The low pressure system which brought tons of rain bucketing down over Québec on Thursday is shifting slowly ENE leaving behind it a weak pressure gradient, i.e., hardly a puff of wind. This perturbation will be centred on Newfoundland when the starting shot is fired at 12h50 on Sunday local time (18h50, French time). A ridge of high pressure will be settling over Québec with some sun, but almost no wind to speak of – just a meagre 5 knots coming in from the north, over the cliffs upon which the town is built. With two hours of tidal counter-current (the change in tide being at 14h40), the 12h50 start will be sluggish to say the least. The channel south of Orleans Island is not going to be easy. Traffic jams likely therefore through this narrow passage where the fleet will have no choice but to do lots of manoeuvring.
One out of this first noose, the twelve-strong fleet will have the tidal flow on their side as it will then be on its way out for a little more than six hours. They may also be lucky enough to have a thermal breeze generated by the warming of the nearby land. As a rule, they should have a westerly ten knot breeze to push them down to the mouth of the river. Where smaller rivers and streams flow into the Saint Lawrence, the wind can change blow as if it were going down river, sometime reaching speeds of more than 20 knots, known locally as a “canon shot”.
Next problem on the agenda will come with nightfall as the thermal breeze will drop and as the moon is waning, visibility will not be that good. That makes it all the more difficult to spot puffs of wind, veins of current, areas of calm, not to mention the other boats if a mist comes down ! In any event, the crews may decide to lower their anchor to avoid being pushed backwards with the rising tide from 22h00 (local time).
It is unlikely that the first race mark – a buoy off Matane, 200 miles from the start - will be reached before midday on Monday. This will give the fleet a little bit of “searoom” as it were, as the river starts to widen out here, the wind is generally steadier as it is not quite so perturbed by land and tidal currents are not so strong close to the coast. But there is every chance that the wind is just as weak, although it may well be south-westerly. The Pierced Rock 380 miles from Québec is the last race mark to be rounded before Saint Pierre & Miquelon. As the buoy is at the foot of a cliff, it acts as a brake and we may even find the whole fleet regrouping at this point.
Then the high pressure system will be settling over Saint Pierre & Miquelon, just as the fleet arrives on Wednesday ! Some routing analysts have even worked out a northerly path for Newfoundland via the strait of Belle-Île, a detour via the Labrador and its icebergs… That said, this is rather more a theoretical option that a genuine possible strategy as this meteorological « shortcut » also lengthens the route by more than 200 miles.
One the multis enter the Atlantic Ocean, at least three days after the start (Wednesday evening, probably even Thursday), the crossing will be done with the latter part of a high. No low forecast for the whole week ! Towards the end of the Atlantic section, the tris should be able to latch onto a regular westerly blow… before finding themselves in lighter air once again as they come closer to Ireland.
Not much chance of the race record being beaten this time round (Loïck Peyron on Fujicolor II in 1996 in 7 days 20 hours 24 minutes) and not much chance of the first boats being in before 20th July in the morning. The crews have got their work cut out for them.