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Northern Ireland solo offshore sailor Andrew Baker was among the Artemis Offshore Academy making an emotional procession out of Cowes Yacht Haven, the pontoons sinking beneath the weight of friends and family cheering them on their way to Paimpol. Starting Leg 2 of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro from the famous Royal Yacht Squadron start line, Cowes seafront was lined with the public armed with binoculars and cameras for the spectacle.

“People suggested that the leg we have just completed was the toughest one in memory, so that should mean it will be easier this time! It’s good to get that out of the way. What was important in Cowes was getting enough rest to get back in the game for the next few legs and not burn out. It really was a hard leg with strong winds on the first day and then very feeble winds for the next days. It was tough physically, but nothing you can’t recuperate from with some sleep, Baker said.

"Leaving Cowes after just three days on shore, the Solitaire skippers face a fast but tiring leg"

 

Leaving Cowes after just three days on shore, the Solitaire skippers face a fast but tiring leg. Zig-zagging their way out of the Solent in 20 knots on the nose with the tide on a magic carpet ride, the fleet can expect to stay in the express lane for most of the way to Paimpol, as Race Director Gilles Chiorri explained.

“On this leg, the fleet will face all of the difficulties associated with the Channel – current, wind and lots of tacking. Another difficulty will be the length of the leg, 430 miles solo is again long to race alone, the current routing shows them spending three days and three nights at sea. There will also be a lot of tactics involved. The skippers who are further back in the ranking after Leg 1 will be on the attack. The Iroise Sea will be one of the most challenging areas of the course, with big wind, big waves and lot of rocks – it will require bravery,” he concluded.

Follow Baker and the fleet here

 

 

Published in Figaro
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Northern Ireland solo sailor Andrew Baker has announced his support of UKSA’s youth development campaign ‘#SeaChange’ during the 2016 Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro.

#SeaChange provides life-changing opportunities to schools and groups, disadvantaged and disaffected young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs) and young offenders. A common theme for many of these individuals is the low expectation they have of themselves and #SeaChange challenges them to transform and to create opportunities for themselves.

By naming Baker’s blue and white Figaro #SeaChange ahead of the 1525nm race between Deauville, Cowes, Paimpol and La Rochelle, the sailor hopes to raise awareness of the initiative among sailing fans, the media and public across the United Kingdom. For UKSA, Baker is the perfect ambassador to inspire support.

“I’m proud to be supporting the #SeaChange campaign during the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro and hope through my connection with UKSA and participation in this epic race I am able inspire young people to get into sailing,” he said.

Out sailing with his Dad as soon as he could walk, Baker recognises the importance of getting children into sailing at a young age and the life skills a career on the water can provide.

“#Seachange is a cause I can really relate to,” Baker continued. “I’ve been sailing since a very young age and I have learned so much from the sport. It teaches you about independence, hard work, motivation, determination, camaraderie, the environment and so much more. Being out on the water is such an invaluable experience and I fully support UKSA in their mission.”

The official charity of this year’s UK Solitaire stopover in Cowes, UKSA will be present in the Race Village between 22nd and 26th June offering try sailing, a sailing simulator, interactive game and fund raising.

Ben Willows, Chief Executive of UKSA, is proud to lend the name to Baker’s Figaro for the race, and looks forward to welcoming the sailor to Cowes in a week’s time.

“It is fantastic that Andrew has re branded his boat #SeaChange,” he said. “We are really proud to be a part of La Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro’s UK stopover and to share our #SeaChange message."

“Our ground breaking youth development programmes use water based activities to provide students with both the qualifications and skills to develop themselves. We see first-hand how confidence is developed, as young people are motivated by the prospect of a brighter future; re-engaging with education, further training or a successful transition into to employment.”

Published in Figaro
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Northern Ireland solo sailor Andrew Baker finished 13th in the Solo Normandie race. Baker, from Strangford Lough, is part of the British Artemis offshore team.

