It’s back to class for Artemis Offshore Academy sailors Sam Matson, Alan Roberts and Rich Mason, as their solo training programme cranks up a gear in France. Following four months of getting to grips with the Figaro Bénéteau II in the familiar waters of England’s south coast, the three British Rookies made their longest voyage to date accompanied by 2013 squad member Ed Hill, sailing from Cowes to their new home in Lorient, France – an ideal route allowing the sailors time to suss out the infamous French racing landmarks the Raz du Sein, Ushant and the Chenal du Four.
Sailors touchdown in Lorient
The solo Figaro trio were thrown in at the deep end during their first training session on Tuesday 21st January, headed up by experienced solo coach Tanguy Leglatin. Sam, Alan, Rich along with Ed are four in a group of 12 skippers that includes respected French Rookie Gwénolé Gahinet, Solitaire du Figaro ‘veterans’ Adrian Hardy, Nicolas Jossier and Paul Meilhat, along with fellow British skipper Phil Sharp and Irish skipper Dave Kenefick, who will all train on the rocky shores of the north-western coast of France ahead of the 2014 racing season.
'Our first day of training in Lorient was…enlightening!' exclaimed Sam, sailing for the first time with Figaro competitors outside of the Academy. 'Training together in the well-known waters of the Solent has lulled us into a false sense of security and given us the impression that we know how to sail!'
'Training has definitely been stepped up a level and we’ve realised just how much we have to learn from Tanguy and the more experienced sailors ahead of our first race in March,' Alan added.
No strangers to rain and an overcast sky, the British skippers took to the water on their first day of training under the gloomy grey clouds of Brittany in around 15 knots of wind, lining up for a day of upwind speed testing, before being set a short course to race. Despite having made huge leaps forward in their abilities over the past four months, the 2014 Figaro newbies have so far only had each other for comparison. Stepping out with the big boys, Sam, Alan and Rich were soon made aware of the steep learning curve they’ve still yet to climb and of the different approach to sailing taken by the more experienced Figarists: 'From just our first day on the water we could see that the French had a different view about the way to sail a Figaro and their boat set up,' Alan reported. 'Everything they did seemed simplified and consistency was key over speed – which makes sense in an endurance sport.'
Rich continued: 'In the Artemis camp we’re all so keen to learn, it’s now about getting into the routine of training and making the most of our time to bring us up to speed with the more experienced sailors.' Coming from both an Olympic squad and coaching background, for Rich the organization of nine 33ft boats in close quarters was an interesting experience: 'Lining up nine Figaros up for speed testing was an eye opener, I can’t imagine what it is like at the start of the Solitaire du Figaro with 40+ boats. It takes a lot of organizing to get these big boats all going the right way at the same time.'
As every year since the start of the Academy and much like the first day of term, the sailor’s introduction to the French training regime came as a bit of a shock to the system, but it won’t be long before the cobwebs are blown away and they start to feel the benefit of the intensive training programme, as Ed explained: 'It’s great to be back into a routine you can really get into. The long sail out here was a good shake down for the boat, but training is a different kind of sailing and I felt rusty out there. Starting out against the more experienced French skippers is frustrating, but it won’t be long before Sam, Alan and Rich are bouncing along with the rest of the fleet.' It’s heads down now as the squad work hard before their first ‘check-in’ with a full competitive race fleet in the 320 mile Solo Maître Coq on the 13th March.
You can find out more about the history of Artemis Offshore Academy and the success of its sailors in 2013 in a 12-minute feature as part of this month’s SeaMaster Sailing.
Artemis Offshore Academy