We did it!
Team Delta: After 14 months of training, August 2nd 2014 we sailed out of St-Malo, France in a VOR 60 (Volvo Ocean Racer) Kevlar mono-hull racing sailboat called Esprit de Corps 11 across the North Atlantic to Quebec under skipper George Leblanc. We are 10 Quebec entrepreneurs who had little or no experience sailing but who recognized the great opportunity and learning experience to cross the vast ocean in such a purebred classic machine. This pedigree raced the 1998 Whitbread Round the World Race covering 39,000 nmi (nautical miles / 72,000 km) over a 9 month period. Her mast is 103 feet and she weighs in just under 30,000 lbs, and was designed to tear up the waves and push at more than 30 knots.
Day 1 got us pounding against oncoming waves in medium light winds following west along the north Brittany coastline. It felt great to finally get going but also meant that the reality of Open Ocean and grinding cramped conditions came home to roost. Most of us including myself had the rude awakening of seasickness the first and second day. Generally our first few days were rough until our bodies settled in to the rolling swells and insomnia conditions. We had 2 revolving shifts over a 5 day period. First shift of 3 hours on deck, next 3 hours on call, followed by 6 hours off. That meant 12 hours on and 12 hours off over 24 hours. Second shift every 5th day¬ was as back-up helmsman and was 3 hours on followed by 3 hours off 24 hours consecutive. The on deck team consisted of Francois Labarre or Gilles Barbot (First Mates) rotating every 3 hours, +2 man crew + back-up helmsman. It was a well-oiled schedule prepared for surprize. George our captain was never far from view.
Besides hauling sails up and down according to wind direction and strength, tacking or jibing, keeping our bearing west at approximately 280°, always being on look-out for floating debris, we were often awesomely entertained by passing dolphin pods jumping to our delight and leading us in unison at the bow. Occasionally a whale would surface and you would see the vertical spray from its ‘blow hole’. These were the very special moments of the day to see such amazing mammals and creatures of the sea. Some of the crew saw 2 huge turtles. Most incredible to me was all the birds (different species of seagulls) that were ubiquitous even in the middle of the ocean. I never expected that. Often they would circle just above the mast as if trying to land on it. Occasionally you would see a small flock hovering just above the waves and it would mean some attack was going on just below the surface. One night against the backdrop of a full moon we saw birds that appeared like large bats flying in seemingly archaic acrobatic flight.
We were truly all alone in the middle of the ocean. The last boat we saw was about 100 miles off the French coast and the next one about 10 days later was a few hundred miles before Newfoundland. What impressed me early one evening was a thin narrow band of reddish light on the horizon separating sky from sea. It was a 360° panoramic view the likes of which you would never see anywhere else except on such a perfect flat plane. Although alone on the sea surface, below one suspected was a living world of unimaginable proportions. This sense of awe I found enormously profound. It occurred to me at one moment lying in my bunk that my father emigrating from England at 6 months old 106 years ago with his poor family traveled the same route to the New World as I was doing. The big difference being they were fleeing poverty and I was accomplishing a goal, not to mention my father unfortunately getting polio on his boat.
Our weather conditions varied from one hot sunny day when we all jumped overboard to swim and wash ourselves in the cool ocean to a local depression with 40 knot winds. Calm, wind, sun, clouds, rain, and storm – we experienced it all. Hoisting our larger spinnaker one morning got us into serious trouble spinning out which then caused the halyard to potentially wreck the spreader bar high on the mast. George immediately recognized the ominous danger and cut the rope letting it fly downwind sporadically. We hauled it in but the line got tangled in the propeller shaft. It took 4 hours to cut the rope away under the boat by Guillaume, Alex and Robin.
We arrived 17 days later in Rivière au Renard in Gaspé. Not the fastest time but what we could manage with the conditions. I left the boat with Manu and Robin and flew to Montreal for business reasons. The rest of the team stayed onboard and mostly motored up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City arriving 2 ½ days later. The dynamics of our team made this journey a great success. George, Gilles and Francois empowered us through their experience and sailing wisdom. They were key to our accomplishment.
Opportunity – Voyage – Challenge. These 3 words rolled over in my mind as what this crossing meant to me.
Opportunity when Gilles Barbot invited me to be part of the first ever ‘traversée de l’Atlantique’ by Esprit de Corps. We have done a lot of challenges together over the years and this would be another first for us. Opportunity is golden and not to be taken lightly.
Voyage to me was the amazing environment of being in such a small boat sailing alone across such a vast wilderness of water totally vulnerable to Mother Nature and the unknown. You are really at the mercy of the elements and you know it when you are out there. Albeit flat, the extraordinary beauty of sunrises and sunsets, the moon, waves, wind, clouds, rain, sounds, ocean visitors all add up to a deeply personal and profound experience.
Challenge is what changes you, opens your eyes, feeds your passions, delights your senses, strengthens your resolve, tests your commitment to living. It is the messenger to living a full, happy, healthy and extraordinary life. For me personally, I needed to take this challenge on to conquer my fears of vast Open Ocean on what I called merely a beautiful ‘popsicle stick.’
Amazing Team: Guillaume Le Prohon, Alexandre Forgues, Véronique Labbé, Patrick Garneau, Kevin Jutras, Robin Lacasse, Patrick Brassard, Aviva Lavallée Roberts, Emmanuel Chenail, Theodore Fairhurst.
Crew Delta: Skipper George Leblanc, 1st Mates; Francois Labarre, Gilles Barbot. 2nd Mate: Gauthier Da Silva