The mighty 1,938 mile Solitaire du Figaro commences on Sunday 2nd June (12:00 BST) and it is time to knuckle down for the Artemis Offshore Academy competitors. After an exciting weekend of public appearances, photo shoots and the friendly inter-fleet drag racing in Bordeaux, today (Wednesday 29th May) race preparation is fully on the agenda as winter training coach Nico Berenger, from the Centre d'Entrainement Méditerranée, kicks off the first of many course and weather briefings in the count down to the off.
'The first few days here in Bordeaux have been fairly relaxed, as with a week to the start it would so easy to burn yourself out thinking about what’s coming,' explained Ed Hill, who is readying himself to take on the biggest challenge in his sailing career to date on Sunday. 'But now with just four days to go to the start, it’s time to get our heads down and into race mode.'
Arriving in Bordeaux on Friday 24th May, Academy Rookies Ed and Jack Bouttell were amazed by the support from the 30,000 Solitaire du Figaro enthusiasts lining the river Gironde to wave the 41 Solitaire du Figaro skippers into the city: 'It was insane!' Jack recalled. 'I have never seen so many people out to see a sailing event. The French really embrace sailing and it is fantastic to see.'
For Artemis Offshore Academy graduates Sam Goodchild, Henry Bomby and Nick Cherry, the warm reception in Bordeaux came as a welcome return to the celebrated race, with crowd pleasers Henry and Nick nursing a couple of aching arms after a weekend of perpetual waving. However, with 1,938 miles of the toughest race in the Class Figaro calendar waiting for them over the start line, the time for fun and games is now over.
Leg 1 of the Solitaire du Figaro runs 536 miles between the start line in Pauillac (Bordeaux), a small port 28 miles down the Gironde river, and the finish line in Porto (Portugal) via the notorious Cape Finistere.
With just 48 hours between Leg 1 and the 452 mile Leg 2 from Porto to Gijon (Spain), it is important for the fleet to do their homework on the first half of the 1,938 mile course now, as Ed explained: 'Leg 1 is longer than any of the other races we have done this season and we'll have just two days on land before Leg 2 to Gijon starts. Learning the race legs now is vital, as there will only be time to fix up the boat and recover during the stopover, there'll be no time to be learning anything new. Arriving in Porto after our longest solo race to date, we'll have 1,402 miles and three legs still to race!'
From Porto, the 41 Solitaire du Figaro skippers head to Gijon and from Gijon begins the third 436 mile race to Roscoff (France), the shortest of all four race Legs. In Roscoff, the skippers will have four days, a long stopover in Solitaire terms, to rest and recuperate before the final 514 mile Leg 4 to the finish line in Dieppe.
'I would like Jack, Ed, Nick, Sam and Henry to arrive into Roscoff having given Leg 3 everything, almost to the extent that I have to carry the exhausted skippers up the pontoon once they have finished,' said race coach Marcus Hutchinson. 'They know they have a good spell in which to recover before leaving for Dieppe and so can afford to flirt with the red line on this third Leg.'
Setting off on the final push from Roscoff on the 20th June, the by now weary Academy skippers should find that added surge of motivation as they cut across their home waters on route to the finish line. Heading north from Roscoff and across the channel, the five British sailors will race to Wolfe Rock, then turning east and onto key south coast headlands the Lizard, Start Point and Portland Bill, before heading up the south east coast of the Isle of Wight Then cutting back across The Channel from a mark off of Bognor Regis, to Dieppe, where the race is expected to finish on Sunday 23rd June.
If you can’t be in Bordeaux to wave the Academy sailors off this weekend, you can show your support for Jack, Ed, Nick, Henry and Sam by biting your nails and screaming at a screen from the comfort of your own home, as the start of the Solitaire du Figaro will be streamed live via the official race website from 11:50 BST for one hour. Thereafter, you can track the progress of the Brits for the duration of the race via the official Solitaire du Figaro live race tracker on the Artemis Offshore Academy website, set to update every six minutes - great news for insomniacs, bad news for tracker addicts!