Strangford Lough sailor Hammy Baker is among a line up of British sailors from the Cowes-based Artemis Offshore Academy are looking to post strong results in the week-long Solo Maitre Coq race that starts from Les Sables d’Olonne today.
With several of the main Figaro competitors currently racing across the Atlantic in the Transat AG2R La Mondiale race, this year’s Solo Maitre Coq – the second of the main build-up races to the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro in June – offers an opportunity for strong performances from both Artemis Offshore Academy alumni and rookies.
The Maitre Coq starts with two days of inshore racing off Les Sables d’Olonne. After a rest day on Wednesday, there is then a long 280-mile offshore race that could see the sailors at sea for up to three days. The key to a good result is consistency across both disciplines and stamina over what promises to be a tough week of racing in the 33ft Bénéteau Figaro II one-design fleet.
As well as Northern Ireland's Baker there are five British sailors on the 22-boat startline, three alumni sailors – Alan Roberts (Vasco de Gama), Nick Cherry (Redshift) and Hammy Baker (Artemis 64) – and three rookies in Will Harris (Artemis 77), Mary Rook (Artemis 37) and Hugh Brayshaw (Artemis 23).
With strong dinghy racing backgrounds, both Roberts and Cherry will be looking for a good start to the championship and will hope to be well up in the standings after the four inshore races. Baker, who is returning to racing alone after competing in the double-handed division of the Solo Concarneau Trophée Guy Cotten, is hoping to match them.
“My goal is to be in the top-half of the fleet and definitely top-10,” said the Ulsterman, “but then again I have only managed to get two days of training in since the Concarneau race, so I’ll have to see when I get out there…it’s a bit like riding a bike, when you have been off it for while you can still be a bit rusty.”
Among the British rookies Will Harris will be looking to continue the sparkling form he showed in the Solo Concarneau when he started brilliantly and then sailed confidently to finish top-rookie and sixth overall in a 23-boat fleet. Harris is hoping he can bring the same level of performance to the Maitre Coq.
“There is only one guy racing here who was ahead of me in the Concarneau race,” said Harris, aged 22 from Surrey. “In terms of achievement I wouldn’t put a result on it but I want to come away from the week feeling I have given it my all. It’s going to be a very different experience, especially because we have inshore racing this time. If you have a bad start, you haven’t got three days to catch-up. Every race counts and you can’t have a bad result in any of them.”
Charles Darbyshire, director of the Artemis Offshore Academy, is in Les Sables d’Olonne to keep eye on his charges and says the Solo Maitre Coq is another big step on the road to the Figaro for the rookies. “This will give the sailors a flavour of what it is like in the Solitaire in terms of rest and recovery time between races,” he said. “On Monday and Tuesday they will be off the dock at 9.00am and will not be back until seven after a long day on the water. Then they only have Wednesday to recover and plan for the long offshore race which will be two nights at sea.”
The weather forecast for Les Sables d’Olonne promises two light wind races today and then breezier conditions for tomorrow’s inshore contest. The long offshore race was looking like a thrash in 30-knots, but latest predictions suggest a wind range of 10-15 knots, giving a total passage time for the 280-mile course of up to three days.