The Transat bakery. Prologue. St Malo. France Pictures of Loïck Peyron (FRA) onboard the classic yacht Pen Duick II on which he will complete the solo transatlantic race Image licensed to Lloyd Images/ OC Sports

The Transat bakery. Prologue. St Malo. France.  Loïck Peyron (FRA) onboard the classic yacht Pen Duick II.   Image licensed to Lloyd Images/ OC Sports

Today Loïck Peyron, skipper of Pen Duick II, informed The Transat bakerly Race Management that his nostalgic voyage from Plymouth to New York had come to an end following damage to his staysail which has torn off the bridge of his boat.

Peyron reported: “Hello. Staysail plate torn off the bridge, but no problem. Unfortunately I can not continue into the wind, so for the moment I am proceeding on Quiberon Envsn. Loïck.”

Strong winds and crashing waves have played havoc with The Transat bakerly racing fleet over recent days, and Peyron’s recently restored vintage wooden ketch is the latest boat to feel the wrath of the North Atlantic.

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK  - New York. USA. Image licensed to Lloyd Images

The Transat Bakerly yacht race. The start of solo transatlantic race start from Plymouth UK – New York. USA. Image licensed to Lloyd Images

Sailing over 3050nm ‘the old way’ as a tribute to the achievements of double Transat winner Eric Tabarly and sailing legend Mike Birch, triple Transat winner Peyron will now divert to Quiberon l’Ecole Nationale de Voile (ENVSN) in France midway through his voyage, no longer able to sail his boat into the wind.

This downwind delivery back to Quiberon ENVSN, where Pen Duick II has been owned and used as part of the sailing school for nearly 50 years, should take the skipper around 10 days to complete.

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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the 'Transat Bakerley' solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the ‘Transat Bakerley’ solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

Francois Gabart, the young heart-throb of French solo offshore sailing, completed his first solo win on board his new 100ft trimaran, Macif, today when he crossed the finish line off New York.

The 33-year-old Frenchman, who in 2013 became the youngest ever winner of the Vendée Globe solo round-the-world race, sailed a brilliant race from Plymouth, covering the official distance of 3,050 nautical miles in 8 days, 8 hours, 54 minutes and 39 seconds. He narrowly missed out on a new race record, which was set by Michel Desjoyeaux in 2004, and still stands at a time of 8 days, 8 hours, 29 minutes.

Gabart actually sailed a total distance of 4,634 miles at an average speed of 23.11 knots in a remarkable voyage that, unusually for The Transat bakerly, took him and his close rival Thomas Coville on Sodebo, hundreds of miles south of the Azores into the tradewinds before sling-shotting northwest up to New York.

His beautiful blue, white and yellow Van Peteghem Lauriot-Prevost-designed multihull, in which Gabart hopes to set a new outright solo round-the-world record, reached the finish at 18:24 local time in New York, as recorded by the Sandy Hook Pilot Association boat, with its jubilant skipper waving to his team support boat as he crossed the line.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the 'Transat Bakerley' solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the ‘Transat Bakerley’ solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

Shortly afterwards Gabart reflected on a race that, for much of the time, saw him in close company with Coville on the older Sodebo. For the first three days the two skippers were never more than a few miles apart, having crossed the Bay of Biscay in sight of each other.

The competition with Thomas on Sodebo was wonderful. It made the race incredible for me.  We are working together to organise more races for these type of boats, and when we see what happened in The Transat bakerly, and how close the competition was, we know there is a place for it. This is just the beginning of the journey.”

Gabart clearly loved his first outing on his new mile-munching ocean-racing thoroughbred, and he more than stepped up to the challenge that the 30-metre giant posed. “It was a big challenge for me. You should have 10 or 15 people to manage these boats, and it’s just me. It was my first solo race on Macif, and I didn’t know if I was able to do it, so I am really proud of what I did.

“To arrive into New York was perfect. The boat is in good shape. Me? Well, maybe not! I’m very tired, but I’m incredibly proud.”

As winner of the Ultime class, Gabart will be presented with a special watch from The Transat bakerly official timekeeper Ralf Tech.

