French teams power through
It would be arrogant to think that British shorthanded sailors could simply mosey into the Figaro circuit and immediately give the French a hiding. The two French teams competing at the second ever UK Figaro Nationals in Weymouth, after finishing in second and third places in Monday-Tuesday’s overnight race from Cherbourg via the Needles, today demonstrated the kind of superior boat handling and tactical skill that comes from years rather than just months of intensive racing and training on the Beneteau-built twin ruddered 32 footers.
Few outside of France realise that with the handful of centres around France, the most famous being the Finistère department-backed Pol Atlantique in Port la Foret, the degree of training that takes place in the Figaro class is genuinely second only to the Olympics and America’s Cup. And there are many sailors in the solo offshore racing one design class who have been doing it for years.
Today four inshore races were held on Weymouth Bay on next year’s Olympic courses, with a 1.2 mile beat that was shortened to 1 mile after the second race when the wind dropped to single figures and swung left by 50 degrees. Why does a class that is principally offshore race inshore? Simply because short courses are much more intense and it is a greater test of the quality of manoeuvres.
In the compact seven boat fleet, and despite sailing on unfamiliar waters, a 5-2-2-1 scoreline was enough to propel Jean-Charles Monnet and Alexandre Toulorge up to level points with leaders Conrad Humphreys and Ollie Young aboard DMS, winner of the double points scoring cross-Channel race. Nicolas Jossier and Alexis Loison on Entreprendre en Pays Granvillais are just two points behind in third.
So Jean-Charles Monnet has been racing in the Figaro class for five years and has competed in four Solitaires, his best result being 18th last year. He has chartered the boat off his co-skipper, Alexandre who has sailed the Solitaire seven times... So perhaps it is surprising that the British sailors were able to claim any races off them at all.
“The place is difficult, but it is very interesting and on the first start we were not very fast, but after the rest of the races we were okay. I hope tomorrow to have a good result to confirm our first place,” Monnet told us.
The reason they are competing is that they are based in Normandy and the Artemis boats made the effort to come to their race last week – the Solo Basse Normandie with Brits taking first and second. “It is good to come here to do this race. I think all the boats of Artemis sail very well and it is good training. There are a lot of good sailors and good infrastructure,” Monnet continued, referring to the impressive Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy perched on the edge of Portland Harbour. “I think all the English people are very good and ‘sympathic’.”
So how many years will it take for a British sailor to win the Solitaire? “It is possible in one year!” he says with a twinkle in his eye that suggests there is NO WAY a British sailor will win the class’ most prestigious event in singlehanded one design calendar on their first attempt. “I think the Artemis system is very good. They have a lot of boats and a lot of months to prepare for the Solitaire. I think it is an example.”
Significantly the racing at the UK Figaro Nationals is doublehanded and, as Artemis Offshore Academy winner Sam Goodchild demonstrated to us earlier in the day, this is considerably easier than singlehanded, with a second human being rather than a wobbly autopilot helming.
There are only seven boats racing at the UK Figaro Nationals, five of which are British - three from the Artemis Offshore Academy, plus Conrad Humphreys’ DMS campaign and that of Nigel King with his new sponsor E Line Orthodontics. While this is a solid start, to get more boats and more participation from the French campaigns, the event in the future needs to be more ambitious in laying of courses to challenge the tactical and navigation skills of the crews and probably should be singlehanded. John Thorn, who runs the Artemis Offshore Academy says that in the future, assuming there is enough take-up, they might look at the system the Figaros use in the Transmanche where crews can compete doublehanded or singlehanded.
However UK Figaro sailing still has its training wheels on and for a few of the Artemis crews this event has been something of a baptism of fire. Sam Matson and Henry Bomby are both 20 year old from Plymouth. Bomby applied for the Artemis Offshore Academy scholarship program last year but didn't make the grade. However he plans to try again when the second set of trials come around later this summer.
Bomby told us: "I did the trials last year but we had 30-35 knots. So today was the first day I’ve sailed the boats in normal breeze. So it was one of the first times we’ve sailed a Figaro. It is really enjoyable. We learned a lot today with everything that is going on with manoeuvres and things. Our boat speed was alright but on the corners we lost out a bit. Enjoyment-wise: massive, and we are learning a lot all the time.
"I am massively motivated by today. I am very keen to carry on getting involved and maybe do a few more of the doublehanded races and go for the trials in September and see how we get on."
Racing concludes tomorrow with a six hour long coastal race that like the cross-Channel is double point scoring.
|1||PARIS 15ème - 11||Jean-Charles Monnet||FRA||6||5||2||2||1||16||11|
|2||DMS - 59||Conrad Humphreys||GBR||2||2||4||3||5||16||11|
|3||ENTREPRENDRE EN PAYS GRANVILLAIS - 64||Nicolas Jossier||FRA||4||6||1||4||4||19||13|
|4||ARTEMIS 23||Sam Goodchild||GBR||8||1||3||5||3||20||15|
|5||ARTEMIS 77||Ollie Bond||GBR||12||3||5||1||2||23||18|
|6||ARTEMIS 43||Sam Matson||GBR||10||4||6||7||6||33||26|
|7||E LINE ORTHODONTICS - 93||Nigel King||GBR||16||7||7||6||7||43||36|