The 2013 La Solitaire du Figaro countdown has begun… in less than three days’ time, Artemis Offshore Academy Rookies Ed Hill and Jack Bouttell will start on their ‘solo sailing Everest’.
Setting off on Leg 1 from Bordeaux to Porto (536 miles) on Sunday second of June (1200 BST), Jack, Ed and Artemis Offshore Academy Graduates Sam Goodchild, Henry Bomby and Nick Cherry will be among a fierce field of 41 one-design Figaro Bénéteau boats skippered by some of the world’s most established solo offshore sailors, including race favourites Michel Desjoyeaux, Yann Elies, Armel Le Cleac’h and Nicolas Lunven, all raring to race over 1,938 miles of Atlantic battleground.
'I got my first look into the world of solo offshore sailing at 14, and since then it’s been my dream to compete in a serious solo offshore race,' revealed Jack, who is about to make his dream come true this weekend. 'Thanks to the Artemis Offshore Academy I’m here, about to compete in the epic Solitaire du Figaro against names I normally see in magazines. My experience in Bordeaux has been unreal and something I will never forget. I’ve just got to get round the course now!'
For Academy Graduates Henry Bomby and Nick Cherry, who return to the prestigious race for a second year, and Sam Goodchild his third, this iconic race has not lost any of its sparkle: 'I seem to lie awake most nights at the moment reliving the Solitaire from last year - the highs and the lows,' reported Henry. 'I just cannot wait to be living the Solitaire du Figaro experience again.'
Conditions for Sunday’s Leg 1 start from Pauillac (Bordeaux) look set to be moderate, with the current forecast predicting winds speeds of between 10 and 15 knots from the north. Gunning for a clean start over the line, the skippers will then have to contend with what Ed anticipates will be one of the hardest parts of the course, getting out of the Gironde river: 'Forty-one boats racing up 35 miles of fairly narrow river in shifty winds and unknown currents will be interesting, but perhaps luckily for us, the Gironde is a relatively unknown stretch of water to most of the fleet.'
'Once out into the Atlantic, it’s looking promisingly ‘spinnakerful’ and I’m brimming with excitement for this 500 mile downwind leg to Porto,' continued Nick. 'The harshest conditions as expected, will be as we round Cape Finistere with wind speeds reaching up to 35 knots.'
While newly backed Academy Graduates Nick (Magma Structures), Sam (Shelterbox-Disaster Relief) and Henry (Rockfish) will be looking to claim ‘best of British’ title, currently held by Phil Sharp who finished 18th in 2011 and remains the best-placed British finisher to date. Race objectives for Rookies Ed and Jack are slightly different. At 536 miles, Leg 1 of the Solitaire du Figaro is the sailors’ longest solo stint to date, with 1,402 miles still to race after that. The race will be a both an almighty challenge and learning curve for the Class Figaro new kids, but Race Coach Marcus Hutchinson is confident in the skippers’ preparation: 'I don't believe that the sailors will hold back, but they will be conscious that they have three weeks ahead of them and so their main priority is to settle quickly down into a rhythm and manage their race intelligently. However, I do expect them to finish in the hunt for podium places in the Rookie division, which is fairly strongly contested with one new opponent in the form of the highly experienced Simon Troel.' Read Race Coach Marcus Hutchinson’s 2013 Solitaire du Figaro form guide here.
'There’s tough competition out on the field, both in the Rookie division and non,' explained Jack. 'The nerves are starting to kick in a little. My main concern is making a call that is going to leave me tailing the fleet.' Jack and Ed are among seven Rookies looking to claim the next generation podium top spot in around 20 days’ time.
In a warm up to the main event, the newly nicknamed Academy ‘roast beefs’ (an affectionate use of French terminology!), will take part in a Solitaire du Figaro prologue race, spanning 12 miles between Bordeaux and the Pont d’Aquiataine bridge on Saturday 1st June. You can watch the prologue live from 1355 BST on the Solitaire du Figaro website and the start of Leg 1 from Paulliac (Bordeaux) on Sunday 2nd June from 1150 BST.
