Article by Andi Robertson reposted from www.lasolitaire-urgo.com |
They say ‘never say never’ but when British solo racer Nick Cherry starts La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro, next Sunday (26th August) he firmly believes it will be his last attempt at the French based annual solo multi stage offshore race. But with five previous La Solitaire challenges under his belt, the 37-year-old who has been progressively diversifying his racing interests into crewed racing, is ready to give this edition one big final effort.
A back injury has recently reduced his potential training and racing time. But Cherry says the pressure is off, he is heading out on to his La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro swansong feeling like he wants to enjoy the event for the challenges it presents, in the full knowledge that if he sails his best and manages himself well into the closing stages of each of this race’s four stages, he may well deliver his best overall finish yet.
Former match racing champion and top dinghy racer Cherry’s first La Solitaire was in 2012 when he finished 25th. His high water mark so far is the 17th in 2013, one place better than his last attempt at the race in 2016. But, as often the case, the finishing number belies the fact that Cherry can usually match any of the top group sailors for speed and tactical nous in the short to medium term, it is the long game, the ingrained ability to grind out consistently good finishes leg after leg, when extreme tiredness and accumulated fatigue are attacking every decision, gnawing away at even the simplest of speed skillsets.
“My preparation has not been amazing I have to say I have probably only done three days on the boat recently and I am on the way to recovery in terms of fitness but I do think I am good to go sailing. If I keep doing my exercises and look after my back and the sciatica does not come back I should be just fine. I am confident I will be OK.” Cherry, who has sailed in the colours of Redshift since 2014, confirms.
“La Solitaire is unfinished business I have had a break from the race and been away doing IRC and crewed racing with Redshift Reloaded and in the last two years I have been focused on other things and so here I am with no expectations and no pressure. I feel like this time I am prepared to risk a bit more. I know I am quick and am better where I know I was weak – spinnaker reaching for one thing and so I am really looking forwards to it. I had some good training in the winter in Lorient and go into this race with something like 25 Figaro races under my belt and so I know what I think I am capable of.” Says Cherry, who is an MEng Ship Science graduate of the University of Southampton. “I know myself better now I know when to rest and when to really push. I am much more sanguine and philosophical when things go wrong. I am at my best in windy downwind conditions and I think I know how to sail a steady race, keeping everything in one piece. I am maybe still not so good in the big shutdowns (when the wind disappears) but overall I am definitely better at keeping a view of the big picture.”
This edition may lack some of the big names such as three times winners Yann Eliès and Jérémie Beyou and other Figaro alumni who have moved on to different challenges – many of whom are anticipated to return next year when the Beneteau Figaro 3 becomes the race boat – but Cherry reaffirms that there are still 20 high calibre Figaro racers among the 36 soloists who will start from Le Havre Sunday 26th.
“There are 20 guys who are Figaro regulars and under the circumstances, I’d be happy with a result in the early teens this time. This race is never going to be easy and that is why I am back. It is the ultimate test of adventure with unrelenting, interesting tight offshore racing. When you get it all right you are rewarded and when it goes wrong you know all about it. And I love it. And I suppose you could say I’m a glutton for punishment.”
Cherry highlights the first 570 leg, in the English Channel to St Brieuc via Wolf Rock, Portsall off the NW tip of Brittany and Guernsey, as definitive, one where it has been proven before you cannot afford to lose time against the leaders.
“You cannot cock it up. You have to be able to stay with the leaders and sail the fleet. You cannot afford to think you are clever because after all you are effectively betting against 20 other guys who will be doing the same thing.” The ongoing support of Ed Fishwick and the Redshift programme has been key to Cherry’s participation in the class, but the time – he believes – has come to move on to other challenges after this race. “I am so luck with the Redshift programme and we have longer term sailing goals in the years to come and are looking at different boats and options, but for me the Figaro 3 is a step too far. You need to be fully committed to a full time programme and be able to do all the lead up races and I cannot commit to that now.” Says Cherry who was spending the final weekend before the start of La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro celebrating his first wedding anniversary with a romantic getaway. But you can be sure that come Sunday 26th no one will be ready to push harder and give it one last shot than Cherry.