After a remarkably quick transatlantic race time of 12 days 2 hours and 24 minutes, team Imerys crossed the St Malo finish line in 7th place, less than four hours behind the eventual winner ‘Tales II’, and five minutes behind ‘Black Pepper’ in 6th place.
The 3000nm downwind adventure from Quebec City to St Malo proved seven days faster than May’s 3000nm upwind Transat bakerly from Plymouth to New York. Phil Sharp comments: “I find it difficult to believe that we managed to cover the distance from Quebec to St Malo in just over 12 days. In fact, the actual crossing of the Atlantic from the SE point of Newfoundland to the English Channel took just six days, not bad for a 40ft boat!”
The Transat Quebec – St Malo has been considered by many crew as three races in one. Either side of the Atlantic, the St Lawrence River and the English Channel brought very close racing and a constant reshuffling of rankings. Teams were forced to survive on endurance, local experience, and in some cases luck, with three weather systems at times providing contrary forecasts. Though, despite these testing race conditions the North Atlantic crossing rewarded crews with an exhilarating downwind ride, Sharp comments: “It was nothing but an adrenaline-fuelled ride across the Atlantic, the pace was quite staggering. Sometimes we were averaging 15-16 knots and regularly reaching speeds of over 20 knots surfing down the waves. The boat was just on fire in these conditions, and very controllable at these speeds feeling just like a dinghy! In order to sustain this pace we had to keep to regular shifts changing the helm every one and a half hours to maintain our focus and keep the boat going full tilt, which was a good test of endurance.”
As Imerys raced out of the St Lawrence River and deep into the North Atlantic in second place, with just 800nm remaining drama struck, Sharp continued: “We were really happy to establish a firm second position in the Atlantic, and were keeping pace with the Speedy Spanish, and pulling away from the rest of the fleet until suddenly our large spinnaker tore completely in half during the night. The sails are the engine of the boat, so this was a serious blow for us, and the team worked around the clock to tape the spinnaker back together. Unfortunately, the sail was quite old and the material was now very worn. Soon after re-launching, to our utmost despair it tore in half once more, this time in a different place and substantially worse. This was a serious test of our perseverance and patience, and we once again sacrificed sleep to attempt to rejoin the spinnaker. The damage was so extensive that it took nearly two days to effect the repair, by which time we had dropped to 6th place upon entering the English Channel.
“We couldn’t have asked for a trickier and more tactical end to the race. The final morning in the Channel was just unbelievably close and exciting racing, and was literally like having a full restart to the race. We could see five other boats around us, between 2nd and 7th place, all within several miles of each other, after crossing thousands of miles of ocean! This is testament to the standard of racing in the Class 40 fleet, and the necessity to perform 100% at all times in order to stay near the front.”
With one last fight to the front, team Imerys worked their way back up to 4th place, just two miles behind second place, before sailing into a dead wind zone and identifying a clump of weed on the keel, Sharp continued: “Early that morning we managed to recover well, and moved up to 4th place just ahead of Isabelle Josche. However, it was not to last as being ever so slightly further offshore, we were the first to lose the breeze and there was nothing we could do but watch all the other boats sail away from us. This was pretty demoralising to say the least, after all the work we had put in, and after undertaking a boat check we found that we had been trailing a large clump of seaweed for several hours, which massively reduced our boat speed. 30 seconds after discovering it Adrien appeared in his boxers, complete with a diving mask, and disappeared over the bow of the boat to pull the weed off the keel!
“At midday the wind completely disappeared and we were faced with a 3 knot foul tide, which forced us to anchor quickly in 40m of water near the Roche Douvres, to stop us getting swept backwards onto the rocks by the tide. To be at anchor for several hours, after flying across the ocean at 15 knots was a reminder of the extreme contrasts of offshore sailing and the challenge of racing in such tidal local waters.”
On Friday the 22nd of July at 20:39, team Imerys crossed the line after 12 days of intense racing, Sharp concluded: “I couldn’t have asked for a better crew – Adrien Hardy and Milan Kolá?ek are both incredibly determined and talented sailors. We worked well as team trying new things, asking questions, and looking for further improvement. This is so important if you want to learn quickly and perform consistently from start to finish. Though it is slightly frustrating that our end result was not representative of our performance throughout the race, it was an incredible experience for us all that will help us win next time!”
Having completed a full circle of the North Atlantic, which began in The Transat bakerly Warm-Up from St Malo back in April, Imerys will have time to recuperate before the final race of the season, the Normandy Channel Race starting 11 September.
Imerys is on display this week and welcomes visitors to the race village of St Malo with the typical buzz of interest due to the towns strong pedigree in ocean racing.