Alongside the Solitaire du Figaro, Sunday will see the start of the four leg inter-Artemis Offshore Academy, race within a race - the Patton Challenge. Having recently been gifted the P42 Immersion carbon steel watch, Jack, Ed, Sam, Henry, Nick and Irish Rookie David Kenefick will be competing to upgrade to the Patton Harken Regatta watch, the latest in a line of sailing watches from Academy partners Patton Watches. The winner will presented with his handsome new timepiece in Dieppe.
Jack Bouttell: 'It would be a lie to say my nerves aren’t kicking in, the Solitaire du Figaro is a big event. We’ve started to go over the whole course in briefings this week and it’s pretty serious. It’s going to be an achievement to make it around the whole course with the fleet and my biggest concern is making a call that’s going to put me well behind.'
'The weather could change, but at the moment it’s looking like 10-15 knots upwind from the north for the start. We’ll then do 35 miles upwind up the river Gironde and then we’ll be under spinnaker all the way to Porto! Getting up the river will be our first challenge, then will come a strategic crossing of the Bay of Biscay before the big winds of the infamous Cape Finistere. Another big decision will come in how far inshore and offshore to sail after rounding the Cape to avoid getting stuck in a wind shadow.'
Ed Hill: 'At the moment, my nerves are yet to kick in and there’s still a lot to do before Sunday and the off. The scale of this race is on another level and very different from the six months that have preceded it. I’m in exactly the place I was aiming to be in six months ago and now I’m here, I’m determined to put in the best possible performance and also enjoy the race as much as possible. La Solitaire du Figaro is going to be a 100 times harder than any of the training or racing I have done so far this year, but I honestly believe that I am in great shape for it.'
'It’s been a massive leap of faith to drop almost everything to sail the Figaro and without the support of so many people around me, I’m not sure I would be where I am now. Thank you to everyone who has supported me, and a special thanks goes to the few people who stepped in last minute to help with the purchase of my new race sails. That and the continued belief and vision of the Artemis Offshore Academy team has made this year what it is.'
Henry Bomby: 'The 2013 fleet is much tougher than last year, where only Nicolas Lunven had won the Solitaire du Figaro before. This year there are six people who have won it before and another eight who've been on the podium. So even if we sailed an absolute blinder and got a bit lucky, we still wouldn't beat the Yann Elieses and Jeremie Beyous and Armels. It is one of the most competitive years in the races history and it will be interesting to see how it pans out.'
'There is a great bunch of young British guys this year. We’ve all got fires in our bellies to go out and prove ourselves on a big stage. One day we will be old, we will look back, and these will be the good old days, for that I am sure.'
Nick Cherry: 'At least 30 guys here have been training full time all year round and they have all got strong backgrounds in other sailing. The Class Figaro is a professional circuit in France and it is not something you come into unless you have a strong background elsewhere. Even at the back of the fleet the guys you race against are not pushovers.'
'With three days to go, all measurement and paper work is done. Food and clothes are going on board this morning and then we have more briefings, final boat checks, looking at the weather, before the arrival of my chief supporter Anne Haigh (Mum) just in time for the official dinner tonight (Friday 31st June). I’m now brimming with excitement for a downwind leg to Porto!'
Sam Goodchild: 'Since November, I have been doing very little that hasn’t focused on trying to get myself and the boat to the Solitaire du Figaro start line. It’s exciting to be here, but still a little bit scary and nerve-racking as I don’t want to waste the opportunity. In Figaro racing it can go wrong very quickly, one tactical error, bad boat preparation, bad choices on the boat or sails and you can lose vital miles on the other boats. I need to make sure I’ve made the right decision on all of them and am as prepared as I can be.'
'This year’s Solitaire du Figaro will be very different for me, being four legs in three weeks. In 2011 and 2012 the stop-overs between legs were longer, giving us more time to recover, catch up on sleep and refuel. The way we rest between legs will be much more important this year.'