The final three
After 55 hours of punishing fitness testing, mentally testing exercises, a sea survival simulation, 10 hours of sailing and a ride around a velodrome, eight exhausted candidates came out the other side of the ‘Fantasy Solitaire du Figaro’ – this year’s Artemis Offshore Academy Selection Trials theme. Two sailors, Andrew Baker (24, Cowes/Belfast) an accomplished Laser competitor and Robert Bunce (19, Hamble) a talented match racing and fully crewed racer, have so far been selected to go forward with the Artemis Offshore Academy next season. Joining long term Artemis Offshore Academy squad member Robin Elsey in training as he makes the transition from double-handed to the full-time solo Figaro programme, the new recruits will become part of the growing British Figaro squad already preparing for the 2015 Solitaire du Figaro, starting 31st May.
“I’ve been a member of the Artemis Offshore Academy squad since 2011, sailing double-handed while studying at University,” explained Elsey, over the moon that his time to step up had finally come. “After a great year on the double-handed RORC circuit in 2013, I watched my co-skipper Sam Matson join the Academy’s solo squad and come away with an amazing Solitaire du Figaro result this year. To now go solo myself is a great feeling, and something that I’ve been working towards for the last three years. I’ve been sailing solo around the Solent and in some training sessions for the past year, but I can’t wait to get stuck into full-time solo training in September.”
Selected off the back off this year’s Trials, Academy freshmen Baker and Bunce have had just a taste of solo offshore sailing, now about to sink their teeth in fully as they start on the Academy’s structured training programme: “I applied for the Academy because I feel like it is a great chance for my sailing to develop in a different environment than usual,” said Bunce, opting to further his sailing career rather than attend University. “Sailing short-handed certainly presents new challenges, which is another reason I applied. The Academy will push me to achieve my full potential in sailing. The things I learn during my training with the Academy should put me in good stead for the rest of my sailing life, no matter what discipline. What I gain from the experience will be invaluable down the line.”
The Academy’s annual three-day Selection Trials are designed to push sailors to the edges of human limitation, emulating the many challenges faced by solo offshore competitors over the course of a three-day race – the ultimate aptitude test. Trialing sailors in everything from sailing to media, physical fitness, team work, planning, navigation, organisation, logic, problem solving, mental stamina, their willingness to learn and all while hugely sleep deprived, the Artemis Offshore Academy recruitment is based on the candidates’ potential to succeed on the highly competitive Class Figaro circuit.
“The Trials are a series of activities and tasks, both physical and mental, that see candidates working hard while tired, hungry, physically exhausted and possibly wondering why they ever decide to put themselves through such an ordeal!” Belfast born Baker reported. “Short term I saw it as a test and away of gauging my abilities and sailing against like minded people with similar aspirations in sailing to myself. Long term the Academy sets a pathway to the Figaro circuit and presents opportunities, be it further Figaro campaigns or another avenue towards my end goal of becoming a full-time professional sailor. Being invited to train with the Academy means a great deal to me and I see it as a huge step forward in my sailing career.”
Baker, Bunch and the rest of the 2014 candidates were assessed and adjudicated for the duration of the Selection Trials by a stringent panel of Artemis Offshore Academy shore team and sailors, fitness, sailing and performance coaches, sea survival specialists and round the sailor Nick Moloney.
Having circumnavigated the world three times and competed in the 2004 Vendée Globe Moloney had a thing or two to impart on the Selection Trials newbies looking to break into the world of solo offshore sailing: “The precise planning and structure of the Selection Trials for me really highlights what this project is about – young people aspiring to compete at the top of their game. The Artemis Offshore Academy is a project that I can really relate to, back in the day myself, Ellen (MacArthur) and a few other were out there trying to sell a dream to big companies for money, with little else to back us up other than, ‘we want to do this’. The Artemis Offshore Academy is setting young sailors up with a profile and the whole package needed to go to a potential sponsor and say, ‘I’m a great investment’. I really enjoyed spending three days with a group of determined young people just starting out, seeing them throw themselves into gut wrenching task after task as they chase a means to fulfilling a life dream. For me it was an awesome and really humbling experience, and as I said it really takes me back to my early years. It’s really reassuring to see companies like OC Sport and Artemis seeking out and investing time and money in unknown sailors and creating this talented and growing group of British solo offshore competitors – the next generation. I wish everyone who took part in the Trials the best of success for the future. The Artemis Offshore Academy is definitely a project that I will be following a lot more closely from now on – I wish a project like this was around when I was starting out!"
The new trainees will begin their first month of short-handed Figaro sailing in the Solent in September.