British Figaro racer Alan Roberts secured third place, his third top-10 finish of 2016 on Saturday ahead of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro in June. 

After sailing 284 miles of some of the most challenging French Atlantic coastline, from Granville to Le Havre, Roberts finished the Solo Normandie in third place on Vasco de Gama.

The British solo racer from Southampton was just 17 minutes behind race-winner Alexis Loison (Groupe Fiva) and eight minutes behind Damien Cloarec (Saferail) in second. Fifteen competitors took part.

This podium finish for Roberts follows his 10th place in the Solo Concarneau and 6th in the Solo Maître Coq and it continues his impressive build-up to the Solitaire where he will be looking for a second consecutive top-10 finish overall after coming 9th last year.

Ahead of the Solo Normandie, Roberts was looking forward to tackling a challenging tidal course – at the finish he said the race didn’t disappoint.

“It was cool,” said Roberts on the dock at Le Havre. “We got to play through some interesting tide effects and rocky areas and sail next to some giant lighthouses. It was a great race, and it delivered exactly what I had expected, if not more.”

After rounding the first mark in the top-four boats, Roberts then found himself at the back of the fleet on the first beat after an incident with another boat. Getting very little sleep during a challenging two-day race, he then worked hard to establish himself back with the front-runners.

By the final hours of racing, Roberts was back in the top-five – and he then enjoyed a brisk final run to the finish line, helped by playing the tides at Raz de Blanchard (the famous Alderney Race), to take his podium finish.

“Being one of the first at the Raz de Blanchard is what won the race in the end,” he continued. “The Solo Normandie was pretty difficult and tiring. I had to work really hard to move back through the fleet which has been the story of all of my races this year so far.”

Asked about his feelings ahead of this year’s Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro, Roberts sounded confident: “I’m feeling happy with my speed. These first three races have shown me that I am able to pull back through the fleet when I need to.”

The next British skipper into Le Havre was Robin Elsey aboard Artemis 43 in 7th. Recently returned from the 3,890-nautical mile Transat AG2R La Mondiale, a double-handed transatlantic Figaro race, Elsey threw himself in at the deep end with the Solo Normandie – his first solo race of the season.

“It was a difficult race and I made a lot of rookie mistakes,” Elsey admitted. “I’m just glad I finished it and didn’t come last! After a bad start – I’m never really a good starter anyway – I found myself back with the fleet on the second leg of the race; I managed to claw it back.”

On the challenges of the course Elsey said: “The tides were difficult. Will (Harris) and I entered the Raz de Blanchard at the same time and I ended up sailing away and leaving him behind. I felt a bit bad doing that. But in the end we finished next to each other anyway – that boy is like a bad rash, you can’t get rid of him!”

Staying true to form, Harris was the first British rookie to finish. He was 8th overall and second rookie behind Justine Mettraux (Teamwork), making this Harris’s third rookie podium position of the season, the Harris/Mettraux battle will make for an interesting Solitaire rookie competition.

“That was probably the most difficult of the three races we’ve had so far,” said the skipper of Artemis 77. “There was never a good time to sleep and the tide, the wind and the position of the fleet was constantly changing. You had to stay reactive.

“I’ve learned a lot this season. You take so much away from every race. I go into each race knowing more, but I also come out of the other end having learned more – I think that is the case for all of the rookies. We have a few weeks of training now to get ready for the Figaro,” he concluded.

Next over the line was Academy Alumni Andrew Baker (Artemis 64) in 13th, then rookies Hugh Brayshaw (Artemis 23) in 14th and Mary Rook (Artemis 37) in 15th.

The next race for the rookies is the big one; the 1,425-mile Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro, that starts on 19th June from Deauville.

