Arriving in Les Sables d’Olonne four days before the start of the first race of my Figaro season, having not sailed the boat at all this year probably wasn’t the best preparation. Luckily, while I’d been away having a nice time 470 racing in Palma, the power of the Artemis support team had been in action getting Figaro 23 off the truck and and kindly rigging it all up for me. This meant I got a chance to have one practice sail before the start of the Solo Arrimer, to remind myself of all the most basic boat handling mistakes. How big the boat felt and how physical it is just getting out of the harbour was a bit of a shock to the system. Looking up at the big spinnaker for the first time in a while after having spent so long staring at the ten times smaller 470 kite, was a little mind blowing for the first few minutes.
Compared to this time last year, getting ready for the race start was a lot less stressful. Having been through all the measurement procedures and work up before and having good notes from last season, meant that I was able to relax and enjoy the process and focus on what’s important rather than getting stressed by the little things. By the morning of the start I was mostly ready and confident that I knew roughly what to expect on the course. The start was a tricky affair in light winds and big waves, with boats sailing at all sorts of odd angles trying to get moving in the swell. I escaped from a slightly iffy start after a big shift on the first beat let me back into the race and a couple of hours in, the six English speakers in the race were in a tight bunch approaching Ile de Ré. I dropped my spinnaker first and got a scare as I knocked my pilot off mid way through, causing the boat to spin out and nearly smash into a huge metal channel marker. Flash backs to leg three of the Solitaire du Figaro last year were going through my mind, but I somehow managed to avoid hitting any other boats and trawling my kite and kept going.
In the best match up to a pre-race forecast ever, the breeze gradually built and built as we reached along the coast into dark. I got a bit out of sync with the weather and ended up doing three jib changes where one would have been fine. It was great boat handling practice, but spending 15 minutes on the bow in the dark in 30 knots of wind, with waves washing over you at 12 knots is neither comfortable nor fast. At one point, while I was struggling to clip the new sail onto the bow, I was getting hosed so frequently I couldn’t breath. I’m sure after this that water boarding would be a completely ineffective method of torture on me. This also marked a time in the race where my performance started to suffer, as I really struggled for pace on the long long 90nm reaching leg. Being able to see the competition on AIS is great, but it’s quite demoralising to see the boats around you sailing off at a rate of about one mile every two hours, all night.
After getting rid of the genoa, which I had stupidly left lashed to the bow and was filling up with water and slowing me down, and doing a back down to remove a suspect chunk of weed off the keel (not easy in 35 knots) – I got things a bit more sorted for the return reaching leg and had a great blast along right next to Dave Keneflick, with the huge waves behind us and squalls bringing hail and forty knots of wind.
With another boat alongside and daylight appearing, my frustrations at losing so much distance over night evaporated and I got back into enjoying the experience and trying to chip away at the race. With this slightly more philosophical view on things, I had a much more pleasant time over the second half of the race, managing my sleep and sailing the boat a lot better. Ending up 19th wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but going into the race cold my goals were never about performance, but more getting the process right and having something to work on for the next race in Concarneau in three weeks and the Solitaire du Figaro in June.