With the Figaro racing season over for the year my focus over the past couple of months has been on training and improvement. Not so much my own but the new intake of Artemis Offshore Academy recruits. Now into into it’s fourth season of Autumn training the academy is really starting to mature and its nice to see the four guys on the full time program so committed to putting in the hard work needed to learn single handed sailing. Thinking back to the when I started with the academy in 2010 I can remember how little we knew about Figaro racing so it’s nice to see how the lessons we have all learned are being applied in putting together their training program. From what I’ve seen on the water there has been a lot less carnage and destruction during the tricky early stages of single handed sailing.
Whilst coaching might not be quite as productive towards my goal of getting a good result in the Solitaire next year as actually going sailing it is still a useful process. Sitting in a tiny rib, getting washed over by the vicious Solent chop, watching other people sail, analysing their performance and then giving feedback really focusses the mind. Having to explain something to a group of people means you have to be very clear on it yourself.
Over the next few months my primary focus will be working to secure funding to go back to the Figaro circuit next year. There’s plenty of work to be done but memories of long nights blasting through the dark on the edge of control are all the motivation I could need.
Since the end of the solitaire my long awaited few weeks to chill out at home and catch up on life haven’t really materialised. I spent a week catching up on post race (and post race party) fatigue, then there was there was a week of corporate hospitality on the Figaros in Cowes, Ed Hill’s stag do before heading back out to France for the 470 worlds. You can see a brief round up video from the event here. Whilst we didn’t win it was a great couple of weeks living in a tent, eat, sleeping and breathing sailing. If nothing else it gave us a good perspective on the enormity of the challenge of getting to the top of an Olympic fleet.
From here I went straight to the start of the Fastnet where I sailed with up-and-coming Mini sailor Lizzy Foreman against a fleet of nine double handed Figaros. Coming off the back of two weeks hard sailing and an overnight drive probably wasn’t perfect preparation and it showed as we made some really basic errors to finish a disappointing 5th in class. Still it was good to support the Figaro entry in this race and a useful process getting used to sailing Sam’s boat, no85 which is to be my steed for the Tour de Bretagne this week.
The Tour de Bretagne is a great race on the Figaro calendar. Every two years it gives you the chance to sail with a friend over short costal legs around the Brittany coast with a couple of days inshore racing thrown in too. The unofficial tag line for the event is that ‘even the crabs wear helmets’ owing to the fact that the extra hands and short legs mean sailors take the chance to push in even closer to the jagged rocks with a lot of tales of disaster in the races history. Having had to pull out of the race two years ago due to the death of my father, finishing the course this year takes on a little extra significance. I’m excited to be teaming up with James Mchugh, a talented Etchells sailor with experience in the tough ‘Cinq Jours’ race (five days of double handed laps of lake Geneva) and ambitions to get more seriously into short handed sailing. The first leg from Paimpol to Perros Guirrec starts on Sunday morning and the race goes on for a week. I’ll keep you posted along the way.
Britain’s Nick Cherry lies 10th on the opening leg of La Solitaire du Figaro
Nick Cherry made an impressive start to La Solitaire du Figaro in Bordeaux on Sunday in his attempt to become the first Briton to reach the podium in an event regarded as the preserve of gritty French seadogs
Read more from the Telegraph link below:
However good my intensions are of getting these things out straight after the event it never ends up straight forward. After finishing on Wednesday night, sleeping like the dead for 12 hours and getting to the prize giving the next day for tentative handshakes on sore hands and finding out who finished where at the front of the fleet, opportunities for more rest weren’t very forthcoming. Having been a total moron and letting go of my main halyard at the finish so that it ran up into the mast, first on the jobs list was the horrible task of free climbing the last five foot of the mast to rethread it. Whilst not the most technical piece of climbing the risk of falling twice the five foot of slack in the halyard onto non stretch rope in your harness is enough to put the willies right up me. With this done and the mess of 55 hours of racing mostly cleared out of the boat it was time to put shiny new sails on the boat and head out into the windy afternoon for a photo shoot only making it to dinner an hour late at nine thirty. The next day saw a hectic morning of pulling boats out of the water and loading as much surplus baggage into my shiny CurraDinghy van for the drive home as possible.