The Solo Normandie 2016 results
Position/Skipper/Boat name/Time at sea

1. Alexis Loison/Groupe Fiva – 1d, 19h, 34m, 10s
2. Damien Cloarec/Saferail – 1d, 19h, 43m, 50s
3. Alan Roberts/Vasco de Gamma – 1d, 19h, 51m, 10s
7. Robin Elsey/Artemis 43 – 1d, 20h, 17m, 17s
8. Will Harris/Artemis 77 – 1d, 20h, 17m, 45s – 2nd Rookie
13. Andrew Baker/Artemis 64 – 1d, 20h, 59m, 25s
14. Hugh Brayshaw/Artemis 23 – 1d, 21h, 32m, 49s
15. Mary Rook/Artemis 37 – 1d, 22h, 12m, 35s

Published in Figaro
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Northern Ireland solo offshore sailor Andrew Baker sailing Artemis 64 says he's learned to 'forget the small stuff in anticipation of bigger challenges' as he prepares for today's Solo Normandie that offers him and his fellow Artemis team–mates the chance to check out the start of this summer’s Figaro course

“I feel in a good position. I’m well rested and have been able to take stock of what I need to work on for this race. The boat has had some repairs and I’ve done some work to the hull, so I’m hoping we will be a little bit quicker, he told Afloat.ie

The Artemis Offshore Academy sailors Will Harris, Mary Rook, Hugh Brayshaw, Alan Roberts, Andrew Baker and Robin Elsey today set sail on the Solo Normandie 2016.

This is the final warm-up race ahead of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro in June for Harris, Rook, Brayshaw and Baker. Elsey and Roberts will race again in the mainly inshore ALL MER CUP in two weeks time.

The Normandie offers a 284-nautical mile tidal and rocky coastal course from Granville to Le Havre in France – with a finish close to Deauville – the start of this year’s Solitaire.

“There’s a huge tidal element to this race, so I think it will be a great practice run for the Solitaire this year, which follows a more coastal route. Short tacking through rocks along the coast will be great practice.

“I’ve learned a lot over the last two races. I’ve learned that I can be quick, but I’ve also learned that I can’t forget the small stuff in anticipation of the bigger challenges.

“I’ve not looked at the forecast in detail for this race on purpose as every grib file I’ve downloaded has been different. Sometimes you can have too many strategies in your head and that can effect the outcome of your race if you’re faced with something unexpected.” says Baker.

“It’s an opportunity to race on a super-tidal course, where we can expect to learn the wind effects along a coastline ahead of the Solitaire,” said Harris , Rookie division winner of both the Solo Concarneau and the Solo Maître Coq. “It’s such a tidal area that we may have to race between a lot of rocks, even anchor at times, so getting used to that over the next three days will be my main focus.”

With just 8-10 knots of breeze forecast for the start of the race, organisers delayed setting the course until last night.

This last-minute decision, combined with ever-changing weather forecasts pre-race, has meant planning for the Solo Normandie has been difficult for the 15 skippers taking part – particularly for the six rookie sailors, among them Rook , Harris and Brayshaw .

“Planning for the race has been pretty vague with changing weather predictions and the course set only last night,” said Brayshaw before leaving the dock. “Because of that I’ve been focusing on the things that I can control – the boat and myself. The rocks and tides we’ll come up against in this race make for a unique course.”

Despite a light, flat and drizzly start, conditions are expected to build towards the end of the race as Rook, one of four female sailors competing, explained this morning.

“It’s going to be a rainy and foggy start,” she said. “But I like lighter winds so the first half should be good for me. The end of the race is going to be quite a challenge though – 30 knots of wind against tide in the middle of the night and having to change sails – I’m not really looking forward to that.”

For Roberts , who was the top British Solitaire finisher in 2015, the strong tidal areas of the north-western French Atlantic coast will be the key ingredient in this race.

“The Solo Normandie will be a hard one because of the strong currents,” he said. “There will be times during the race where the back end of the fleet will be able to reconnect with the front, and others where the front will be able to pull away from the rest. It will be very tricky because of that and nothing will be certain until we cross the finish line.”

Of the 15 competitors, the experienced Figaro campaigner Alexis Loison (Groupe Fiva) will likely be the one to beat, with Academy Alumni Roberts, Baker and Elsey (Artemis 43) all in with a good chance of a top five finish.

