Transat Québec Saint-Malo from 1984 to 2012


General History

In 1984, on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the 1534 arrival in the Gulf of St. Lawrence of Jacques Cartier, the renowned sailor from Saint-Malo, the first Transat Québec Saint-Malo race is held.

Every four years since, it brings together the best professional oceangoing multihull and monohull racers for an epic crossing from Quebec City to Saint-Malo.

A major classic among the offshore races, the Transat Québec Saint-Malo is the oldest nonstop, trans-Atlantic, crewed race sailed from west to east.

The Voyage

The boats and their skippers travel a 2,897-nautical mile (5,365-kilometre) route.

Starting from Quebec City, at the foot of Cap Diamant, they first speed along the St. Lawrence River, a 400-nautical mile stretch requiring skill and tactics, given that the river has its own unique quirks. It is narrow, dotted here-and-there with islands and shoals. Skippers can also see each other, unlike in the rest of the offshore race. Cunning and strategy will be needed.

The river portion includes marker buoys. These buoys become races within the race, because prize money is awarded to the first boats that pass them.

Next comes the wide, open ocean. The ocean stretches out before the racers, and the sporting challenge begins. The nonstop crossing of the North Atlantic, to the battlements of the port city of Saint-Malo.

1984, The Year It All Starts

The beginning of the 1980s is synonymous with extraordinary creative energy. After the victories of Olympus Photo (Mike Birch’s little yellow 11.50 m sailboat) in the 1978 Route du Rhum, and that of the American, Phil Weld, in the OSTAR race aboard the trimaran Moxie, in 1980, it is clear that the future of offshore racing will be decided by more than one hull. Racing goes pro with sponsor money, and an “arms race” begins, between catamarans larger than 20 metres. The boats on the starting line in Québec City on August 19, 1984, for the Transat TAG provide a magnificent snapshot of a mechanical sport in the grip of continuous change. It is one of the finest competitive line-ups ever to gather for an offshore race. It is also a battle of architects and technicians at a time of great discovery. Of the 36 multihulls registered, 10 of them exceed 20 metres in length: every catamaran, with the exception of Eugène Riguidel’s trimaran, the William Saurin (at 25.90 m). Incidentally, many of these large multihulls are developed especially to contest this race. Crossing the Atlantic at full speed, one single atmospheric depression is enough to take the big cats to Saint-Malo, where Caradec finishes barely 16 minutes ahead of Pierre Follenfant, after only 8 days of racing.

1988, The Year of Jet Services V and the End of the Big Cats

The Transat Carlsberg race takes place in a distinctly less euphoric atmosphere than its previous edition. Only 13 multihull and six monohull boats take part in the race. Faced with sponsors cool to growing costs, the Fédération internationale de la course océanique (FICO) decides to limit the maximum boat length to 22.80 m. In 1990, new regulations would set it at 18.28 m. The era of big catamarans ends abruptly. Victory is nevertheless tarnished by those who assert that the big boats inevitably go faster. With the same team, Madec would defend his reputation in grand style by improving on his own record for the Atlantic crossing, in 6 days, 13 hours, 3 minutes, a record that would only be beaten in 2001 by Steve Fossett. The Transat takes a dramatic turn on September 1, when Olivier Moussy falls overboard 150 miles west of the Isles of Scilly. The 31-year-old skipper of the trimaran Laiterie Mont Saint-Michel is swept away by a wave, while working on a float. The man nicknamed “The Saint-Bernard of the Seas” for having saved the lives of sailors Pierre Follenfant in 1979, and Ian Johnson in 1982, would never be found. That same day, Florence Arthaud’s Groupe Pierre 1er capsizes, and its crew is recovered by helicopter.

From 1992 to 2004, The Golden Age of the 60-Foot Trimarans

With International class rules that set the length of multihulls at 18.28 m (60 ft.) for more than 15 years, offshore racing experiences a period of stability which favours its development. In 1997, the founding of ORMA (the Ocean Racing Multihull Association) establishes a calendar that alternates Grand Prix harbour racing and trans-Atlantic races. From 1990 until the turning point of 2006 and 2007, ORMA becomes an offshore racing laboratory, an environment in a state of perpetual technological excitement. Fifteen years of technical research and reflection on 60-foot platforms would make these racing machines the most successful in the history of offshore racing.


The 3rd edition of the Transat Québec Saint-Malo race in 1992 marks the arrival of a particularly talented young generation. On Primagaz, designed by Van Pétéghem-Lauriot Prévost, a young, Swiss phenomenon by the name of Laurent Bourgnon builds himself quite a reputation. Spectator boats moored in the anchorage at Lévis would remember the white trimaran sailing, without hesitation, into the middle of the astounded flotilla, for a long time. The tone was set. In answer to that challenge, another VPLP-designed boat with a gleaming, artfully-decorated hull, Florence Arthaud’s Groupe Pierre 1er: In 1990, the 33-year-old sailor was the first woman to win a major ocean-going regatta. Her victory in the Route du Rhum race makes her a star. The young Swiss sailor, who would win the Rhum race himself in 1994 and 1998, would beat her by less than two hours to Saint-Malo.


