Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Exmouth sailor Sam Matson completed the Solitaire Du Figaro single-handed race when he sailed into Cherbourg harbour at the end of the fourth and final leg of the famous race, writes Steve Birley.
After wishing for a windy leg for the first three legs, the British skippers got what they’d wished for and it broke them!
The course was shortened to 440nm from 490nm to avoid a ridge of high pressure that would have slowed the boats from the Needles Fairway to Cherbourg, so instead the 36 skippers went from Les Sables d’Olonne, through the Chaussée du Sein and on a windy kite run in 30 knots to Ouessant lighthouse.
After Ouessant they thought the conditions would relax, but they didn’t! All of the British skippers said they had expected to sleep here, but they couldn’t and they could barely hold on to their spinnakers in the wind. From Ouessant they raced to the Manacles buoy off of Lizard Point and then upwind all the way to Cherbourg. Leg four was a typical Figaro leg, tough, physical and fast - compared to the light and tactical racing they have endured over the previous three legs.
Coming into the docks the guys hair was wild, their faces red and crusted with salt - sporting the authentic offshore look.
Sam Goodchild (Team Plymouth) was the first British skipper into Cherbourg in 13th, and Sam Matson was the third Brit home in 25th and third Rookie in Leg Four.
However, this result was enough to see Sam finish the 2014 Solitaire du Figaro 15th overall and second Rookie – the Artemis sailing Academy’s best British result this year and an amazing result for the Exmouth skipper.
In 2013 Jack Bouttell became the first British skipper to ever win the Solitaire du Figaro Rookie division, and he finished 21st overall - so that just goes to show the high level of competition that was among the seven skipper Rookie fleet this year.
After the obligatory spraying of champagne over his boat Artemis 21, and a hug from Mum and Dad, Matson spoke of the race.
He said: “The Solitaire du Figaro is one massive mixed bag of emotions. A full month of sailing to the extreme, I certainly experienced a lot of things that I’ve never done before – it was a pretty incredible experience. I don’t know anywhere else you could go and feel and work so hard for a month.
“The first 24 hours of this were my lowest for sure. I got stuck in a wind hole and watched everyone sail off. The highs were tacking up the shore past Guernsey this morning, taking fast and taking back the places. Just generally sailing well – as well as there being a nice sunrise and flat water.
“We had a lot more wind for this leg, up to 30 knots at some points. It was much more of a Figaro leg – but it was also quite disappointing because where I dropped back so much in the beginning, it was more like I was trying to play catch up that really enjoying the race and try and make a dent on the leaderboard. That was pretty frustrating. But this leg was really good, the sailing was good, the conditions were good and I really enjoyed it once I got back in with the fleet.
“Coming in from a tough fourth and final Solitaire du Figaro leg to find out that I’m 15th overall and second Rookie is absolutely overwhelming. It’s an unbelievable achievement. My main goal was to get on the Rookie podium and I’ve done that and to finish 15th overall is absolutely incredible. When you look at Jack last year finishing top Rookie in 21st overall, and this year 15th is second – it really shows the level of the Rookie competition this year. It’s not been easy, but Gwenolé Gahinet is a great guy and he deserves the win.
“I’m going to head back to the UK this weekend, and hopefully start putting together a campaign that is even bigger and better for 2015.”
The Exmouth Journal then spoke with Sam and asked what his pre-race expectations had been. He replied: “I went into this race expecting to be face with every thing, and I’ve come out of it having been through everything. It was incredibly tough, so in terms of the race itself the challenges were expected. What I didn’t expect was my results – what a bonus.”
As for what was the hardest part fop the race, Matson answered: “The hardest part of the race is when you’re at the back of the fleet, trying to keep a leveled and positive mindset. At soon as you let it get to you, you end up in a dark and inefficient place and you spiral. You need to just keep going and think about the gains that could come up later. Each leg is a long race and I’ve managed to come back from further down the fleet in most of the legs - just because I’ve not let it get to me. It’s really mentally tough when you’ve been spat out that back, but being confident that there will be an opportunity to get back in the race is really beneficial to doing that.”
With regard to the best part of the race, he said: “The best part of the race for me was sailing into Plymouth. That was so cool. And to come home with such a great result was just crazy. There’s plenty of moments when you’re racing where you start talking to yourself, or singing, or talking to the boat. When you snap out of that, that can be amusing. I also had a pigeon hitch a lift with me for a day or so. I talked to him quite a lot, but he kept getting in the way and I trod on him at one point and he wasn’t very happy about that. So I had to push it off.”
As for his eating during the voyage, Matson said: “I’ve really enjoyed eating pate and dried bread. I don’t know why because I don’t even really like pate. I think I must be really fed up of freeze-dried food. Anything not out of a packed and that you don’t have to add water to, to eat, is a bit of a treat.”
As to what he did first on getting Artemis 21tied up, he said: “The first thing I did when I hit the dock today was popped a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne, spray it over the team and then hug my Mum and Dad. Then I got off the boat and jumped about a bit to test that the ground wasn’t moving.”
Last, but not least, we asked him what happens to his boat now. He said: “Artemis 21 now goes back to the UK and is still my responsibility until September. Once back in Cowes, we start quite a busy corporate season with Artemis, and I’m also helping with the 2014 Selection Trials for next year’s squad – see who is worthy to take her on in 2015.”
Sam – we salute you on a tremendous sail!