Final Countdown to Start of the Solitaire du Figaro

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UK Fleet

Friday 29th July, 2011

Artemis Offshore Academy sailors on form with just two days to the start of Leg 1 on Sunday…

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With just two days to go before the start of the 42nd Solitaire du Figaro race, the atmosphere around the dock in Perros-Guirec, (Brittany, France) where all 47 competing Figaro boats are moored, is beginning to hot up. Some of the world’s most talented solo sailors including last year’s winner, Frenchman Armel Le Cléac’h, are making final preparations before heading out for Friday’s Prologue race and the start of Leg 1 on Sunday at 1100 CET.

Artemis offshore academy sailorsSam Goodchild, Nigel King, Conrad Humphreys and Phil Sharp are the only British contenders in the predominantly French 47-strong field, and they have been putting themselves through a rigorous training programme with the Artemis Offshore Academy in preparation for the Solitaire du Figaro. This has been their focus for many months and now the time is here to perform. For Sam, Conrad and Phil it is their first participation and they will be out to shine in the ‘Rookie’ Division, whilst King is returning for a second time.

Solitaire du figaro course map 2011The Solitaire du Figaro is regarded as one of the major offshore events on the calendar and always attracts the best of the solo world including up and coming talent, seasoned professionals and returning veterans.

The standard of competition is exceptionally high, which is a direct reflection of the successful formula of the event combined with the knowledge that participation in this event advances a sailors chances in the major, round the world competitions like the Vendée Globe. Racing takes place in identical Figaro Bénéteau 2 class yachts to a strict, one-design rule which means competitors go head to head using their tactical skills, strategy and weather analysis to identify the fastest route round the course.

This four-leg marathon of a race around the English Channel and Irish Sea covers a total of 1,695 nautical miles with the longest leg – from Dun Laoghaire to Les Sables d’Olonne – at 475 nautical miles. Each leg takes between 3-5 days depending on the weather, and it is the most intense form of offshore solo sailing, with the sailors barely managing more than a few minutes sleep at a time. The racing is close with the boats often finishing within minutes, if not seconds of each other.

Sam Goodchild, the 21 year old who won the Artemis Offshore Academy fully-funded scholarship earlier this year, said: “It has been an extremely big learning curve. I will be spending the last few days brushing up on the course, and the weather and trying to keep stress down to a minimum. One of my biggest worries about the race is sleeping and making sure I get the right balance. There will be a certain amount of pressure however, because the better results I get the easier it will be to continue my career path.”

Conrad humphreysGetting the right amount of sleep on a four-leg, sprint course is crucial. Even for first timer Conrad Humphreys who is a seasoned global solo sailor: “Comparing it to the Vendée Globe, I would say it is harder because with this race your performance right from the start is everything, and it is much more intense. In my opinion, the key to success in this race is to get a good start, hang in for the first 24 hours and keep pace, which may mean not much sleep. I have also noticed that the last 72 hours of the race is when the competitors start to suffer with fatigue the most so if you can keep something in reserve for that final day then I think you can make quite a lot of places.”

Nigel kingNigel King, the most experienced Solitaire du Figaro sailor within the four-strong British team, is under no illusions about the reality of his performance. “The first Figaro I did in 2007 was a full shock to the system because I thought I had done enough solo sailing before the event. Nothing could have been further from reality. In fact it was only then I discovered how much I didn’t know!”

Phil sharpPhil Sharp, winner of the Solo Basse-Normandie earlier this year, is no stranger to the world of solo sailing, having spent many years in the Open 6.50 class where he finished a creditable fourth overall in the 2005 Mini Transat. “There have been quite a lot of financial hurdles to get over, so making that happen has sort of compromised my on the water training a bit,” said Sharp. “However, I am quite happy with my speed, it is now just a case of working on the navigation prep to try and get as much knowledge in my head as possible before the start on Sunday.”

Utilising the skills they have learnt throughout their rigorous winter training and the using experience gained on the Figaro circuit this season should see the British team in a positive frame of mind for the start. Humphreys summing up the views and expectations of the team said: “If any of us made it to the top 30 that would be a great achievement, to get into the top half would be brilliant, the top 20 would be absolutely amazing!”

Solitaire du Figaro Race Itinerary:

Leg 1: Perros-Guirec to Caen (320 miles)
Departs: Sunday, 31st July

Leg 2: Caen to Dun Laoghaire (470 miles)
Departs: Sunday, 7th August

Leg 3: Dun Laoghaire to Les Sables d’Olonne (475 miles)
Departs: Sunday, 14th August

Leg 4: Les Sables d’Olonne to Dieppe (430 miles)
Departs: Sunday, 21st August

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