Within the Rookie division, Harris is looking to continue his winning streak, going for his third consecutive Rookie division victory ahead of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro.

“I’m aiming for the top Rookie again,” he said. “I’ve previously struggled with light wind sailing, but we had quite a lot of it in the last race and I found myself being quite fast – so I’m looking forward to testing myself again. There is also quite a lot of upwind sailing in this race, which I would say is one of my strengths, also sailing in bigger breeze. I’m looking forward to it.”

e with lots of tide and you really have to think about your strategy in that situation.

“In the first two races, I found it quite difficult being on my own, and not having any help if a situation turns bad. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s always just going to be me, so not to get too stressed or emotional when things do go bad. Just try to fix it and move onto the next thing.

“I’m not worried about the changeable forecast, as everyone is in the same situation. I’m just going to make sure I’m properly set up for light winds and then ready for the heavier breeze when and if it comes.

“The plan for the race has been pretty unclear, changing weather predictions and the course set only the night before, so I’ve been focusing on the things that I can control – the boat and myself.”

“It’s an opportunity to race on a super-tidal course, where we can expect to learn the wind effects along a coastline ahead of the Solitaire. It’s such a tidal area that we may have to race between a lot of rocks, even anchor at times, so getting used to that over the next three days will be my main focus.

“I’d also like to aim for the top Rookie again, with only 15 competitors taking part in this race I can’t really say where I’ll fit in in the overall rankings. I’ll just sail as fast as I can and learn as much as I can ahead of the Solitaire.

“I tired myself out very quickly in the last race, so I’m going into this next race aware that I need to keep on top of my sleep and make sure I don’t burn out. This is going to be really difficult given the nature of the course. It will difficult to find opportunities to sleep between rocks and tidal areas.

“The weather forecast is light on the first day which was has meant race organisers have had trouble setting the course. I’ve previously struggled with lightwind sailing, but we had quite a lot of it in the last race and I found myself being quite fast – so I’m looking forward to testing myself again. There is also quite a lot of upwind sailing, which I would say is one of my strengths, also sailing in bigger breeze. I’m looking forward to it.”

Published in Figaro

Experience met ambition this weekend, as Northern Ireland Artemis Offshore Academy sailor Andrew Baker teamed up with round the world sailor Mike Golding for the RORC Cherbourg Race.
During the 75nm drag race to Cherbourg, France from Cowes, UK, Baker, from Saintfield in County Down was privy to a sailing master-class from one of the world’s most successful solo racers.
Golding has over 250,000 sailing miles under his belt and has achieved podium success in many of the world toughest offshore races. The British skipper has competed in a record four Vendée Globes, achieving his best result in 2004, third.
Arriving in Cherbourg on Saturday 5th September, Baker and Golding took line honors in IRC 2 aboard Artemis 23, beating 18 other boats to France. The pair finished a respectable 11th overall and were fifth in the double-handed division.
A member of the Royal Southampton Yacht Club, Golding and Baker will team up once again for the IRC Double-handed National Championship later this month.
Five Artemis Offshore Academy Figaros took part in the Cherbourg Race- see their results below. Read Baker’s report on his race with Golding below:

baker golding

Northern Ireland Artemis Offshore Academy sailor Andrew Baker (right) teamed up with round the world sailor Mike Golding

