Back home to the Snowy UK for Christmas and time to reflect on my first month of training at Figaro school in La Grande Motte. Whilst it didn’t always feel that hot in the Med coming home is a great reminder of why it was worth shipping the boats all the way through France. Sailing in temperatures that sometimes soared into double figures is the only way to get anything done in the day time. Night sailing would certainly be out of the question in the UK.
The set up at the CEM couldn’t be better for our purposes. La Grande Motte was reclaimed from the swamps in the 70’s and populated with iconic pyramid shaped apartment blocks that house up to one hundred thousand inhabitants in the summer but only eight thousand in the winter. This means that the we have the run of the local Gym and pool, restaurants are empty and other distractions serious sailing like clubs and bars are either shut or deserted. Combine this with passionate enthusiasm from CEM coach and all round legend Franck Citeau, a healthy fleet of French figarists and the natural protection gained from being situated between the Mistral and Tramontane and we have a world class training venue.
The training session before Christmas was a slightly low key affair as the majority of the French sailors were taking a well earned rest after a long season and sitting around discussing rules and regulations at the Paris boat show. This gave the young bucks from the Artemis squad a perfect window to get a little more intimate with the boats and learn about the venue. Although some of us would have preferred the more rockstar option of jetting in and stepping onto a fleet of perfectly prepared blue Figaros it was decided that we would learn more from the process of stripping the boats for transport and rebuilding them at La Grande Motte. In hindsight I would have to agree that this was the right thing to do. After six days work in the yard we finally hit the water having developed a much closer bond with our boats.
First on the training list was a solo overnight session for those of us with no previous short handed experience. In the end this turned into a two boat affair with me and Simon Hiscocks agreeing to make it a “cruise in company” rather than and all night match race. This lasted until about as far as the harbour entrance when we hoisted spinnakers and drifted off into the evening with our pre planned course looking awfully long given the drifting conditions. The first few hours were nip and tuck as we experimented with tuning variable such as “when is the pilot faster than me?” and “how much do you lose from cooking dinner on a run?” By the time we had made it up the coast to Sete and headed offshore the wind had built significantly until we found ourselves within five boat lengths blasting into the night with big kites up in 35 knots of wind. Two and half hours of this solo sleigh ride passed in what felt like five minutes but left us with a 35 mile beat to get home. A good test of whether or not we were sure we were cut out for solo sailing. By the time breakfast was over the answer was clear.