City of Corsairs

by wjw on October 28, 2014

stmaloWe are in Saint-Malo, a Breton walled city completely rebuilt after being destroyed by George Patton in 1944.  (They named a street after him anyway.)

Saint-Malo was famous for Duguay-Trouin and other privateers who made fortunes by plundering the British merchant marine, and also as the home of Jacques Cartier, who left here to “discover” Canada (when he wasn’t designing expensive jewelry).  The modern city is picturesque and has more restaurants per inhabitant than anyplace else in France.  (Unfortunately most serve galettes, which are the local buckwheat crepe, nothing wrong with them except you don’t want them three times per day.)

We couldn’t get into the town center yesterday, because of traffic and an absolute lack of parking, so we backed out to our hotel, which was on the outskirts of town, and learned to use the bus.  The reason for the madness was the Route du Rhum, which (alas) isn’t a trail from one grog shop to the next, but rather a yacht race from St.-Malo to Guadeloupe in the West Indies.  The race doesn’t actually start till Sunday, but the town is already packed and the marinas are full.  The harbor is absolutely stacked with state-of-the-art trimarans, each a custom triumph of modern marine engineering, featuring Nomex honeycomb sandwich hulls, canting bowsprits and keels, D4 process sails, lightweight Kevlar interiors, Carbontech masts, and little cockpits that look as if they belong on fighter jets.

trimaranSeveral classes of boats are in the race: the “Classe 40,” the “Multi50,” and the “Classe HOLY FUCKING SHIT YOU PEOPLE ARE BATSHIT CRAZY!” which includes the Spindrift, the 40-meter world’s largest racing trimaran, which is so big it won’t fit through the lock into the yacht basin.  Thanks to the miracles of modern engineering, these boats can sail twice as fast as the wind.

These craft look a lot more advanced than anything I’ve seen from NASA, possibly because the people who own the boats have more money.  Sponsors include banks, the Sultanate of Oman, and Edmond de Rothschild.

Insane designs, insane amounts of money, and insane skippers: this is mostly a singlehanded race, in which lonely, starved, sleep-deprived skippers will have to scream along on a single hull for a week at a time, which is about the time it will take the fastest boats to reach Guadaloupe.  Even the Spindrift will have but a single crew.  I think of one of these boats pitchpoling in the middle of the Atlantic at night and I shiver.

Tomorrow I’m heading for Utopiales, which is the convention that brought me here in the first place, and I suspect they’d be a little upset if I took Sunday off and told them I was now their yachting correspondent.  So I’ll just have to follow the race online, and maybe drink a little rhum myself.

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