Light Start to the Figaro Season!
Light Start to the Figaro Season!
Having spent the last couple of winter months at the Lorient Grand Large training camp sailing in 20 - 30 knot winds, we were ready to attack the first Figaro race of the season, the 2014 Solo Maitre Coq. With 40 boats entered, including most of the top skippers, it was destined to be an intense initial showdown. For such an early race in the season I was mentally expecting to receive a hammering from the weather. That was until forecasts of 4 knots for the first 24 hours introduced a different story. Who would have thought the relentless February gales would ever give way to this seemingly perpetual high pressure and sunny skies? What’s going on?!
The race organisers were forced to shorten the original course up to Belle Isle and instead settled on alternate laps of Isle d’Yeu and Isle de Re from Les Sables, thus providing a safety net to bring the boats back in if the race was cut short. A good safety measure, though in my opinion such a course could end up being a drag race with significantly reduced tactical opportunities. As it happened, the fickleness in the wind provided many challenges during the first half of the race.
After a not-so rock and roll slow start, the light winds had dissolved by the evening into a barely noticeable breath. Ten hours later, notching up a painful average of 2.9 knots, we eventually reached Isle d’Yeu and were promptly forced to anchor in the weak foul tide. Those unlucky sailors who went too far inshore ended up parking up for a great deal longer, sadly making their race almost over before it had begun.
I arrived at Isle d’Yeu in around 15th place, having struggled to familiarise myself once again with downwind VMG sailing in such light airs. I opted to go a little further offshore than a few other boats, but soon enough just 20m further offshore a line of 10 boats crawled past me, nose to tail, whilst we were left wallowing inshore desperately trying to escape.
By the time I joined the back of the queue I could count the number of boats behind me quite easily, which admittedly was quite depressing when my hopes had been to be muscling with the Top 10. I hadn’t exactly hit the ground running in my return to solo offshore racing, though I am a firm believer that to a large extent you make your own luck on the water. It is very difficult to make up ground in the Figaro fleet, but I knew that staying positive and focused on the boats ahead is essential. In these races, the pack is always tightly bunched putting you hot on someone’s heels at all times.
Fortunately the wind began to pick up and I managed to start picking off boats as we raced back past Les Sables and then out to Isle de Re. During a particularly pleasant spinnaker reach I dug out my bean bag from below and went on deck to get some very overdue sleep. I knew the night ahead would be long and tactical, and so needed a recharge.
After sailing under the spectator-filled bridge of Isle de Re, just behind Nicolas Jossier and ahead of Isabelle Josche, we returned upwind in short choppy seas back to Les Sables. On my first tack out I saw what looked like hundreds of Canadian Geese sitting on the water, though after closer inspection I realised they were in fact buoys of a giant mussel pen – something I only ever seem to come across when I’m racing and obviously not studying the chart too closely.
Despite this minor detour I realised that I was making great progress up the fleet, and worked very hard to try and play the shifts as much as possible in the dark and to keep the boat moving at full speed. By this time the mist had also descended, which caused the temperature to plummet on deck. Having no gas left onboard I was dearly missing a hot cup of tea and was reluctantly living off cold food and water. Luckily the constant stacking required for each tack brought me warmth. Before long I had rounded the Les Sables buoy in 8th place, just metres ahead of Alexis Loison on Groupe Fiva.
Our final lap of Isle d’Yeu was considerably faster than the first, but far from simple due to gusty conditions. Unfortunately, on the last home straight I was hit by a particularly big gust where I broached wildly and my spinnaker promptly gave up, ripping itself to pieces. By the time I had cleared up the mess and set my small spinnaker, I had lost a couple of places. This was compounded with a fairly costly error I made at the finish, going the wrong side of the most confusing line I’ve ever come across. This enabled some of my fellow training partners from the Lorient brigade; Corentin Douguet, Adrien Hardy, and Nicolas Jossier to cross the line by the time I went back to finish correctly. A highly frustrating end to the race it has to be said, but unbelievable that the four of us finished as closely together after two days of racing, comparable with separation after a 20 minute speed test!
Although disappointed by losing a few places on the finish line, finishing 12th overall eventually, I was relatively pleased with my performance in the second half of the race. Also it is my first official solo race since La Solitaire in 2011, and it always takes a bit of time to find a rhythm again. Importantly it has highlighted the key areas I need to work on, mainly all the light wind sailing that has been absent from our windy training! Now I just have to up my game prior to the next race, the Solo Concarneau, which starts in a month’s time.
A big congratulations to the race winner, Jeremie Beyou, who overtook Yann Ellies in the closing stages, and well done to the ‘rookie’ sailors of Artemis Offshore Academy, who are showing impressive performance on the water. Lastly, many thanks to the race sponsor, Maitre Coq, for helping make this event such a success, and most of all for providing me with some highly interesting chicken race treats. Who needs a working stove when you can tuck straight into some ready-made “Coq en Box”?!