Exmouth sailor Sam Matson still well placed after leg three of the Solitaire du Figaro race

10:17 27 June 2014

Sam Matson prepares food whilst mid-race.

Sam Matson prepares food whilst mid-race.

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Exmouth sailor Sam Matson finished 20th in the third and penultimate leg of the Solitaire du Figaro race as the fleet reached Les Sables d’Olonne omn the western coast of France on Thursday (June 26).

Sam Matson - the Exmouth solo skipeprSam Matson - the Exmouth solo skipepr

Matson’s finish in leg three enabled him to maintain his 14th position in the overall rankings.

Matson said: “The race was very mentally demanding. Trying to keep in the right mind set in the uncomfortable conditions and think positively was very hard, especially when you’re hearing you’re 20 odd miles behind the leader,” Sam explained, struck down by illness on the first day of racing. “After drifting along in that heat for three days, to get back into it was unbelievable and to finish where I did was amazing.”

“The first night of racing I had a really sore throat, and from them on it developed into serious man flu. I was drifting across the bay of Biscay, trying to stay in the shade while going no where in 30 degree heat. It was absolutely roasting out there, you just couldn’t get away from it either – there was just no shade or no air. Leg 3 was really tough.”

“It was an interesting last morning out on the course. The guys at the front of the fleet who went around the BXA buoy early went inshore and just parked up. They tried to sail the rhumb line and there was just no breeze there, which gave the second half of the fleet a chance to catch up. I was just about to go to sleep at this point, but luckily my alarms on my computer went off and I was able to catch a front that filled in from offshore and gain back some places.”

“Considering I was dragging my heels around most of the course, my end result is amazing. After drifting along in that heat for three days, to get back into was unbelievable. Rounding the ODASbuoy on Wednesday night I ended up parked up an watching the fleet sail around me. It was such a low point of the race, I just didn’t know how to get myself out of that situation and I thought that there was just going to be a straight line into the finish and my race was done.”

“The race was very mentally demanding. Trying to keep in the right mind set in the uncomfortable conditions and think positively was very hard, especially when you’re hearing you’re 20 odd miles behind the leader. Everyone was pretty annoyed and pretty upset out there, you could hear it all the time on the radio. I just tried to stay positive and hope that there might be another break to catch before the end.”

On Thursday eight exhausted and mentally frayed British Solitaire du Figaro skippers hit the docks after almost four days and four nights of racing – their longest leg yet. The penultimate leg spanning 505 miles soon became a race of two halves and of two fleets, as a series of major park ups due to light airs saw the Solitaire skippers climbing ladders and dramatically sliding down snakes up and down the Leg 3 leaderboard. Throw into the mix a roasting hot and uncomfortable June sun, light and unpredictable breeze and a 40 mile gap between the leading boats and the back of the fleet and you’ve got the toughest 2014 Solitaire du Figaro leg so far.

Racing the first half of the course from Roscoff through notorious French passages the Chanel du Four and Raz de Sein, Sam Goodchild (Team Plymouth) spectacularly worked his way up from 10th to first, leading the fleet for almost 10 hours on the approach to Belle Île. A park up of the fleet at the island due to a lack of breeze caused major turbulence on the overall leaderboard on the second day of racing. However, Sam held on and came out of the other side still in contention with the top five boats until in the early hours of Tuesday 24th June – an exciting time for his supporters and sponsors. Sam’s time with the Figaro veterans was unfortunately cut short as the fleet compressed again half way out into the Bay of Biscay, seeing Sam and half the fleet (including all of the British skippers) stuck in a hole, while 15 Figaros led by Yann Elies made a break for it, finding the lightest of breeze. From then on, the gap continued to widen in a “rich getting richer” scenario.

“I feel like I sailed my best leg, and got my worst result,” said Sam Goodchild on the docks. “I had a dream race to Belle Île and I could not have asked for much more up to that point. Then suddenly I was 200-metres from the boats that got wind. I felt like I could almost touch it, but it just never ever reached my sails. I then spent a lot of the race in 19th, but no-one in our half of the fleet was up, everyone was down with the ever increasing gap between the first and second fleet divisions – there wasn’t even really any radio chat.”

Racing on across the Bay of Biscay, down to the ODAS weather buoy and back inshore to the finalBXA buoy at the mouth of the Gironde River, Sam and 2014 Artemis Offshore Academy Rookie Rich Mason occupied 19th and 20th place. Sailing an excellent race despite the physically draining conditions and mentally exhausting circumstances, Sam and Rich led the British fleet into the final morning of racing, before a cruel twist of fate held them fast in their tracks: “All the weather forecasts said that the 55-mile home straight to Les Sables d’Olonne would be a straight sail on the rhumb line, but in the end it wasn’t.” Rich reported. “After four days of hard sailing, making sure that every little manoeuvre and boat length counted, we to fell into a hole that wasn’t forecast and we didn’t foresee.”

