The four British sailors competing in the 2011 Solitaire du Figaro were there with one aim only, to learn as much as they could competing against many of the world’s best solo sailors in a race that is renowned for its intense and close competition over four short offshore legs. There were no expectations of ‘leg wins’ or victory, the game plan was to sharpen and hone their own short-handed racing skills as they carve out their solo racing careers.
Sam Goodchild, Phil Sharp, Conrad Humphreys and Nigel King all have aspirations to compete in the legendary solo, non-stop round the world Vendée Globe race (Humphreys has done so once already) and they have all, undoubtedly, benefited from this competition and from the training programme of the Artemis Offshore Academy – the first of its kind in the UK. For Goodchild who was awarded the inaugural Artemis Offshore Academy Figaro Scholarship this year, it was his first Solitaire du Figaro and his ‘Everest’. Also competing in the Solitaire for this first time, Sharp and Humphreys have thousands of solo miles under their belts but it is the cut and thrust of this particular competition that attracted them to it; whereas, for Nigel King, a full-time professional sailor, this was his third time and it never gets any easier!
This year’s overall winner of the 2011 Solitaire du Figaro, Jérémie Beyou, has competed in the annual event an incredible 13 times and it has been a long, hard road to success. Beyou, who won a remarkable three out of four legs during this year’s race, has entered the elite club of double race winners. He believes the Artemis Offshore Academy is exactly what is needed to help British sailors: “The Artemis Offshore Academy is a great idea, we have a similar system in France,” stated Beyou. “I think it’s the perfect programme to enable sailors like Sam Goodchild to have a good race and maybe one day to try to win the Solitaire du Figaro.”
The overall 2011 results for the Artemis Offshore Academy sailors are: Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) finished 18th, Conrad Humphreys (DMS) in 31st, Sam Goodchild (Artemis) in 34th and Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics) in 38th.
2006 Route de Rhum Class 40 winner Phil Sharp gained the best overall result for a British sailor in the modern history (last 20 years) of the Solitaire, finishing in 18th position overall and 3rd place in the ‘Rookie’ (first-time) division. Samantha Davies previously held this accomplishment, finishing in 19th place in 2003. “I’m really happy because the best overall British result is 19th and I finished in 18th place!” said an elated Sharp. “There’s no reason why I can’t learn from my mistakes and come back and go for a top ten, maybe even a top five position overall. It’s fantastic to finish in the top 20 at my first attempt and I’m sure it’s a good result to move forward with. I think a lot more racing opportunities will open up for me. I can’t wait to do some sailing on the bigger IMOCA 60 boats over the winter and work towards the Europa Tour next year, that’s the big focus for me.”
The ‘Fab Four’ as they were christened at the start of the race by the French press who avidly follow this race, have had an exciting month with highs and lows associated with this demanding sport, as well as a steep learning curve throughout the legs in this highly competitive one-design playing field of 47 entries, predominantly French. “I think I’ve learned more in six months of sailing the Figaro than I have in four or five years of open class sailing and that’s because it’s a one-design boat so you spend a lot of time tuning the sails, tuning the rig, tuning the rudders,” explained triple round the world sailor Conrad Humphreys who finished in 31st on board DMS.
For double round the world skipper Nigel King, racing on E-Line Orthodontics, he finished in 38th place overall, with a best leg finish of 20th in leg 3. But King still holds the highest leg finish for a British competitor when he finished 6th in leg 3 of the 2009 race. “I see the Solitaire du Figaro as the ultimate challenge, you’ve got to race 24 hours a day for several days,” said King. “As a class there’s a lot of emotion, a lot of passion and I’m passionate about my sport and my sailing.”
Another sailor who has cemented his passion for solo sailing is Goodchild: “During this month long race I have learnt so much about myself, my sailing and my passion for it. I love being out on the water, competing on my boat by myself is where I am happiest.” A wake up call came for 21-year old Goodchild during the final leg from Les Salbes d’Olonne to Dieppe, bringing home how easy it can be when you’re tired to make small mistakes which can be catastrophic: “I was leaning over the side of the boat to check for weed on the keel, forgetting that the [auto-pilot] remote was in my pocket and I leaned on the button to tack the boat. I went from high in the air to top half of my body underwater, I was almost swimming… It was one of the most scary experiences I’ve had on a boat, I almost fell in the water at four in the morning, in the dark!”
For the four British Artemis Offshore Academy sailors who competed in the Solitaire du Figaro this year, the ultimate goal is to compete in the pinnacle of solo offshore racing, the Vendée Globe, in the future. Dame Ellen MacArthur has claimed the best British result in the history of the race in 2001 when she finished second. The ultimate accolade of becoming the first Britain to ever win the Vendée Globe is still there to be taken in the future and the Artemis Offshore Academy’s objective is to help a British sailor take it!
The Selection Trials for the new intake at the Artemis Offshore Academy are currently open for entry [closing date is midnight, 4th September 2011]. Selected applicants will be put through their paces over a three-day intensive programme based at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy between the 26th September to the 1st October with up to eight places available in the next Development Squad, one of whom, like Sam Goodchild, will be awarded the Figaro scholarship.
Solitaire du Figaro Leg 4 Results:
1st – Jeremie Beyou (BPI) 72h 37’ 01”
2nd – Paul Meilhat (Macif 2011) +12”
3rd – Fabien Delehaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham) +28”
20th Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) +24’ 22”
30th – Conrad Humphreys (DMS) + 37’ 27”
33rd – Sam Goodchild (Artemis) + 39’ 57”
36th – Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics) + 51’ 50”
Overall 2011 Solitaire du Figaro results:
1st – Jeremei Beyou (BPI) 257h 08’ 41”
2nd – Fabien Delehaye (Port de Caen Ouistreham) +34’ 43”
3rd – Erwan Tabarly (Nacarat) +01h 07’ 59”
18th – Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) + 02h 42’ 51”
31st – Conrad Humphreys (DMS) + 06h 14’ 57”
34th – Sam Goodchild (Artemis) + 09h 36’ 33”
37th – Nigel King (E-Line Orthodontics) + 11h 12’ 42”
Overall 2011 Solitaire du Figaro Rookie Results:
1st – Morgan Lagraviere (Vendee) 258h 57’ 20”
2nd – Xaier Macaire (Starter Active Bridge) +20’ 50”
3rd – Phil Sharp (The Spirit of Independence) + 59’ 12”
7th – Conrad Humphreys (DMS) + 04h 26’ 18”
8th – Sam Goodchild (Artemis) + 07h 47’ 54”
(Taken from www.artemisoffshoreacademy.com)