This weekend kick started the 2012 Solitaire du Figaro with a blustery 17-mile prologue coastal race off Paimpol, France with all 37 single-handed skippers competing. Artemis Offshore Academy sailors Sam Goodchild, Nick Cherry and Henry Bomby are the only Brits in the race. Recently selected to compete Henry Bomby displayed promise with a 12th place overall finish in 40+ knot winds and was the first ‘rookie’ (never raced a Solitiaire before) to finish, while Goodchild and Cherry joined eight other skippers to retire. Leg one of the race starts from Paimpol on the 24th June and will see the sailors race the longest of the three legs at 504 miles to Gijion, Spain.
“For the last three years I have focused all my efforts in sailing to get to the start line of La Solitaire du Figaro, so to actually be here in the race village this week as a skipper competing in the race is a great feeling in itself,” said a delighted Bomby. “But the race is tough, and it’s a harsh environment that we compete in and I am sure I will learn a huge amount over the next month, both competitively and about myself.”
Goodchild is looking to improve on his 2011 34th place finish with a finish in the top half of the fleet, no mean achievement in this fleet where any one of the top 20 could be on the podium overall. This year there are only six sailors in the ‘rookie’ 37-boat fleet including Cherry and Bomby whose aim will be for a ‘rookie’ podium finish in a tough category bristling with new talent. Whilst picking an overall winner at this stage is difficult, the race favourites include the prologue winner Fred Duthil (Seplumic, 8 previous competitions), Yann Ellis (Morbic, 12), Thierry Chabagny (Gedimat, 10), Alexis Loison (Groupe Fiva, 6), Morvan Gildas (Cercle Vert, 16) and Ewan Tabarly (Nacarat, 11). One returning sailor who has the Solitaire du Figaro coursing in his veins is Jean Paul Mouren who has previously competed in the race a staggering 25 times, and will start his 100th Solitiare du Figaro leg in this years race.
“It’s exciting to be competing in this race, there’s no place like it to gain experience,” reports Goodchild who is recovering from a dislocated shoulder but is confident he will be fit for the start. “I’m still quite young compared to the others in the fleet, so I’m fortunate to be able to race in this highly competitive class of racing. This year’s race will no doubt enable me to learn once again from the seasoned Figaro skippers and develop my skills to benefit me in the future whether I fulfill my ambition to do the solo Vendée Globe or carry on in short handed or crewed offshore racing, it’s invaluable experience.”
Speaking after the prologue John Thorn, Artemis Offshore Academy Performance Director said: “It’s hard to explain just how much skill these sailors have picked up in the last few months of training and racing. Sailing a 33ft foot yacht in 35+ knots of wind is tough but racing, well that’s why there only 37 sailors on the start line – it takes a very special person to do this, and whatever the result just competing is a right of passage and the Academy support team are terrifically proud of this year’s three Academy Solitaire du Figaro sailors.”
Artemis Offshore Academy event coach Marcus Hutchinson has one the widest sets of experiences in sailing today. Able to call on Olympic, shorthanded, youth, amateur, round the world (crewed and solo) and America’s Cup sailing campaigns. An accomplished sailor he has competed twice in the Solitaire du Figaro (1998 and 2000) something that, along with his full understanding of all things French, makes him well positioned to help the Artemis Offshore Academy achieve its goals for this year’s race. Hutchinson will be reporting on the race and you can read his blogs online here.
Event Coach Update
Henry had arrived the night before (fresh from a top 20 place at the J80 World Championships) and so hadn’t seen his boat for nearly two weeks and certainly hadn’t seen his brand new suit of sails delivered fresh for this event. Initially his main wouldn’t go up the mast because of a piece of surplus sticky-back on his luff tape. In the narrow confines of the river by Lesardrieux and the 40+ knot gusts whistling down the valley this had the potential to make things complicated with the edges of the river very close to the limping Figaro. The luff jumped out of the prefeeder and wasn’t going either up or down. We rectified the problem by jumping on board and helping Henry with another pair of hands, a knife, a cut through the boltrope and some diligent poking pushing and pulling. Main up and off he went. A mile further down the river it was time for him to gybe and in the flat water and relatively slow speed of the boat and perhaps too much boom vang on the fitting under the boom ripped off leaving Henry with no kicker and leech control. A quick repair with a sail tie and some lashing and we had him race fit again with still eight miles to sail to the course area.