So onto the race. A brief summary. First afternoon and night, light winds, sailing around the best of France has to offer in rocks and headlands in a tight bunch of boats with lots of place changing, figaro racing at its best. Dawn day one, the wind shut down before filling in, probably predictably from the south west for the rest of the race. I managed to land myself squarely in the wrong part of the ocean for this bit and the fleet strung out for a long reach around Ile de Yeu and back, in the rain. To say this was a low points would be an understatement. Hearing that eight boats had already made the canny move of heading home to avoid the 250 mile procession through the drizzle was a further kick in the teeth.
It was some time around now that I remembered how much of these races is often spent questioning the sense in sailing around by yourself for days on end, making resolutions to never come back and desperately looking for entertainment. The things that helped cheer me up on the emotional roller coaster included: sleep, food, a well timed radio chat with Sam just behind and finally the presence of a small, tired bird perching on the chart table for an hour or so, clearly in need of some company himself. Even better that these things for repairing the mood on the good ship 23 was approaching the turning point in the course having made some good inroads into the boats ahead. Tacking into thirty knots around the back of the island with six boats in sight brought the race back into sharp focus and the big positive I’m taking from the experience is how I managed to turn it on in the final stages. Probably due to having done some good sleeping the day before I manage to reverse the trend I’d got into last year of finishing poorly and took three places in the last 12 hours. A good way to banish the bad memories and give myself a strong hunger for the solitaire in three weeks time.
29 days until we set off for Portugal on the first leg of the Solitaire and only 21 till we have to be up the river in Bordeaux. I am feeling very excited for the month of racing ahead. As ever there is plenty to do to get ready but things feel a little calmer this time round compared to last year. Now, I know what to expect and I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to do things better since I finished my first Solitaire in Cherbourg last July. Everything from a sneaky way to cook and eat a boil in the bag and a freeze dried meal at once to save time and water to using a gopro with a wifi link on a stick to see weed on the keel. Doing well at this type of racing demands that you get the details right. Every movement on the boat needs to be as efficient as possible and every inch gained makes a difference to the all important cumulative finish time.
Last year I finished a credible but not earth shattering 25th position. Having not spent as much time as I’d have liked training before the first race of the season I haemorrhaged places overnight to end up a disappointing 19th. My goal from now is to improve on these two results. Ideally by a good margin and I think the biggest area for improvement will come from managing sleep and pushing myself. My worst moments in both these races have come at times when I have been too sleepy to sail the boat properly. Waking up at the helm with the sails flapping in a minor broach isn’t fast and no matter how much I want to keep my eyes open sometimes it’s not possible. I had a similar problem in French debriefs after sailing in Lorient last year (embarrassing in a very small group) that could only be solved by a well timed coffee. Something I have previously been keen to stay awayfrom in the Figaro for fear of the inevitable crash after the initial high. In reality there are times when you absolutely HAVE to be awake that are usually followed by some chance to rest a bit at some stage. So for this next race I’m planning to load up with tea bags, red bull and pro plus and see how far I get.
On a similar theme is the subject pushing yourself or the ability to man up and get stuck in. As with most forms of offshore sailing (and probably sport in general) making a Figaro go really fast over a long period involves doing a lot of things that are hard work/ boring/ unpleasant for a tiny tiny improvement in performance. Keeping up the motivation to stack every last halyard tail, check for weed every 15 minutes or do that headsail change that you’ve been putting off for half an hour is easy at the begging and the end but to keep subjecting yourself every minute of every hour of the leg isn’t always easy.
Between the Solo Concarneau and the Solitaire I will spend a few days in the UK before coming back to deliver to Bordeaux and do some final bits of work onboard. Hanging out before the start in Bordeaux without many planned boat jobs will be a treat. Obviously things always come up that need doing but the more time available for relaxation and getting on with weather homework and mandatory race things the more enjoyable the whole experience will be. Which after all is the main aim of the exercise, after winning.