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Henri-Lloyd 2020 LEADERBOARD

Positive Harris ready for The Solitaire URGO Le Figaro

by François Quiviger 23 May 2019 05:37 PDT 27 May - 30 June 2019
Will Harris - Hive Energy © Thomas Deregnieaux

English solo skipper Will Harris has had his setbacks during his preparations for the imminent Solitaire URGO Le Figaro. But despite this he has remained determined and positive throughout what has proven a tiring and challenging build-up to the annual multi-stage solo French classic series which will be sailed in the new Figaro Bénéteau 3 for the first time.

Keel damage early in the first major race for the new Figaro Bénéteau 3 in late March has left Harris' Hive Energy out of action in the boatshed for most of the intense build-up period. But Harris has kept his focus and carried on with his scheduled racing and training programme using a borrowed boat, and with a series of solid results has firmly underlined his huge potential for the upcoming The Solitaire URGO Le Figaro.

Harris, a 25-year-old graduate in Oceanographic Studies from Weybridge in Surrey, won the top rookie award at his first attempt on The Solitaire in 2016 when he was just 23.

He has been away from solo racing for a couple of years pursuing other projects, including a valuable learning experience as a 'Race Expert' technical commentator on the Volvo Ocean Race. He has also been doing plenty of crewed offshore sailing with an enthusiastic racing owner who has subsequently become the main backer of his Hive Energy Figaro project.

A former high performance dinghy sailor who was on the GBR squad programmes for seven years, Harris transitioned to solo offshore racing in 2013 and remains unequivocal that his long term objective is to win The Solitaire, despite it being the highest level of solo offshore one design racing in the world and the podium positions each year being entirely French dominated.

"I don't like to really set myself a goal for The Solitaire," Harris says as he puts the finishing touches to his Figaro Beneteau 3. "I want to not be happy until I'm winning the thing. I just don't want to say 'oh I'll be happy in the top 10'. I'd rather be not happy until I'm winning. It's the only mindset to have when you are on your boat alone."

The adoption of the new foil assisted, faster, lighter and more exciting Figaro Bénéteau 3 has proven a magnetic attraction to many of the very top names in solo racing. Amongst them is current Vendée Globe champion Armel Le Cléac'h who won the Solo Concarneau in early May, Michel Desjoyeaux twice Vendée Globe winner, and three times Solitaire winners Yann Eliès and Jérémie Beyou.

The field for the 50th anniversary edition of the race is bigger, stronger, more competitive and more open than ever before and Harris is delighted to have the chance to compete again with a top quality programme.

"To win the Solitaire du Figaro is the peak of offshore sailing. I don't think there's any other races harder than it in terms of the intense level of racing. There are things like the Vendée Globe and the Volvo Ocean Race which physically are long and tough races. But the Solitaire is actual solo offshore racing at its hardest in terms of the intensity and the level of the sailing you have to be at to win it."

Months spent embedded at the HQ for the Volvo Ocean Race in Spain, pouring over weather routing files and models, looking to second guess the strategies and thinking of the race teams on the water, massively improved his already solid understanding of the weather. He is a naturally fast sailor thanks to all his hard miles in top level dinghy sailing and very happy in tight, fleet situations.

"I basically sat in Alicante with a dream set up, all the tools a navigator could ask for, in our control room, Harris explains. "I've built some good skills up in terms with being able to use those tools to my advantage. And I worked closely with the race meteorologist, Gonzalo Infante, learning a lot from him. He's a very experienced navigator."

As well as making sure his race boat is back to the best possible shape, Harris has ensured he has done his pre-race preparation, identifying any key points on the four stages of racing.

"There are two critical points in the race this year," reckons Harris. "The first one is going up to the Isle of Man and depending on what conditions we have for that, sometimes it's a very light wind and deciding which way to go up and down the Irish sea is definitely quite important because no one really knows about it. There's a lot of effects from the high mountains in Wales, I think that is going to be a really big part of it.

"And then the other thing will be the third leg around from Roscoff where you're racing lots of tidal waters and if you can get a few minutes from the rest of the fleet then that can jump to two hours very easily. I think this is what I've learnt over the last couple of years. You can be as quick as you like in the Figaro but if you don't go the right way, you are history. And that's going to be the big difference."

2,130 nautical miles of challenging offshore racing across four legs await the skippers after departing Nantes (France) on the 2nd June for Kinsale (Ireland), and back to France and Roscoff before a finish Dieppe, in what is the longest course in the races history.

Visit the Solitiare URGO Le Figaro website to view Will's profile here

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