The next generation:
Robin Elsey – 21, Southampton/Truro
“I’ve been a member of the Artemis Offshore Academy squad since 2011, sailing double-handed while studying. After a great year on the RORC circuit in 2013, I watched my co-skipper Sam Matson join the Academy’s solo squad and come away with an amazing Solitaire du Figaro result this year. To now go solo myself is a great feeling, and something that I’ve been working towards for the last three years. I’ve been sailing solo around the Solent and in some training sessions for the past year, but I can’t wait to get stuck into it full time solo training.”
“For the past three year’s I’ve been studying for degree in Geology at Southampton University. Studying rocks in far out places was fun, but now I can’t wait to take my offshore sailing to the next level. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I have been working hard in all aspects of my campaign from the sailing, to fitness to media – now I’ll have to add French to that list!”
“As well as training and racing double handed with my 2014 co-skipper Will Harris, I’ve done time as part of the Academy’s shore crew at events this year. Experienced shore crew are the backbone of any successful sailor or team, and seeing this from the other side has really helped broaden my working knowledge of the Figaro, how the Class Figaro circuit operates and also, what it’s really like out there. Helping out with the British Solitaire du Figaro boats this year was an invaluable experience and I hope that next year it will be me casting off my lines on the docks in Bordeaux, France.”
Andrew Baker – 24, Cowes/Belfast
“Training with the Academy means a great deal to me. I have spent my life sailing and around the sea growing up on the family yacht in Strangford Lough, with regular cruising holidays round west coast of Scotland and Isle of Man. This love for the sport of sailing saw me get into racing and representing Ireland in both the Laser men’s single-handed Olympic Class and in yacht racing for the 2008 Commodores Cup. In pursuit of a professional career I moved to Cowes, Isle of White for more opportunities and have had an amazing season racing the best of the local yachts and even traveling to race with Team Aqua in the RC44 circuit in Cascais, Portugal."
“To now be selected for the Artemis Offshore Academy is a huge honour and it’s really motivating to know that the selectors think I have potential to reach my goal of becoming a professional sailor. I am ecstatic and can’t wait to get involved and make a name for myself. This could prove to be one of the most important steps forward in my sailing career.”
“I applied for the Academy for a number reasons, both long and short term. Short term I saw it as a test and away of gauging my abilities and sailing against likeminded people with similar aspirations in sailing to myself. Long term the Academy clears a pathway to the Figaro circuit and opportunities that come of the back of that, be it further Figaro campaigns or another avenue in towards my end goal of becoming a full time professional sailor. I see being invited to train with the Academy as a huge step forward in my career.”
“The Artemis Offshore Academy Selection Trials are designed to test a person’s ability to cope and perform under similar conditions to that of solo offshore sailing, and ultimately during the Solitaire du Figaro. The Trials are a series of activities and tasks, both physical and mental, that see candidates working hard while sleep deprived, hungry, physically exhausted and possibly wondering why they ever decide to put themselves through such an ordeal!”
“The fitness testing takes away most of your physical strength, while tasks such as puzzles and navigation drain your mental strength. As for sleep, forget it. Constant tasks during the night and a changing of the watch from the coaches keep you pushing yourself to the limit, with a possible twenty minute naps here and then.”
“Before sailing we were presented with the Academy’s fleet of Figaro’s and given one hour in which to ask questions. Then we were sent out on the water for 10 hours of double handed and solo races, including a passage race from Poole harbour to the Solent to test navigation and passage planning.”
“I believe that the Trials are a test of who wants it most and give a very realistic summary of your sailing and if you have what it takes to even think about offshore racing.”
Rob Bunce – 19, Hamble
“Starting training with the Artemis Offshore Academy is the next step in my sailing career. It will be a great chance to refine some of the skills I already have and hopefully learn some new ones. I feel very privileged to be selected for this unique opportunity, overcoming some pretty tough mental and physical tests during the Selection Trials.”
“I applied for the Academy because I feel like it is a great chance for my sailing to develop in a different environment than usual. Sailing shorthanded certainly presents new challenges, which is another reason I applied. The Academy will push me to achieve my full potential in sailing. The things I learn during my training with the Academy should put me in good stead for the rest of my sailing life, no matter what discipline. What I gain from the experience will be invaluable down the line.”
“The trials for me had two sections, the first day and first night I found very hard. After a gruelling day of fitness testing we then continued with physical activities until 2300 and then had one hour of sleep before we were sailing at 0730. But after this I managed to find my rhythm and the next two days came a lot easier to me. Along with having a great day of sailing, which certainly lifted my spirits, we had a few challenges that really played to my strengths. With the constant mental tests and lack of sleep during the trials – I think the Academy managed to emulate solo sailing rather well. Including some of the obstacles that you may have to overcome whilst racing the Figaro helped to keep all of the scenarios relevant.”
“I am looking forward to all the facilities and resources open to members of the Academy – from a tailored physical training programme, to on the water coaching. Being part of a world renowned racing squad will also be fantastic exposure for me as a sailor and a great edition to my sailing CV.”