a specific job to do. Always the same person at the helm, the same guy trimming the sheets, the same bowman. 

This time round, the tides are not going to play a major role as the factors (which influence the strength of the currents in the Saint Lawrence and the Channel, according to the position of the moon in the sky) are weak to moderate : 50 at the start, 75 for the finish (maximum possible is 120). However, the wind is the overriding factor for both sections of the course. 

« This year the level of competition is extremely tough as there are many more boats with similar performance capabilities than in previous editions where only four or five multihulls had the real potential to win when in the stalls at the start in Québec. Of the twelve boats on the starting line, only Yves Parlier's revolutionary catamaran  is unlikely to give the trimaran fleet cause for concern. With Gitana X, we are in with  chance of producing a good result, unless we run into lots of medium wind on the runs between 8 and 18 knots with the gennaker up, we are sufficiently lacking in speed and course holding ability for the others to make a get-away. But the possible options in the Atlantic leave the race open until the Saint Malo finish. We're not starting out as favourites, but we might end up running a good race. »

Winners of the Québec Saint Malo

1984 : Royale (Loïc Caradec-Philippe Facque) in 8d 19h 57'
1988 : Jet Services V (Serge Madec) in 7d 21h 35'
1992 : Primagaz (Laurent Bourgnon) in 8d 05h 49'
1996 : Fujicolor II (Loïck Peyron) in 7d 20h 24'
2000 : Groupama (Franck Cammas) in 9d 23h 16'

The twelve ORMA multihulls at the start in Québec

Banque Covefi – Stève Ravussin
Banque Populaire – Lalou Roucayrol
Foncia – Alain Gautier
Géant – Michel Desjoyeaux
Gitana X – Marc Guillemot
Gitana 11 – Fred Le Peutrec
Groupama – Franck Cammas
Médiatis / Région Aquitaine – Yves Parlier
Sergio Tacchini – Karine Fauconnier
Sodebo – Thomas Coville
Sopra Group – Philippe Monnet
TIM / Progetto Italia – Giovanni Soldini

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