A few weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity to sail with Mike Golding in the RORC Cherbourg race. Without a second thought I said yes - 75nm sailed with one of the UK’s top solo racers is a lesson worth having. I looked forward to the knowledge and advice Mike would be able to impart during the race.
Before I knew it, it was race day. With Artemis 23 ready to go, I sailed over to Warsash to meet Mike for the first time. Although Mike is one of the UK’s top solo sailors with an incredible record, he was very approachable and any nerves I had quickly disappeared.
We began hoisting sails and preparing the boat for racing, I let Mike take control so he could get a feel for the Figaro one-design. Training session over, we headed to the start line ready for the IRC 2 gun at 1900.
The weather in the Solent was pretty bleak, with grey overcast skies. There was more wind than forecast for the start, but we prepared ourselves for the breeze to drop away into the evening.
Pushed for time, we charged towards the line. It soon transpired, however, that we’d been so deep in race mode that we’d forgotten to bring any spoons. I thought about sailing past Will Harris on Artemis 77 to get some, but we risked being on the back foot for the start. With just five minutes to the gun, we decided our attack on the line. And we never did get any spoons.
Mike and I had a great start. We were just windward of Nick Cherry’s Redshift, with the rest of the Figaro fleet behind. A tight race ensued as we exited the Solent, going head-to-head for the lead with Redshift.
Alongside Hurst Castle and on the lay line for the Needles Fairway – the only mark on our course before France – Mike’s skills really shone. We sailed fast and the shortest course possible, Mike on the helm and me trimming the sails. We were working well as a team. When the breeze increased to over 15 knots - I got a lovely hosing on the bow preparing the spinnaker for hoist.
Our strategy for the Channel crossing could be summed up in three points:
1 – Boatspeed. There was an awkward chop so Mike suggested sailing higher as it was easier to keep the sails stable and the boat moving.
2. Tidal strategy. The tide was going from right to left, so being on starboard was quicker. There were times when we had to be on port gybe so deciding the right moment for this was crucial, but Mike’s experience helped us make the right moves.
3. Covering the fleet. The main advantage of leading a race is that to beat you to the finish, the other boats must sail around you. Covering their moves and keeping your boat between them and the next mark can limit their opportunities to overtake. This is easy to manage with one boat, but less so when they are coming at you from all different directions.
Developing these strategies and thinking them through together really brought home to me the value of having Mike on board. With no prior Figaro experience, he was able to bring new ideas to the race. Every move I wanted to make, he would question and counter, suggesting alternatives that suited his own sailing experience. We bounced ideas off each other, critiquing one another to find the most efficient manoeuvres and tactics. The race – like all yacht races - was about compromise, and our teamwork was invaluable.
Pushing us really hard however, Alan Roberts on Magma Structures soon caught up. Neither Mike nor I got any sleep through the night, as Roberts and the fleet behind him piled on the pressure.
Finally we rounded the breakwater off Cherbourg Harbour and aimed the boat for the finish line. We finished at 0544, happy to be the first Figaro to France, unaware we’d won the IRC 2 handicap class.
After heading ashore for a spot of ‘petit-déjeuner’, we began our delivery back to Cowes. En route back , I got a call from Rob Bunce, delivering the news we’d won the class. The Figaro doesn’t rate very well in the handicap, so it was fantastic to have secured this result – and I had Mike to thank for that. Some hours later, I woke up to a sunset rounding of the Needles - the perfect conclusion to the race.
Sailing with Mike taught me a lot. Undoubtedly, his second opinion won us the race. Having two sets of ideas forced us to debate and then, implement the best of both options. Watching him sail helped me understand more too – observing the points at which he was calm and stressed taught me more about his priorities aboard the boat.
We discussed not only this race but others – past and future - along the way. Hearing his Vendée stories and his Extreme 40 experiences gave me confidence that I’m on the right track. I’m a lot more confident in my abilities after sailing with him, and I look forward to sailing in the IRC Nationals with him later this month.
I almost forgot…his home-made stew scored a solid nine out of ten, despite having eaten it sharing a single teaspoon.

RORC Cherbourg race IRC2 Figaro Results
Position/Boat name/Crew
1. Artemis 23/Andrew Baker, Mike Golding
4. Magma Structures/Alan Roberts, Ian Baylis
6. Chatham Marine/Sam Matson, Hugh Brayshaw
8. Redshift/Nick Cherry, Ed Fishwick
14. Artemis 77/Will Harris, Sam Jacklin

Published in Offshore
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