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Figaro Solo Race 2014: Sam Goodchild leads the British charge as frustrating conditions and fierce competition lie ahead

Goodchild made a strong start to the Figaro but admits his own expectations mean he has a lot to live up to

Heading for home, Sam Goodchild faced frustrating conditions as well as fierce competition as he started one of France’s top singlehanded races. The Figaro Solo Race has been the breeding ground for most of the French greats and the alma mater of many Vendée Globe round the world race winners and it keeps attracting back its graduates.

The first leg stretches the distance from Deauville to Plymouth to 484 miles, including an up-Channel hitch to the Owers Light, a down-Channel run past the Isle of Wight to Wolf Rock, a cross-Channel section to Roscoff and then up to Goodchild’s home port of Sutton Harbour under the Hoe which was the playground of Drake.

He is a product of the Cowes-based, though often training in Brittany, Artemis Offshore Academy, sponsored by a Scottish investment house, run by the same company that stages the Extreme Sailing Series, and designed to challenge the supremacy of the French in short-handed sailboat racing.

Of the 38 starters, including both women, most are based in France and while there is always some emphasis on the “rookies” that is partly because it is so difficult to win. Back to race against Goodchild are the likes of Alain Gautier, Yann Elies, Jérémie Beyou and Erwan Tabarly.

The weather at the start was too good for yacht racing, full sunshine and a light wind. Finding the wind and cheating the tide will mean little sleep in short cat-naps and the fleet is not expected to sample the delights of fish and chips in the Barbican until Wednesday night or Thursday morning. After an inshore race the fleet then takes a circuitous route back to Roscoff, goes on to Les Sables d’Olonne, starting port for the Vendée and finishes in Cherbourg.

Goodchild was the leading British sailor off the start, though Ireland’s Dave Kenefick was a couple of places ahead of him, and then Goodchild pushed his Team Plymouth yacht up to third place but there were too many traps ahead for this to be relevant.

“This is my fourth Solitaire, so at least I now know what I'm going in to, what the Figaro is about,” said Goodchild. “My confidence is higher but I think also my expectations are higher - my own expectations, so we'll wait to see how it goes.”

Added Weymouth’s Rich Mason, top rookie early in the piece: “it's definitely a four-day leg now which is about double the time I've ever been at sea.”

Ian Williams and his Team GAC Pindar picked France’s Mathieu Richard as their semi-final opponent in Match Race Germany, the opening event of the Alpari world championship in Langenargen. Kiwi Phil Robertson lined up against Australia’s Keith Swinton in the other half as reigning champion Taylor Canfield of the US Virgin Islands failed to make the cut. Williams, a former lawyer from Southampton, is bidding to be first to win five world titles at the end of the seven-regatta series in Malaysia in December.