Les Sables-d’Olonne is the solo offshore sailing ‘Mecca’ and was the host port for my first race of the season, the Solo Maitre Coq. A combination of inshore races and one big offshore race that demands every sailing skill going. It felt like a massive uphill struggle to get everything done on time but the metaphorical view from the top was well worth it and the event was a success.
Sleeping on board the Figaro, not the most comfortable
Sanding and re painting my rudders, hanging in the big white van
The challenge of getting the boat from Cowes to France through the freezing storms felt difficult enough on my own but I then had to get the boat through the stringent measurement process. It seemed crazy that not one but two holes had to be drilled underneath the boat to check the thickness of the hull, along with countless other measurements. Thankfully my boat passed the first time and I could legally race against the other one design Figaros. It seemed like an absolute pain but I am grateful for checks like these to keep the racing fair and close.
Drilling some holes in the boat, what fun
The other Figaroists on the entry list did worry me, there were some very experienced, well supported and funded sailors ready to hit this year hard. I’d say the world’s most competitive offshore fleet at the moment. But I may be biased.
The jobs list was slowly being ticked off and all the safety measurements being passed but there didn’t seem to be a time to relax as the forecast for the inshore racing was set to be a solid 25 knots. I have enough experience now to know that it was going to be hard work simply getting the boat around the course. These nerves quickly disappeared though once I was alone on the water and thinking solely on the racing. If anything, I got a little too excited and raced the boat as if it was fully crewed. I felt I had great speed at most times and had good tactics but with some poor tacks around key parts of the race track I finished in a solid 14th place.
Run out of arms mid tack
The original plan was for the offshore race to kick off the very next day. Much to my relief, the race committee took the decision to postpone the start until the following day due to some big squalls and huge waves that even the committee boat couldn’t handle. This gave me a day to rest and try and rid myself of some man flu I had developed.
Glad we stayed inside away from this big boys
Preparing the boat, putting on the race dodgers
When it was finally time to exit the famous Les Sables D’olonne canal into the open ocean there was still a big swell left behind after the storm. Some of the waves were stacking up and breaking producing some excellent surf. I thought I had motored past beyond the break and prepare to turn my engine off for the race when I looked upwind to see a monstrous wave starting to break over itself. I went full throttle to avoid getting hit but all I could do was wrap my arm around the guard wire and hold on as I saw the wave build above my head. The wave hit me hard and put me on my side while the white water completely soaked me. My fresh, clean and dry offshore kit was now soaking, my race dodgers had been ripped up and everything downstairs had been flipped over. Not the perfect start.
Enjoying the close racing
The forecast for this 260-mile offshore race had us completing it in about 40 hours, the weather was predicted to be very unstable with huge clouds influencing us the whole way round. And the race started as it meant to go on, I had a cracking start and positioned myself nicely next to a huge black cloud that hailed heavily on the fleet and gave me the advantage to round the top mark in a great position. I worked my way up to 5th place with good speed under two sails. But when it came to hoisting the spinnaker and tight reaching, I was way off the pace. This would prove to be my problem throughout the race as the wind angle always seemed to shift, revealing my weakness. With hindsight it was a blessing, I was able to get plenty of hours of practice getting the correct sail setup and finding the speed.
Trying to make the right decisions in among the clouds and huge waves
Tactics were challenging around the clouds that either gave you 25 knots and hail storms or sucked all the wind away and left you bouncing in the lumpy sea. You really had to stay calm and try and be clever to get some advantage. The closing stages were something of a kick in the teeth, after a 70-mile leg catching one boat and holding off another I was in good position to beat them both to the finish line. It seemed so unfair to have worked hard that whole time and have a wind shift that left me behind, this is how sailing goes unfortunately and you can see nothing at 3am to predict it.
So I finished the Solo Maitre Coq in 17th Position overall out of the 24 boat fleet. Looking back to what I had to deal with and the progress I have made during the difficult start to the year I am feeling very positive for the races to come. I have showed some good starts and sensible decisions with some good speed, I just need to work on the consistency to finish these races higher up the leaderboard. Onto the next race in Concarneau, starting on April 5th. I am praying for some warmer weather by then.
All smiles in the end
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