With just a week to go until the start of the Solo Maître Coq (11:00 GMT, Thursday 13th March), Artemis Offshore Academy Rookies Sam Matson, Alan Roberts and Rich Mason are up against one of their biggest challenges yet – preparing for the big unknown. At 320 miles, the sailors’ first competitive Figaro race starting and finishing in the iconic port of Les Sables d’Olonne will be the longest distance the 2014 newbies will have sailed since their training started.
Throw into the mix an additional 33 skippers and some rough, tough conditions and the demanding coastline of northwestern France, all while trying to manage sleep, boat speed and working hard to make intelligent decisions – it becomes a complicated equation. Excited to get out on the course, but apprehensive as to what they’re up against, Sam Rich and Alan have spent the past two months readying themselves for their first ever dice with the Class Figaro fleet.
'With just a week to go until the start of the Solo Maître Coq, I’m feeling a lot more prepared than I thought I would be,' explained Rich. 'However, it’s just not possible to feel 100% confident as it’s just such a big unknown. I don’t really know what being prepared or unprepared is yet and I’m looking forward to coming out the other side of this first race and knowing what we’ve got to work on ahead of the next one.'
Thirty-six solo competitors will take their place on the Solo Maître Coq start line in a weeks’ time, from a long list of Figaro favourites; Yann Elies, Adrien Hardy, Jérémie Beyou, Fabien Delahaye, Alexis Loison, Nicolas Jossier, Alan Gautier (the list goes on), to eight Rookies (see full list below) making their debut on the Figaro circuit. Racing a similar course in 2013, Academy sailors Jack Bouttell, Ed Hill and Irish Figarist Dave Kenefick conquered the Rookie division podium, leaving no room for the French under the ‘ones to watch’ spotlight – an exciting step forward for British Figaro sailing. This year seven Academy skippers will take part in the race, including graduates Sam Goodchild, Henry Bomby, Jack Bouttell, Ed Hill and Rookies Sam, Alan and Rich, who would love to make it an all Artemis next generation podium in 2014. However, the most important thing to focus on for the Rookies during their first event will be just keeping up with the rest of the fleet, as Artemis Offshore Academy Event Coach Marcus Hutchinson explained: 'The Academy’s number one priority if for the Rookies to sail safely and to finish the course.
We want them to come ashore with more questions than answers at the end of the Solo Maître Coq, because they will learn more in this race than in anything they have done so far. They will need to learn the importance of staying fresh and in the hunt at the beginning of the race, and that smart decisions will minimize their losses on the leaders as the race progresses and fatigue sets in.'
Read Marcus’ pre-race write up, ‘The biggest challenge’ here
Kicking off from Les Sables d’Olonne, the 320 mile Solo Maître Coq takes the fleet south through a narrow passage between the first island, Île de Ré and La Rochelle. Rounding the island, the skippers will start on the long leg north past the tiny island Île d’Yeu and on towards Belle Île and the most northern point of the course. Passing Belle Île to port, the fleet will round Birvideaux lighthouse and head back towards Les Sables d’Olonne, before one last loop of Île de Ré, this time to port and across the finish line: 'We’re expecting changeable conditions out on the course,' said Sam, ready to start his first solo season after two years racing the Figaro double-handed. 'In addition to wind shifts, it will be important to keep an eye on the islands as they will react with the weather quite a lot. Knowing where you want to be on the approach to the islands will be important so that you don’t get stuck in a wind shadow or blown into the island. There’s going to be a lot of decisions to be made when out on the course, which I think will determine our race.'
The sailors have spent the past two weeks measuring, mending, cleaning and preparing their Figaros to ensure they are on fighting form for next week. They now have a final two days of training with coach Tanguy LeGlatin in Lorient, before making the 100-mile delivery to Les Sables d’Olonne on Friday (7th March) afternoon. Race briefings and ‘jauge’ (checks on rules compliance) start in Les Sables d’Olonne on 11th March, ahead of the start of the Solo Maître Coq at 11:00 GMT on Thursday 13th March.
The Solo Maître Coq course -
Keep up to date with the progress of the Artemis Offshore Academy Solo Maître Coq competitors in the build up to the race via the Academy website
, where you will also be able to track Rookies Sam, Alan, Rich and graduates Jack, Ed, Sam and Henry during the race.
Sam Matson (Artemis 21): 'I do feel slightly apprehensive ahead of this race, although I do feel comfortable being offshore on the Figaro. Having sailed the boat for two years now, I'm pretty happy sleeping and eating onboard and I think I know my limits. The biggest unknown for me is sailing on my own against sailors I know are good, but I've never sailed against before. I hope to finish the race with the fleet and hopefully be somewhere in the mix in the Rookie division.'
Alan Roberts (Artemis 23): 'I feel 90% ready for the race, as we’ve still got to get to Les Sable d’Olonne safely and there’s a week of preparation and jauge to go before we start. My goal for the Solo Maître Coq is to finish the race, I’d be really happy to finish in touch with the fleet, as I’ve never done anything like this before. I think the corners of the course where there are islands are going to be quite tactical, and the straights in between are going to be about speed and this is where us rookies could potentially lose the most ground.'
Rich Mason (Artemis 77): 'This week has been all about getting the boats in the best shape they can be. We’ve had them out of the water and I’ve spent the past two days working on and rubbing down the boat – which I can tell you in the rain is not very fun! It’s hard to say if I’m prepared or not, as we’ve never raced solo before. There’s still lots of things I’d like to do with my boat, but I’m feeling a lot more prepared than I thought I would be.'
The squad have two days of training before heading for Les Sables d’Olonne - © Artemis Offshore Academy
Ed Hill (Macmillan Cancer Support): 'It’s nice preparing to race a course I’ve done before and I’d ideally like to keep in the mix and finish with the sailors I’ve been training with while in Lorient. One thing that I’m really going to work on this year is my sleep and resting patterns, starting with the Solo Maître Coq. Fatigue was one of my biggest problems last year, I’d be going well with the fleet and I’d start to tail off as I got tired. We’ve got three races ahead of the Solitaire du Figaro, and I plan to use these as practice and find a better sleep routine – hopefully I won’t start hallucinating this year, it’s scary stuff.'
Jack Bouttell (Tetraktys): 'I put my newly chartered boat in the water this week, and after running the electrics and engine for a couple of hours a few problems became apparent – but I think I’ve dealt with most of them now. It’s been a pretty tight turn around between chartering a boat, getting it race ready and getting to the race. For me the Solo Maître Coq is a chance to stretch the legs of my Figaro and see what I’m going to need to work on. My goal is to get around the course with the fleet with no major breakages, and then be totally ready and at the top of my game for the Solo Concarneau.'
Sam Goodchild (Boat name to be announced): 'My goal for the first race of the season is to sail a consistent race and stay in contention with the leaders of the pack. I'd be very happy to cross the Solo Maître Coq finish line as one of the top ten finishers, but as always there it is a strong field and I expect it to be tight at the top. I'm looking forward to an exciting year ahead in 2014.'
Henry Bomby (Boat name to be announced): 'I’ve spent a great couple of months training with the gang at Port La Fôret and I’m now really looking forward to the first race next week. This is my third season racing the Figaro and I’ve got a couple of new sponsors onboard this year, which is exciting. I hope to return to the Figaro circuit in better form than ever in 2014 and take home my best results yet.' Artemis Offshore Academy