Stuck in no wind inshore at Île de Ré, Sam and Rich could nothing but sit tight and watch the back of the fleet sail past them, seeing Sam finish 29th and Rich 31st: “It’s truly heartbreaking to have 80 hours of hard work unraveled by 80 minutes of bad luck.”

For the other six British Solitaire du Figaro competitors, the final shut down at Île de Ré came as the opportunity they’d been hoping for. Closing the gap between the two halves of the fleet, the skippers who had been suffering at the back had the chance to reconnect, avoiding the park up by sailing further offshore. GAC Pindar’s Jack Bouttell cleverly assessed the situation and made an “offshore punt” that paid off, seeing the 2013 winning Rookie sail into port 19th in the leg overall: “We had a great finish to the race after another park up at Île de Ré. It was quite frustrating at the time, but it bought the whole fleet closer together again and after that I found myself pushing as though we were on the first leg, on the first windward beat again. In the end it was quite a fun finish, but the race was long and mentally very tough. We had really challenging conditions throughout.”

Ed Hill (Macmillan Cancer Support) was next over the line in 21st, with Rookie Alan Roberts (Artemis 23) 27th, Nick Cherry (REDSHIFT) 28th and Henry Bomby (RED) 29th. The eight British solo skippers will have one final chance to push their names up the overall leaderboard, starting the fourth and final Solitaire du Figaro leg from Les Sables d’Olonne to Cherbourg-Octeville on Sunday 29th June.

For updates on the Brits as they prepare take on the final 490 mile leg, visit the Artemis Offshore Academy website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Solitaire du Figaro Leg 3 results

Skipper/Boat name/*Rookie

1. Gildas Mahé/Interface Concept/3d, 18h, 7’, 46”

2. Yann Elies/Groupe Queguiner-Leucemie Espoir/3d, 18h, 8’, 13”

3. Jérémie Beyou/Maitre Coq/3d, 18h, 15’, 13”

19. Jack Bouttell/GAC Pindar/3d, 20h, 3’, 58”

20. Sam Matson/Artemis 21*/3d, 20h, 5’, 56”

21. Ed Hill/Macmillan Cancer Support/3d, 20h, 9’, 10”

27. Alan Roberts/Artemis 23/3d, 20h, 14’, 54”

28. Nick Cherry/Redshift/3d, 20h, 14’, 56”

29. Sam Goodchild/Team Plymouth/3d, 20h, 29’, 29”

30. Henry Bomby/RED/3d, 20h, 30’, 43”

31. Rich Mason/Artemis 77*/3d, 20h, 36’, 19”

ABD. Claire Pruvot/Port de Caen Ouistreham

ABD. Joan Ahrweiller/Region Basse Normandie

ABD. Fabien Delahaye/Skipper Macif 2012

Solitaire du Figaro overall results

Skipper/Boat name/*Rookie/Cumulative time/Spread

1. Jérémie Beyou/Maitre Coq/10d, 1h, 18’, 31”

2. Corentin Horeau/Bretagne Crédit Mutuel Performance/10d, 1h, 33’, 45”/0h, 15’, 13”

3. Charlie Dalin/Normandy Elite Team/10d, 1h, 37’, 29”/0h, 18’, 57”

14. Sam Matson/Artemis 21/10d, 5h, 31’, 26”/4h, 13’, 54”

23. Rich Mason/Artemis 77/10d, 8h, 3’, 52”/6h, 45’, 20”

24. Jack Bouttell/GAC Pindar/10d, 8h, 18’, 25”/6h, 59’, 53”

28. Sam Goodchild/Team Plymouth/10d, 8h, 48’, 18”/7h, 29’, 48”

29. Henry Bomby/RED/10d, 8h, 52’, 20s/7h, 33’, 48”

30. Nick Cherry/Redshift/10d, 8h, 57’, 37”/7h, 39’, 5”

31. Alan Roberts/Artemis 23/10d, 9h, 11’, 45”/7h, 53’, 13”

35. Ed Hill/Macmillan Cancer Support/10d, 18h, 50’, 19”/17h, 31’, 47”

Solitaire du Figaro Rookie overall results

Skipper/Boat name/Cumulative time/Spread

1. Gwenolé Gahinet/Safran-Guy Cotten/10d, 5h, 0’, 1”

2. Sam Matson/Artemis 21/10d, 5h, 32’, 26”/0h, 32’, 25”

3. Rich Mason/Artemis 77/10d, 8h, 3’, 52”/3h, 3’, 51”

4. Clément Salzes/Darwin – Les marins de la lune/10d, 8h, 40’, 59”/3h, 40’, 58”

5. Alan Roberts/Artemis 23/10d, 9h, 11’, 45”/4h, 11’, 44”

6. Gwanael Gbick/Made in Midi/10d, 10h, 30’, 4”/5h, 30’, 3”

7. Sébastien Simon/Bretagne – Crédit Mutuel Espoir/10d, 6h, 8’, 50”/7h, 40’, 18”

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