Commenting on Gabart’s performance, The Transat bakerly Event Director Herve Favre said: “Francois and Thomas put on an amazing show at the front of the fleet and Francois has emerged a worthy and deserving winner. Over the next week we will see the winners of the IMOCA 60, Multi50 and Class40s emerge and each winner will be a hero in my book.”

The Big Apple has only been used once before in the race as the finish port and that was in the very first edition in 1960 when the winner, one Sir Francis Chichester on the monohull Gipsy Moth III, was at sea for 40 days, 12 hours 30 minutes. Sailing a multihull from a different century, Gabart was 32 days, 3 hours and 36 minutes quicker than the British legend.

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the 'Transat Bakerley' solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the ‘Transat Bakerley’ solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

As Gabart crossed the line Coville was still some 118nm from the finish while the third-placed trimaran in the Ultime class – Actual skippered by Yves Le Blevec – was still 509.6nm away.

For the other classes in the fleet, the finish line is still over 800 miles away. Armel Le Cléac’h (Banque Populaire) continues to lead the IMOCA 60 fleet with an anticipated arrival time of 19:00 local time on Friday. Vincent Riou on PRB is 76 miles behind and still hot on his stern.

In the four-boat Multi50 class, Gilles Lamiré (Frenchtech Rennes St Malo) is continuing to extend his lead, with a 219 mile advantage between him and the chasing Lalou Roucayrol (Arkema).

Trading places at the top of the Class40 fleet is Isabelle Joschke (Generali–Horizon Mixité) and Thibaut Vauchel-Camus (Solidaires en Peloton–Arsep), with Joschke currently holding a six-mile advantage.

On Tuesday Armel Tripon on Black Pepper announced his retirement from The Transat bakerly, after he sustained damage in the week’s earlier storms, leaving eight Class40s now en route to the Big Apple.

Track the race here.

The class rankings at 20:00 BST – updated every four hours. 

ULTIME
1. Francois Gabart/Macif – Finished after 8 days, 8 hours, 54 minutes and 39 seconds
2. Thomas Coville/Sodebo – 88.21nm from the finish
3. Yves Le Blevec/Actual – 504.50nm from the finish

IMOCA 60
1. Armel Le Cléac’h/Banque Populaire – 857.2nm from the finish
2. Vincent Riou/PRB – 76.10nm from the leader
3. Jean-Pierre Dick/St Michel Virbac – 182.74nm from the leader

MULTI50
1. Gilles Lamiré/French Tech Rennes St Malo – 950nm from the finish
2. Lalou Roucayrol/Arkema – 219.62nm from the leader
3. Pierre Antoine/Olmix – 415.94nm from the leader

CLASS40
1. Isabelle Joschke/Generali Horizon Mixité – 1421.3nm from the finish
2. Thibaut Vauchel-Camus/Solidaires en Peloton – ARSEP – 6.60nm from the leader
3. Phil Sharp/Imerys – 18.59nm from the leader

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the 'Transat Bakerley' solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 10: Francois Gabart on board his MACIF ‘Ultim’ 105ft trimaran, shown here celebrating after winning the ‘Transat Bakerley’ solo transatlantic yacht race. The yachtsman set a new world record for the solo transatlantic crossing in 8 days, 8 hours 54 minutes and 39 seconds. The race started in Plymouth, UK on Monday May 3rd. May 10, 2016 on the Hudson River in New York City. (Photo by Lloyd Images)

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Solo Maître Coq - The start - Rich Mason “The highlight of the race for me was the first run to Île d’Yeu. Having not had a good first beat, I made some really good decisions and came into the island about 10th, which I was really happy with. It also gave me a bit of confidence because I knew that the decisions I was making were the right ones, so I could take that on through the race.” © Artemis Offshore Academy

Solo Maître Coq – The start – Rich Mason
“The highlight of the race for me was the first run to Île d’Yeu. Having not had a good first beat, I made some really good decisions and came into the island about 10th, which I was really happy with. It also gave me a bit of confidence because I knew that the decisions I was making were the right ones, so I could take that on through the race.” © Artemis Offshore Academy

