Fresh from setting a stunning new Round Ireland record in June, County Kerry's Damian Foxall and his Musandam-Oman Sail team have set their sights on another milestone record in the Transat Quebec-St Malo (TQSM) with a match against the world’s largest trimaran Spindrift 2 expected to push them to the limit.
The Omani MOD70 – which at 70 foot (21m) is almost half the size of Spindrift 2 (130ft/40m) and will be crewed by seven fewer sailors – will leave Quebec in Canada on Wednesday at 1500 local time and head out on the 2,897 nm (5365 km) course across the North Atlantic to St Malo in France with the aim of breaking the existing record of 7 days 20 hours and 24 minutes set in 1996 by Loïck Peyron.
The forecast for the passage looks favourable for a new record and the prospect of a battle against Spindrift 2 was creating a real buzz among French skipper, Sidney Gavignet’s crew of Damian Foxall, Fahad Al Hasni, Alex Pella and new crewmember Mayeul Riffet, as they prepared for the off.
“Spindrift 2 is wider than we are long!” commented Gavignet who has completed three TQSM races in his career.
“We have beaten them in the past during the Round Britain and Ireland where there are lots of corners, but an Atlantic crossing is more like an Autobahn and with a speed difference of up to 5 knots, they will be very hard to beat.
“They should beat Loïck Peyron’s record and Musandam-Oman Sail also has a chance to finish ahead of 7 days, 20 hours and 24 minutes.”
Before the David and Goliath match begins on the open seas, the team will have to navigate the spectacular St Lawrence River which is dotted with sand banks, logs and various whales and is regarded as a navigator’s challenge.
“We saw a boat grounded at the monohull start and on our way in, we saw two minkies, a hump back and a bunch of belugas so we are going to have to be diligent,” warned Foxall.
“It will take us a couple of days to get down to the Grand Banks and they are allowing us to cut across the Banks on a route where there is less ice which will be good news if we want to get the record. There is also a series of lows coming off Canada to create the train we need to blast across the Atlantic.
“The conditions are looking fantastic so I think it is currently looking like less than seven days. Hopefully both Musandam-Oman Sail and Spindrift can set new records.”
Fantastic conditions do not necessarily mean comfortable conditions, added Gavignet so with the icebergs, big seas and marine life, they are in for a great adventure.
“For us the conditions will feel extreme; we are constantly soaking wet and to get from the cockpit to the helm, we will be crawling on our hands and knees. We are all very competitive so we will be aiming to have the best possible adventure and the best possible race.
“For a sailor, the Quebec-St Malo is one of the classics; it is like rounding Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope, it is one of the mythical races in a sailor’s career.”
Oman’s leading offshore sailor Fahad Al Hasni is no stranger to transatlantic races and started his helming career on Oman Sail’s first race in their MOD70, the Krys Ocean Race from New York to Brest in 2012.
“It was my first transatlantic and I remember being very cold and wet so this time I know what to expect and I’m really excited about it,” he said.
“We will be downwind all the way across the North Atlantic to the Fastnet Rock and then over to St Malo for the finish. The weather is looking good for a record so hopefully, we can get our second record for Musandam-Oman Sail this year.”
The Transat Québec - Saint Malo is staged every four years and in 2016 has attracted 24 entries, both monohulls and multihulls, from across the world. The bulk of the fleet started their race on Sunday but Musandam-Oman Sail and Spindrift 2, both competing in the ‘Ultime’ class start on Wednesday in the hope that the entire fleet will be nearing the finish in St Malo at around the same time.
Last month, Musandam-Oman Sail set a new Round Ireland record when they beat two other MOD70s Phaedo 3 and Concise 10 to win the Volvo Round Ireland Race, setting a new time of 38 hours 37 minutes and 7 seconds, which was more than two hours faster than their previous time of 40 hours, 51 minutes and 57 seconds set the previous year.
The Transat Quebec-St Malo 'Ultime Class' start is at 1500 local time on Wednesday 13 July.