In just a couple of weeks, Artemis Offshore Academy Rookies Sam Matson, Alan Roberts and Rich Mason will come face to face with some of the Class Figaro’s finest sailors as they take on the Solo Maître Coq on 13th March.
With 35 skippers of varying Figaro lineage expected on the start line in Les Sables d’Olonne, the dress rehearsal is well and truly over for the British newcomers who have been training hard in Lorient since January in preparation for their first Figaro season. Kick starting the Academy’s 2014 competition programme, the 320 mile Solo Maître Coq will see Sam, Rich and Alan race a coastal course starting and finishing in Les Sables d’Olonne on France’s Atlantic coast. Last week the three British skippers took part in an 86-mile solo practice race, which as well as being essential preparation for their first Class Figaro event, came as an early opportunity to learn important lessons about onboard and self-management prior to the start of the season. Event Coach Marcus Hutchinson will also be on hand to give significant guidance to the Rookies in the build up to the Solo Maître Coq. Going into his third season working with the Artemis Offshore Academy squad, Marcus knows what Sam, Alan and Rich will be going through as they ready themselves for in their first big solo offshore adventure.
'During our 13 hour offshore training race, it became pretty apparent how much of a level up the Solo Maître Coq is going to be,' Rich explained. 'There are still so many unknowns, simple things like sleeping onboard, eating and sailing in the dark, but they are all things that we can only get better at with more race experience and offshore miles. I’m definitely looking forward to the Solo Maître Coq and getting into race mode, but as Marcus always reminds us – you have first to finish before you can finish first!'
While most of us have quickly tired of the windswept conditions wrought by the wet and wild storms of recent weeks, Sam, Rich and Alan relished in the gutsy 35-40 knot squalls launching them across the north western coast of France in training, as they worked on refining their speed, starts, set up and maneuvers. Lining up against the experience of Adrien Hardy, Corentin Douguet, Nicolas Jossier in practice, as well as Academy graduate Ed Hill, Irish sailor of the year Dave Kenefick and fellow Rookie Gwénolé Gahinet, the Anglo Academy trio have been able to measure their improvements out on the water against the varying skill sets of the Lorient Grand Large training group. However, with just two weeks to go, the Rookie trio grow increasingly impatient with both excitement and trepidation as the countdown to the Solo Maître Coq and their first solo offshore race begins: 'We’re managing to keep up with the ‘intermediate’ sailors more often than not in training now, especially during the short course racing, which I think is mine and Rich’s dinghy racing side coming out to play,' Alan reported, pleased with his progress in training. 'But the onboard and self-management side of solo sailing and the process of preparing for a race with safety checks, French briefings, unknown competition and the racing itself is all new to us. I’m both excited and anxious to get out on the race course now and experience the toughness of a competitive Figaro fleet and race for myself.'
In addition to their weekly training programme and practice races, the Artemis Offshore Academy squad have made recces to notorious areas of the north western French course such as Belle Île, the Raz de Sein and Chenal du Four, all scenes of dramatic photos in recent weeks as the winter storms batter not only the UK, but the north west coast of France too. While their Figaros were strapped to the docks to protect them from the storms, the Academy sailors made the most of being inside by spending time at their makeshift chart table (the lounge wall) to study the coast line of the 2014 season race courses: 'Getting to grips with specific and unknown areas of the course is essential,' Sam explained. 'Knowing the tidal influences and local land effects could make all the difference when it comes to a race. There’s not enough time to learn everything, but we are trying our hardest with paper charts and taking any opportunity to pay these areas of the coast a visit before we experience them during a race.'
Today (Thursday 27th February), the Artemis Offshore Academy Figaros are being weighed to ensure that they are in line with the strict Class Figaro rules, before they are put through a mock ‘jauge’ (compulsory measuring and safety checks) on Friday to prepare Sam, Rich and Alan for what is to come ahead of the Solo Maître Coq - starting in just 14 days’ time. Until then, it’s back to business in training with Tanguy Le Glatin in Lorient, before sailing 100 miles south to Les Sables d’Olonne. Artemis Offshore Academy