Today at 06:52GMT, Artemis Offshore Academy skipper Rich Mason (Artemis 77) finished the 215 mile Solo Maître Coq 19th overall and second Rookie, just three minutes behind last year’s winning Rookie Jack Bouttell (Overboard) in 18th. Kicking off on Thursday 13th March, the Solo Maître Coq was a race of two halves from sunshine, super light airs, and kedging (using the anchor to stop being swept away on the tide) in the first 24 hours, to a cold fog and 18 knots of wind with a blast reach along the coast in the second. Finishing 21st of 35 boats, Ed Hill (Macmillan Cancer Support) was not bowled over by his result, but more importantly felt he took away invaluable lessons from the first race of the season, as did Rookie Alan Roberts who finished 29th overall and 5th Rookie. Henry Bomby (24th) also took something away from the Solo Maître Coq, collapsing on the dock and vowing to never again to start a race without an autopilot after being hunched at the helm for nearly 40 hours. For Henry, Sam Goodchild (Team Plymouth) and Rookie Sam Matson (Artemis 21), the Solo Maître Coq was a testing start to the season, each skipper faced their own challenges that in the end they could not overcome. Proving it doesn’t matter who or how good you are, double Solitaire du Figaro winner Yann Elies also felt the burn of close quarters Figaro racing in the Solo Maître Coq. After leading the fleet round the course for the majority of the race, Yann was pipped to the finish line on the home straight by Maître Coq skipper Jérémie Beyou, who fittingly became the Solo Maître Coq champion this morning.

His face says it all. Rich Mason comes home 19th and second Solo Maître Coq Rookie. © Artemis Offshore Academy

His face says it all. Rich Mason comes home 19th and second Solo Maître Coq Rookie. © Artemis Offshore Academy

“The first night of the race was really hard work,” Rich reported, beaming ear to ear on the docks this morning. “I’ve never drifted around so much or had to anchor in a race before and my sails were just flapping in the swell 90% of the time. However, I made some good decisions at the start, which gave me a bit of confidence. I knew that the decisions I was making were the right ones, so I could take that on through the race. I made a few ‘Rookie’ errors the more tired I got, but I’m pretty happy with my performance.”

Watch Rookies Rich and Alan’s finishing interviews.

Top Brit Phil Sharp finished in 12th place, only an error in finishing prevented him from holding on to a top 10 finish. Still a good result in this fleet for the experienced British solo sailor, with a Route du Rhum win, and a Mini Transat under his belt – his CV sits nicely with those around him on the results table.

Despite his lack of autopilot, Henry Bomby also sailed a smart race. One of the furthest boats inshore on the first run to Île d’Yeu, Henry was at the back of the fleet in 33rd. But with the fleet becalmed, he was able to sail up to and into the pack once again. By Friday (14th) morning, Henry had sailed his way past half the fleet and into 16th. At his peak, he was in 9th position, sailing hull to hull with the top skippers in the fleet. However, sailing 200+ miles without a pilot or any real rest, Henry’s body started to shut down as he explained: “I was doing quite well, then on the way back south to Les Sables d’Olonne I just crashed from being tired and on the helm the whole time. I kept nodding off. Four times I counted I woke up and I’d broached out with the spinnaker still up. I had this sort of weird internal monologue going on in my head, narrating to myself what I needed to do – it was so odd. But I can tell you, trying to take a spinnaker down without an autopilot is bloody hard.”Henry finished 24th overall after one day, 19 hours, 34 minutes and 15 seconds of racing.

For most of the skippers, their race took a dip as tiredness kicked in, however in the case of the ever consistent Jack Bouttell, he reported his race only got better with time: “The race got better for me the longer it went on. I was making stupid mistakes, as you do having not sailed for a while, but slowly and surely I worked on them and worked out was wrong with the boat and learned from them. It was a pretty tough course, one of the tougher ones I’ve done. It was just endless transitions and no wind to suddenly wind – it was just really really tough and I’m pleased with my position.” With just nine days to clean the moss from the deck of his chartered boat, fire up the electrics and generally get his new vessel into racing shape, just making it to the Solo Maître Coq start line was a challenge in itself for Jack. Stepping aboard a Figaro solo for just the third time since competing in the 2013 Solitaire du Figaro, his main aim was to get around the course with no major breakages – so to finish 19th was a great start to the season for the skipper aiming for top 15 in the Solitaire this year.

