Figaro season gets underway
The Figaro season gets underway in France tomorrow with the start of the Solo Figaro Massif Marine 2012, a 320 mile singlehanded race, starting and finishing in the Vendee Globe stronghold of Les Sables d’Olonne.
For the first time the line-up will include an unprecedented five Artemis Offshore Academy sailors with 2011 scholarship winner Sam Goodchild, plus four other will be solo Figaro race ‘rookies’: Nick Cherry, Oliver Bond, Aaron Cooper and Henry Bomby on tomorrow's start line.
The British skippers will be facing tough competition from Figaro veterans such as Generali skipper Nicolas Lunven, who won this race in 2010 and 2011, and finished 4th overall in the 2011 Solitaire du Figaro. Fred Duthil on Sepalumic has had an impressive three podium finishes in the Solitaire du Figaro, while the up-and-coming French talent is Fabien Delahaye on MACIF 2012 who came second in last year's Solitaire and won the Transat AG2R in 2010 and the Solo Figaro Massif Marine in 2009. A host of other top names in the class are also competing:
|LES RECYCLEURS BRETONS||Michel||BOTHUON||FRA||52|
|LA SOLIDARITE MUTUALISTE||Damien||GUILLOU||FRA||29|
|BRETAGNE CREDIT MUTUEL ESPOIR||Corentin||HOREAU||FRA||22|
|IN EXTENSO EXPERTS COMPTABLES||Nicolas||JOSSIER||FRA||35|
|BRETAGNE CREDIT MUTUEL PERFORMANCE||Anthony||MARCHAND||FRA||27|
|FOR FULLE SEIL||Kristin||SONGE MOLLER||NOR||35|
|FINANCIERE DE L’ECHIQUIER||Thomas||NORMAND||FRA||25|
“It is very similar to the small races we did last year like the Transmanche and the Basse Normandie,” explains Sam Goodchild. “It doesn’t count to the Championship de France. But it is first time [in the season] all the guys come together and it is generally the highest level until the Solitaire because all the guys who do the Transat AG2R aren’t able to do any of the other races, so the fleet splits after this.” Goodchild and Nick Cherry are to sail the Figaro class’ doublehanded Transat AG2R together, the only Brits in the fleet this year, starting from Concarneau on 21 April, bound for St Barts.
In terms of preparation for this race and the Transat AG2R, Goodchild and Cherry have spent the best part of a month up in Lorient at the Figaro training camp there run by uber-coach Tanguy Leglatin, while the rest of the Artemis Offshore Academy squad has once again been down in La Grande Motte since December.
In Lorient Goodchild and Cherry have been lining up against the likes of Franco-German Mini turned Figaro sailor Isabelle Joschke, Mini Transat winner Thomas Ruyant, Vincent Bairnes and Adrien Hardy, along with Norwegian rookie Kristin Songe Moller, who has joined the class this year.
Goodchild says that they preferred to train out of France’s Atlantic coast as it is on the Solitaire du Figaro’s race course and they can experience different conditions – tide, wind, fronts, waves, etc. “These things you miss in the Med.”
So how has Goodchild’s Figaro sailing has come on since last year? “I hope it has improved, but I haven’t really rested since last year, which isn’t ideal. That is the only thing I have regretted not doing over the winter – I just haven’t stopped sailing and I also haven’t sailed the Figaro as much as the other guys.” His winter included racing aboard the Concise Class 40 in the Transat Jacques Vabre until they were forced to retire with hull damage and then taking part in the second leg of the Global Ocean Race with Conrad Colman aboard Cessna Citation, winning the leg from Cape Town to Wellington. “
Hopefully the season might start a bit more slowly, but it won’t affect the later bits,” Goodchild continues. “But at the same time all the other sailing I have done has been productive in other ways, so generally there has been an improvement. Doublehanded in a Class 40 is very very different, but it is time on the water which is unbeatable.”
The Solo Figaro Massif Marine 2012 will feature all five of the Artemis Offshore Academy’s Figaro fleet, the first time they have all lined up in a significant race together. This year it seems likely that at least three of the Academy’s fleet will be entered into the Figaro class’ premier event, La Solitaire. This 'team' approach seems to be becoming more of a feature of the Figaro among the French teams too, with MACIF, Vendee and Credit Mutual de Bretagne (who run a campaign similar scholarship scheme in France to the AOA's ) all fielding two entries.
In the meantime there is the matter of tomorrow’s race. The Solo Figaro Massif Marine 2012 starts tomorrow at midday local time and heads south towards La Rochelle rounding Ile de Re and Ile de Yeux before returning up the Breton coast to Belle Ile and an off-lying mark before returning to Ile de Re and then back to Les Sables d’Olonne. On the way up the coast there is a mark off Les Sables d’Olonne which the organisers can use to shorten course if need be. According to Goodchild the GRIBs are currently showing no more than 7-8 knots, so shortening course is a distinct possibility.
“I don’t have any expectations, but it is a good way of training and getting up to speed with everyone else,” says Goodchild as to how he thinks he might perform. “It would be nice to beat the other Artemis guys, but that is not my aim, I am not going to cover them. It is training for the Solitaire. We are just here to try and get all the Brits in the top ten and not just all the Brits, but me first, in the bottom ten.”
While Goodchild and Cherry should be the stand-outs among the British five, they will also be up against Ollie Bond, who had good results in the Mini class before an injury put him out of action.
Goodchild gives his assessment of three British new boys: “They come from different mentalities and backgrounds. Henry [Bomby] is quite similar to me a year or two ago and he is trying very hard and he wants to go offshore sailing, and doesn’t come from a pedigree background such as the Olympics or dinghy squads. Then there is Ollie Bond who has done the Mini, so he has offshore experience. And then there is Aaron Cooper who has more inshore experience. So there is a good mix. I haven’t had much time with them to see what their sailing is like, but it is a nice bunch of guys to work with, which is good, so debriefs are a lot more open, and there is sharing and stuff like that...”
With five boats the Artemis Offshore Academy has a reasonable infrastructure supporting the sailors and have even brought in gravitas in the familiar form of Marcus Hutchinson who is the Artemis Offshore Academy's ‘Event Coach’, to supplement Performance Director John Thorn and the preparateurs.