#AOAsolo – And they're off...nearly. Just three days now stand between Artemis Offshore Academy Rookies Rob Bunce (Artemis 37), Robin Elsey (Artemis 43), Andrew Baker (Artemis 23) and the first race of their solo offshore careers – the 196 mile Solo Basse Normandie starting 1430 CET on Friday 27th March. The Solo Basse Normandie is the litmus test for the Academy's intrepid Rookies. Have they learned enough? Have they practised enough? Will they be able to stay in the mix with the Classe Figaro Bénéteau's high calibre competitors? For Academy Alumni sailors Sam Matson (Chatham) and Alan Roberts (Magma Structures), the Solo Basse Normandie marks their first race as bona fide Figaro sailors, stepping out of the Rookie division and into the field after racing their first Solitaire du Figaro in 2014. For Jack Bouttell (GAC Concise), the race is the start of his third Classe Figaro Bénéteau season, while Nick Cherry (Redshift) and Henry Bomby (Rockfish Red) are preparing to kick start their fourth. For the British solo Figaro team, supported by the Artemis Offshore Academy, the future couldn't look brighter – the Academy's five Alumni skippers all securing promising partnerships with top UK businesses ahead of the season.
"Right now we are where we'd hoped to be in the Academy's evolution, with British companies seeing value in supporting the endeavours of our Alumni sailors and benefitting from their association," Charles Darbyshire, Artemis Offshore Academy Sailing Team Manager explained. "This benefit is not just in terms of media exposure, but also inspiring their employees and customers. While becoming a title/naming sponsor of a Figaro campaign is clearly a significant financial commitment, we've been impressed by the number of smaller sponsorships the Alumni sailors have been able to sign. This allows smaller companies to access the sailors, as well as giving bigger companies an opportunity to test the water with sailing sponsorship. The Academy has had to evolve from not only creating a British talent pool, but supporting it too. It's great to see eight British names on the entry list for the all important first race of the season – each skipper benefitting from varying degrees of Academy support. I hope the results on the water reflect the effort and energy that has gone in to each and every one of the British campaigns."
At just under 200 miles the Solo Basse Normandie looks set to be a short, but not so sweet race through some of the world's most tidal areas. On delivery to Granville, Jack and competitors from the Pôle Finistere Course au Large training centre were held up outside of the port, forced to anchor for seven hours after missing a vital tidal gate. Granville is notoriously hard town to reach by water, with a large sill preventing the Figaros entering or leaving the port at any time other than high tide. Add in to the mix a rugged coastline, debris and the Channel Islands and the Solo Basse Normandie competitors will have a lot to think about during their two intensely tactical days at sea.
"The Solo Basse Normandie course is extremely tidal" Ed Hill explained, a British Solitaire du Figaro competitor in 2013 and 2014. "It passes through the Alderney Raz, one of the most tidal areas in the world. If you have never been through there before it is an experience in itself. It can be a very frustrating time for a skipper, especially if the tide is against you. The course also slaloms around the Channel Islands, which are notoriously rocky. For the Rookies, there is going to be a lot to think about, especially over night. Twenty-four hours is a long time to have to stay in contention, stay awake and deal with everything that's going on. I think the race is going to be a real eye opener for them, both physically and mentally. There is a really strong turn out for the race this year and all the Brits are up against some really good sailors."
There are now 26 Figaro skippers signed up for the Solo Basse Normandie, ranging from top Solitaire du Figaro competitors Yann Elies, Paul Meilhat, Charlie Dalin and Vendée Globe winner Alain Gautier, to six ambitious Rookies including Rob, Robin and Andrew in the Academy's blue 'Bizuth' boats: "So far we've only sailed against each other and Benoit Mariette from the Rookie division, so measuring ourselves against Sophie Faguet and Martin Pape will be interesting," Robin explained. Along with Rob, Andrew and the Alumni sailors, Robin has spent his week in Granville pouring over charts and doing a recce of the area. "The wind is looking quite light for the race, which makes the tide even more important. I've sailed the area between Granville and Cherbourg quite a bit racing on the Royal Ocean Racing Club circuit and with a negative tide through the Alderney Raz, you'll see seven knots pushing against your boat. I'm hoping that we see a bit a breeze so that we won't need to drop anchor!"
The Solo Basse Normandie starts on Friday 27th March from Granville, France with the competitors expected to arrive in Cherbourg, France on Saturday 28th March.
The Solo Basse Normandie entry list:
1. Paul Meilhat, SMA VOILE/ 4
2. Rob Bunce*, ARTEMIS 37 / 37
3. Robin Elsey*, ARTEMIS 43 / 43
4. Henry Bomby, ROCKFISH RED / 16
5. Yann Elies, GROUPE QUEGUINER LEUCEMIE ESPOIR / 26
6. Alan Roberts, MAGMA STRUCTURES / 85
7. Corentin Horeau, BRETAGNE CREDIT MUTUEL Performance / 3
8. Nick Cherry, REDSHIFT / 56
9. Yoann Richomme, SKIPPER MACIF 2014 / 79
10. Charlie Dalin, SKIPPER MACIF 2015 / 1
11. Martin Le Pape*, OVIMPEX Secours Populaire / 65
12. Benoît Mariette*, ENTREPOSE / 68
13. Thierry Chabagny, GEDIMAT / 8
14. Sébastien Simon, BRETAGNE CREDIT MUTUEL Espoir / 25
15. Alain Gautier, GENERALI 40 / 50
16. Alexis Loison, GROUPE FIVA / 9
17. Claire Pruvot, PORT DE CAEN OUISTREHAM / 55
18. Jackson Bouttell, GAC Concise / 19
19. Andrew Baker*, ARTEMIS 23 / 23
20. Sam Matson, ARTEMIS 21 / 21
21. Sophie Faguet*, REGION BASSE-NORMANDIE / 14
22. Arthur Prat, GUADELOUPE Grand Large 1 / 34
23. Nicolas Thomas, GUADELOUPE Grand Large 2 / 36
24. Gwénolé Gahinet, SAFRAN – Guy Cotten / 62
25. Isabelle Joschke, GENERALI Horizon Mixité
26. Adrien Hardy, AGIR RECOUVREMENT