Most experienced Figaro sailor in the British fleet Sam Goodchild and 2014 Rookie Sam Matson, two skippers at either end of the Academy spectrum, both ran into trouble rounding Île d’Yeu – the kind of trouble that puts paid to a race: “The Solo Maître Coq was ok, it didn’t quite go to plan. It was a shame to miss a training session for that basically!” joked Sam Goodchild on the docks, finishing 26th overall after sailing too close to Île d’Yeu and dropping from the top ten to the bottom five, then never reconnecting with the fleet. “The first 12 hours were good for me in the top ten, I took a lot of positives out of that, but then I didn’t really see anyone after that. It’s been a long long 36 hours.”

Watch Sam Goodchild’s finishing interview here.

Sam Matson also found himself in a ‘fishy’ situation at Île d’Yeu, after getting his Figaro caught on the netting and lines of a fish farm just off the island: “I spent about half an hour trying to back my boat off of a fish farm. I had to drop both my sails and the boat was getting pushed on by the tide pretty hard. I contemplated cutting the net, but there were quite a few fishing boats around so I thought I’d better not. I eventually freed myself from the net, but by that time I was already really behind.”

The first race of the season, the Solo Maître Coq, was the most important training exercise of the Academy skippers’ programme to date. Rich, Alan and Sam will have come out of the other side of the two day Solo Maître Coq knowing more about Figaro racing than they’ve been taught in the last five months and with over a month until the Solo Concarneau Trophée Guy Cotton in May, there’s plenty of time to take heed of the lessons they’ve learned. But for now, the skippers can enjoy some well earned rest and an afternoon of RBS 6 nations action ahead of the prize giving at 18:00pm.

See the Artemis Offshore Academy skippers’ interviews post the Solo Maître Coq here.

Follow the progress of the British Figaro contingent this season via the Artemis Offshore Academywebsite, and via Facebook and Twitter.

Solo Maître Coq British Results
Postion/Skipper/Boat name/Nationality/Elapsed Time/Rookie position

12. Phil Sharp/Phil Sharp Racing/GBR/1d, 18h, 58’, 40″
18. Jack Bouttell/Overboard/GBR/1d, 19h, 14’, 15″
19. Richard Mason/Artemis 77/GBR/1d, 19h, 17’, 10″*(2nd Rookie)
21. Ed Hill/Macmillan Cancer Support/GBR/1d, 19h, 24’, 10″
24. Henry Bomby/Black Mamba/GBR/1d, 19h, 34’, 15″
26. Sam Goodchild/Team Plymouth/GBR/1d, 20h, 08’, 25″
29. Alan Roberts/Artemis 23/GBR/1d, 21h, 03’, 58″*(5th Rookie)
31. Sam Matson/Artemis 21/GBR/1d, 22h, 11’, 26″* (7th Rookie)

Solo Maître Coq Results
Postion/Skipper/Boat name/Nationality/Elapsed Time/Rookie position

