Sea serpents, wolves and lizards lie in wait for the 39 skippers on the last lap of the Solitaire du Figaro which starts from Torbay at tea time on Sunday. The course, shortened by 90 miles in anticipation of light winds, goes west down the Channel and then north to an exclusion zone off north Cornwall where heavy electricity cables lie undulating on the sea bed and then back south to Wolf Rock and past the Lizard before heading west up the Channel to the Owers Light off Selsey Bill and the dive south to the finish line at Dieppe. There will be sleepless nights.
It will take something powerful to stop Yann Eliès chalking up a trio of wins in four years, but he has only a 22-minute cushion over second-placed Charlie Dalin and one navigational error or unexpected breakage could wreck his chances.
It will take almost an act of god to halt the octet of British entries in an event that is completing its 46th edition and has the confidence to announce that it is introducing a new boat in 2019.
By that time there are hopes that the Artemis Academy will have consolidated even further its progress in the art of singlehanded racing, a project it entrusted to OC Sport in 2006. Figures on how much has been spent by the Scottish-originated financial management and investment house in the nearly 10 years so far are not available but, including investment also in Open 60 sailing, canny observers estimate that their contribution tops £20m.
Managing the brood, though sometimes, he says, they can be difficult to manage, Charles Darbyshire says they need tobe comfortable being alone and responsible for everything. He also says that aptitude is not a matter of gender and adds that some of his colleagues may even say that women are better suited.
All of the current crop are men and three of them express contrasting shades of approach depending on how far into the programme they are. Robin Elsey is the rookie and has no additional sponsorship. His is an unmitigated ‘bring it on attitude’. He can’t get enough of it, be it training or racing, calendar cruising conditions or muck and bullets.
Sam Matson, a West Country boy from Exmouth, now has the backing of a West Country sailing and sports shoe company, Chatham, which conveniently bolts travelling sales outlets on to the tented village which follows the event around the five cities hosting the start, finish and stopovers. Matson says the real stress is the preparation. “It’s like doing an exam at school,” he says. “Once you go through the door to start there is nothing much more you can do and no point in worrying.”
At 25, Henry Bomby, also a west countryman from Dartmouth, is backed by the Rockfish restaurant chain and on his fourth Figaro. “Last year I just wanted the race to be over and this year I don’t want it to end.” he says.
Last year his results were disappointing; this year he was fourth on leg two and the last time a Brit was fourth in any leg was 1975, when there were just 11 boats.
All three are agreed – and two of them raised their hands when asked which of them was mad – that you need a mixture of athleticism and strategic cunning but most of all the unwavering determination to keep going however bad the circumstances. On that point the French, who revere their singlehanded sailor heroes, would be in complete agreement.
At the end of this year the Pen Duick organisation which runs the event will be merged with OC Sport by their common owner (75 per cent. in the case of OC Sport), Le Télégramme. “We have a nice new batch of rookie blood coming through,” says race director Gilles Chiorri.
In Cardiff, Leigh McMillan with tactician Sarah Ayton continued their winning ways on The Wave, Muscat in the fourth of eight regattas in the Extreme Sailing Series, 15 points ahead of Jes Gram-Hansen’s SAP. Chris Draper kept GAC Pindar in the hunt for a podium place, just seven points behind Hans Peter Steinacher and his Red Bull team.Reuse content