Driving into Plymouth under the A38, past that distinctive looking supermarket (Sainsbury’s?) yesterday morning I was strongly reminded of making the same journey to the Optimist nationals in 1995. Whilst this time it was only a day trip, not a memorable two week family camping holiday in the rain, the feeling of excitement and anticipation were pretty similar. With only 64 days (or about 93700 minutes) until the start of this year’s Solitaire I took the opportunity to go and join in with the Artemis guys as they met with Plymouth big wigs and did some training inside the sound. Great preparation for the start of leg two, which should be a bit stadium sailing like as we jockey around in front of the Hoe on our way out the Fastnet rock. As a ten year old from Birmingham I remember how much of an adventure it felt to be sailing on the open sea in my oppy for the first time and I still get a bit of that same feeling back setting off into a dark stormy night alone on a Figaro as a grownup.
For me this little dip back into training, alongside some solo sessions in the one Artemis boat in Cowes, was absolute gold dust as the boat I am looking to charter in June won’t be available until eight days before we get locked away in Deauville for the start. Most of the competition will have been training hard in their boats all winter so there’s no denying I’m starting on the back foot. One of the things I like about solo sailing though is how much of a part preparation plays. Without the distraction of a boat to manage and look after I am free to work on other stuff like doing my navigation homework in advance, making sure I’ve got the right food and kit as well as being as fit as humanly possible.
Maybe ‘as fit as humanly possible’ is a bit of an exaggeration but I have been doing quite a bit to get myself into shape for a tough summer. I think that what drives me to want to race around rocky coast lines by myself for days on end is probably the same thing that makes the idea of running quite a long way in one go sound wise. Having injured myself running a road marathon a few years ago I’ve dabbled in running a bit further and slower and on more interesting paths. Ultra running turns out to be quite addictive; for every daft challenge you hear about there is always someone who has done something much longer and harder and lived to tell the tale (like this guy). The upshot of this is that I’ve entered a 100 mile race in October which I’m aiming to run in one go in less than 24 hours. Training started a while ago and this weekend I’m toeing the line of a 50 mile race with 400 other runners.
The benefits in fitness and endurance etc for offshore racing will be positive I’m sure but at the moment I’m just excited for the challenge of running further than I’ve ever run before in one go. Provided I’m getting some phone signal on the south downs way tomorrow I’ll try and twitter tales of blisters fatigue, and sh*tting in the bushes from the trail.
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.