1. Jérémie Beyou/Maître Coq/FRA/1d, 18h, 26’, 25″
2. Gildas Mahé/Interface Concept/FRA/1d, 18h, 29’, 10″
3. Thierry Chabagny/Gedimat/FRA/1d, 18h, 30’, 18″
4. Yann Elies/Groupe QUEGUINER-LEUCEMIE ESPOIR/FRA/1d, 18h, 31’, 10″
5. Charlie Dalin/Normandie Elite Team/FRA/1d, 18h, 38’, 25″
6. Fabien Delahaye/Skipper Macif 2012/FRA/1d, 18h, 40’, 01″
7. Alexis Loison/Groupe FIVA/FRA/1d, 18h, 44’, 37″
8. Corentin Horeau/Bretagne Credit Mutuel Performance/FRA/1d, 18h, 46’, 30″
9. Corentin Douguet/Un Maillot Pour La Vie/1d, 18h, 52’, 23″
10. Adrien Hardy/AGIR Recouvrement/FRA/1d, 18h, 52’, 42″
11. Nicolas Jossier/In Extenso Experts comptables/FRA/1d, 18h, 54’, 15″
12. Phil Sharp/Phil Sharp Racing/GBR/1d, 18h, 58’, 40″
13. Damien Guillou/La Solidarité Mutualiste/FRA/1d, 19h, 00’, 14″
14. Alain Gautier/Generali Solo/FRA/1d, 19h, 01’. 50″
15. Yoann Richomme/Skipper Macif 2014/FRA/1d, 19h, 06’, 14″
16. Sébastien Simon/Bretagne Credit Mutuel Espoir/FRA/1d, 19h, 08’, 45″*(1st Rookie)
17. David Kenefick/Full Irish/IRE/1d, 19h, 10’, 30″
18. Jack Bouttell/Overboard/GBR/1d, 19h, 14’, 15″
19. Richard Mason/Artemis 77/GBR/1d, 19h, 17’, 10″*(2nd Rookie)
20. Gwénolé Gahinet/Safran/Guy Cotton/FRA/1d, 19h, 20’, 50″*(3rd Rookie)
21. Ed Hill/Macmillan Cancer Support/GBR/1d, 19h, 24’, 10″
22. Clément Salzes/Darwin – Les Marins de la Lune/FRA/1d, 19h, 25’, 30″*(4th Rookie)
23. Claire Pruvot/Port de Caen Ouistreham/FRA/1d, 19h, 30’, 30″
24. Henry Bomby/Black Mamba/GBR/1d, 19h, 34’, 15″
25. Isabelle Joschke/Horizon Mixité/FRA/1d, 19h, 56’, 15″
26. Sam Goodchild/Team Plymouth/GBR/1d, 20h, 08’, 25″
27. Eric Peron/Generali/FRA/1d, 20h, 26’, 25″ (2h penalty time)
28. Vincent Biarnes/Prati’Buches/FRA/1d, 20h, 54’,30″(2h penalty time)
29. Alan Roberts/Artemis 23/GBR/1d, 21h, 03’, 58″*(5th Rookie)
30. Emil Tomasevic/Ultra Figaro/CRO/1d, 21h, 38’, 56″*(6th Rookie)
31. Sam Matson/Artemis 21/GBR/1d, 22h, 11’, 26″* (7th Rookie)
RTR Joan Ahrweiller/Région Basse – Normandie/FRA
RTR Alexandre Jongh/Vendée 1/FRA*
RTR Anthony Marchand/Recherche Sponsor/FRA
RTR Frédéric Rivet/DFDS Seaways/FRA

Solo Maître Coq Rookie Results
Postion/Skipper/Boat name/Nationality/Elapsed Time

1. Sébastien Simon/Bretagne Credit Mutuel Espoir/FRA/1d, 19h, 08’, 45″
2. Richard Mason/Artemis 77/GBR/1d, 19h, 17’, 10″
3. Gwénolé Gahinet/Safran/Guy Cotton/FRA/1d, 19h, 20’, 50”
4. Clément Salzes/Darwin – Les Marins de la Lune/FRA/1d, 19h, 25’, 30″
5. Alan Roberts/Artemis 23/GBR/1d, 21h, 03’, 58″
6. Emil Tomasevic/Ultra Figaro/CRO/1d, 21h, 38’, 56″
7. Sam Matson/Artemis 21/GBR/1d, 22h, 11’, 26″
RTR Alexandre Jongh/Vendée 1/FRA

Ed Hill tucks in behind Rich Mason on route to Île de Ré on the second day of the Solo Maître Coq. © Artemis Offshore Academy

Ed Hill tucks in behind Rich Mason on route to Île de Ré on the second day of the Solo Maître Coq. © Artemis Offshore Academy

The 46 Solitaire du Figaro skippers © Artemis Offshore Academy

The 46 Solitaire du Figaro skippers © Artemis Offshore Academy

The fourth and final 430-mile leg of the 2011 Solitaire du Figaro starts tomorrow (Sunday 21/08/11 at 11:00 BST) from Les Sables d’Olonne (France), home to the start of the legendary solo, non-stop round the world Vendée Globe race. For the British Artemis Offshore Academy sailors Sam Goodchild (Artemis), Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) and Conrad Humphreys (DMS) this has been their first experience of the Solitaire du Figaro; however, for Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics) it is his third time in this highly competitive race.