1996’s 4th edition of the race makes history when Loïck Peyron, on Fujicolor II, shaves an hour off Serge Madec’s time and secures a record time for the voyage, a record which has not been beaten since. Peyron, who has just won the English Transat race, has to face two boats wrecked by capsizes in the same race a few weeks earlier.


The 5th edition in 2000 crowns a young 27-year-old Franck Cammas, who would remain king of ORMA for a number of years, aboard Groupama. To increase their stability, the new trimarans are now as wide as they are long, to within a few centimetres. Marc Guillemot, an ex-crewmate of Mike Birch’s, succeeded his old boss on board a brand-new Biscuits La Trinitaine. Birch nevertheless comes to the starting line on board a 50-foot trimaran, owned by the head of Fujifilm France. Guillemot quickly takes the lead in the race, sailing southward to find the winds as he leaves the gulf. He has a 280-mile lead when an anticyclone offshore of Ireland blocks his way and reshuffles the cards. Behind him, the fleet is unleashed. Yvan Bourgnon on Bayer en France (ex-Primagaz first launched in 1990) has an incredible 624-mile day, with an average speed of 26 knots. No ORMA multihull has since sailed as fast. The six 60-foot trimarans find themselves neck-and-neck at Fastnet Rock, and all cross the finish line at Saint-Malo within 1 hour, 30 minutes of each other. It’s the closest finish in the entire history of the race.


With 12 ORMA multihulls together again in the Bassin Louise, the 6th edition in 2004 would be one to remember, with a perfect line-up reuniting the big names in offshore racing. Hard to predict at the time that the class would collapse three years later. The multihulls of this last generation would have much larger cockpits – equipped with coffee grinders – very much better-adapted to crewed sailing.

2008, l’arrivée des Class40 : changement de génération

The mothballing of the ORMA racing machines, too costly for the sponsors, changes the face of offshore racing completely. The better-equipped teams throw themselves into competition for the Jules Verne trophy, while ORMA dreams up a new series of 70-foot monotype trimarans, the Multi One Design. The 50-foot multihulls, existing in the shadow of their big brothers, see a chance to shine, and the Transat Québec Saint-Malo race is a great showcase. There are six crews at the starting line, but Franck-Yves Escoffier and Yves le Blévec’s Crêpe Wahoo!, the only new boat in the fleet, wins the race without any real opposition.

But for the 7th edition, the real star in Quebec City is the brand-new Class40, developed with extreme speed, and generating tremendous excitement. This new category of monohulls welcomes amateurs and professionals, and the International class rules limit the “arms race,” which prevents an escalation of costs. Eighteen Class40s have their first starts in Quebec City. Veteran sailor Halvard Mabire removes all doubt, aboard a last-generation Pogo 40. During the race, Pogo Structure has a record-setting day of 346 miles in 24 hours, with an average speed of 14 knots. Immense disappointment for Éric Tabardel and Damien de Pas who are dismasted in June, during their first week of sailing. Bleu, their beautiful Class40 boat, built in Montreal, loses its maiden race. For his part, Georges Leblanc starts with an optimized MacGregor 65, but Port de Québec takes on water offshore of Newfoundland, and must turn back. The two skippers from Quebec would incidentally, be back on the starting line on July 22, alongside 22 other crews from Quebec and Europe.


The 2012 edition is marked by Halvard Mabire’s incredible turn aboard Campagne de France, and by the very high standard in this Class40, which contributed greatly to the success of this 8th edition of the Transat Québec Saint-Malo race. With 25 entrants, 20 of which are Class40, standards are, without doubt, clear for all to see!


From Québec City to Saint-Malo by way of La Malbaie, Rimouski, Matane, Sainte-Anne-des-Monts, Gaspé, Percé and, of course, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, the 6 villes, 6 bouées race would enable sailors to share the first part of their race with the public. An experience which they greatly appreciated!


In the Open class, FenêtréA Cardinal 3 belonging to Frenchman Erwan Leroux has an amazing race, taking just 9 days and 14 hours to finish, which also wins him the honour of being the very first across the finish line. The winners of this 2012 edition in Class40, Halvard Mabire and Miranda Merron on Campagne de France, would themselves travel 3,024 nautical miles in 11 days and 17 hours, and their closest rival, Jörg Riechers on Mare, would cross the finish line less than 1 hour and 30 minutes behind them. A near-perfect journey, all the better for making an impression at Saint-Malo!

Source : Michel Sacco – L’Escale Nautique

Photos: Pierre Therrien
Photo 2012: Pierre Bourras


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An event by

  • Voile Internationale Québec

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