Matson is underway with leg three of his big race

Sam Matson aboard his Artemis boat Sam Matson aboard his Artemis boat

Sunday, June 22, 2014
8:31 PM

On Sunday, June 22, at 2pm,the eight boat British Solitaire du Figaro contingent set off on the penultimate leg of the 2014 Solitaire du Figaro, racing 505 miles from Roscoff, France to Les Sables d’Olonne.

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Relaxed on the dock, chatting and eating fresh baguettes, in the blink of an eye the skippers were over the boat’s guard rails and off the pontoons – applause for the first competitor to cast off his lines their cue to leave.

Exmouth sailor Sam Matson (Artemis 21) currently leads the Rookies race and he was the first of the Artemis Offshore Academy armada to depart the harbour, empowered by the sound of a marching band and bagpipes playing the fleet into battle. With just 18 minutes and 14 seconds keeping Sam at the top of the Rookie leaderboard, pre-start he was determined not to let the pressure of keeping that time difference impact on his race:

He said: “I’m trying not to think about those 18 minutes, but I think it’s inevitable that it’s going to be at the back of my head. My main focus for this leg, as it always is, is to just keep racing as fast and as consistently as I can – hopefully increasing that time difference. We’ll see how it goes.” [NB: Overall rankings are based on cumulative time over the four legs.]

Out on the start line the conditions were perfect, with 16-17 knots of wind from the northeast, sunshine and white horses on the waves. All clear over the line, the 38 boat fleet was soon bunched together on the favoured port tack to the first mark, powering upwind bow to bow before all piling in around the mark – hectic. REDSHIFT skipper Nick Cherry came out of the first windward beat well and was one of the top five boats around the first mark, led by Yoann Richomme (Skipper Macif 2014). Next in the British line up came Ed Hill, who is raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, with Henry Bomby (RED), Sam Goodchild (Team Plymouth) and Alan Roberts (Artemis 23) – all four Brits approaching the mark together inside the top 20. Alan was the first Rookie at the mark, before dropping his spinnaker under the boat – acting like a fishing net and rapidly losing places on the fleet. Nevertheless Nick, who got his campaign together just five weeks before the race, has been impressed by the performance of the British Rookies so far and is looking forward to pitting himself against them in this 505 mile majority downwind leg: “Sam, Rich (Mason) and Alan’s performances have been really encouraging. They all seem very calm and relaxed and I think the training programme this year has been as good as it’s ever been. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to take beating them for granted, and I haven’t beaten them very much – good on them. Hopefully, I can beat them in this next leg; actually, I hope I beat more people in this leg, I don’t care who it is!” 2014 Rookie Rich (Artemis 77), Jack Bouttell (GAC Pindar) and Sam Matson passed around the mark with the back end of the fleet.

The start of Leg 3 was far from smooth sailing for Fabien Delahaye (Skipper Macif 2012) and Joan Ahweiller (Region Basse Normandie). The current race leader, Fabien broke his D1 (a lower part of the rigging that holds the mast in place) waiting for the start. Crossing the line and then returning to port to fix it, Fabien will have added plenty of time to his overall elapsed time. Meanwhile, Joan Ahweiller received a second foul blow, literally, as he and Sebastien Simon (Crédit Mutuel Espoir) collided shortly after the start. Reporting that his boat was taking on water, Joan was forced to retire from the race again – he had to retire from Leg 2 after hitting the Plymouth breakwater.

Ahead of the start, the British competitors were looking forward to what they described as a ‘typically French leg’ between Roscoff and Les Sables d’Olonne, taking the fleet through notorious areas of the French Atlantic coast line including Chenal du Four, Raz de Sein, the Bay of Biscay and around Belle Ile. Leg 3 also differs from the first half of the race in that the skippers will spend a lot more time under spinnaker, almost two and a half days, as Alan explained: “We’ve got a mainly downwind leg for Leg 3, with a moderate breeze of between 10 to 12 knots swinging between north east and north west for the duration. From the mark at Birvideaux lighthouse, we go 155 miles across the Bay of Biscay and then 150 miles along the Vendée coast. Once on this offshore leg, we’re expecting quite a fickle wind, so it’s going to be important to rest well in the first half of the leg to ensure we’re in the game at the end.” The current ETA for the fleet in Les Sables d’Olonne, home of the famous Vendée Globe finish is Thursday 26th June.

Matson said: “I wouldn’t say that there has been anything I’ve not enjoyed about the race so far, the challenges are just part of it. Of course there are down times when you’re racing, when you feel a bit slow or you are passed by another boat. I’ve had moments when the whole fleet have caved in around me, but I just try to stay level headed and keep going and try to keep it in your mind that you can sail away again – all is not lost.”

“We’re sailing a lot of the Solo Maitre Coq course, our first race of the season, which was a disaster for me. I learned such a lot from that race and the mistakes I made and hopefully I can show that with this leg.”

“My starts really aren’t that great, and I’m finding myself at the back of the fleet going into the first night. From then on I try to sail fast and consistently and just plugging my way through the fleet. Through my double-handed sailing over the last five years, I’m quite used to playing the long game and trying to manage myself well on board – I think that this is helping me a lot with the solo racing. You see quite a lot of people around you on the course being impatient and making big calls to try and see a gain, but these decisions can cost a lot and I prefer to just sit tight, sail hard and consistently. I’m not one for risks.”

“On this leg it’s going to be important to get rest early on in this leg, to make sure we are awake for the final miles between Birvideaux and the finish line. We’ll be sailing on the breeze on this long stretch, and it will be important to be alert and making the right decisions. It’s not going to be a windy leg, I’m hoping we get a breezy one before the end.”

“The support from home has been amazing, from my friends, family, my sailing club – I’m constantly receiving messages of support, which is really nice. I’m really happy with the following I’ve got from everyone back home and with the media attention I’ve received. I think it’s so exciting to see people talking and getting excited about solo sailing back home. It’s great.”

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