As expected, it has been a steep learning curve for the first-timers, as they deal with the challenges of racing solo in such a competitive field on short and demanding offshore courses. Not surprisingly, some harsh lessons have been learnt along the way which is all part of the learning process and the main reason for being part of the Solitaire du Figaro as the British sailors strive to carve out their own solo careers.

Sharp, who has competed in other demanding solo races like the solo transatlantic Route du Rhum, has been placed in the top ten for most of the legs so far and is chasing the top spot in the ‘Rookie’ class: “ There’s only 40 minutes (between me and the leader of the rookie class) and a lot could happen in this last leg,” explains Sharp. “If you miss a tide gate then potentially you could lose two hours, so it’s going to be important to be in touch with the front of the fleet as we go around and capitalise on any change in the weather we see.”

This leg takes the fleet of 46 one-design Figaro boats from Les Sables d’Olonne around the Brittany coast to finish in Dieppe next Wednesday. The fleet of solo offshore sailors will battle it out against each other for quickest time with the winner of the Solitaire du Figaro being the sailor with the lowest accumulated time after competing in the four legs.

Looking forward to the next leg Humphreys explained: “The final leg is an epic coastal challenge. Both Ille de Yeu and Belle Isle must be left to port which limits the option to head more offshore and keeps the fleet together close to the coast. The main decision will be when to leave the North Brittany coast to head offshore towards Alderney as the routing suggests, although the weather models are not in agreement.”

Conrad Humphreys poses for photos with fans © Artemis Offshore Academy

Spending a few days in Les Sables d’Olonne has had Humphreys’ reminiscing about his previous participation in the Vendée Globe whilst the other three can only dream about their long-term aim of competing in a future edition of the Vendée Globe. “It was the start of the Vendée race in 2004 that really inspired me to try to do a Figaro,” said King. “I want to do a competitive Vendée Globe campaign in the future – that’s always been the ambition from day one. There’s definitely a different atmosphere at this port, there’s a special connection to offshore sailing here. Everywhere you go there are videos, photographs, the restaurants and bars have pictures of Vendée Globe skippers, so it’s a nice pick-you-up to everyone who aspires to do that race.”

The month-long, four-leg Solitaire du Figaro is seen as the main training ground for sailors wanting to enter the Vendée Globe in years to come. It’s the biggest race 21-year old Sam Goodchild, the youngest competitor in the fleet and winner of the Artemis Offshore Academy scholarship, has ever done: “It’s good to be racing against some of the top guys who are here and learning from them, it just makes the experience a whole lot more beneficial for me. It’s not just another sailing regatta, it’s got so much more to it than that – learning about your boat, learning about yourself, learning about everything really. It’s got so much more to it than I ever imagined, it’s gone way over my expectations.”

Britain’s Samantha Davies, who competed in the last Vendée Globe capturing the hearts of the public and media in both the UK and France along the way, has also competed in the Solitaire du Figaro four times. She and Nigel King both achieved a sixth place leg finish – the best result for the British in this French dominated race.  Davies appreciates first-hand what the sailors are going through: “For me it’s probably the hardest sailing race that’s available on the planet. The fact that it’s single-handed obviously makes it pretty extreme to start with. But I think it’s the intensity of the race, you’re just accumulating fatigue, mental and physical tiredness from thinking about tactics, strategy and weather all the time.”

UK Figaro II National Championships

 

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

 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.

Sam 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.

The 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.”

Getting 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 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 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

SOLITAIRE DU FIGARO 2011 (Photo by Alexis COURCOUX Jean-Christophe MARMARA / Le Figaro)