Roberts leads the British charge at the Solo Maitre Coq
A sailor with a strong dinghy racing background, the first two inshore days of the Solo Maitre Coq off Les Sables d’Olonne on the French Biscay coast were always going to suit Roberts and he took his opportunity.
In four races at the helm of Vasco de Gama, he posted a win in the opener in light airs – the first win in the Figaro Beneteau II class ever for a British sailor – and then was never out of the top-seven in a 22-strong fleet.
Lying third overall, behind Frenchmen Corentin Douguet and Damien Cloarec, the challenge now for Roberts is to take this form into the 280-mile offshore race that starts tomorrow and concludes the Maitre Coq.
“It felt natural and like I had done it before,” quipped Roberts, 26, after racing. “They were pretty glamour conditions for it as well – it was like the Med especially on the first day when it was really easy to chuck the boat around."
“We had a bit more wind on day two which was a lot trickier when people were being punished quite hard for leeward mark rounding mistakes.”
The offshore race looks to be a light-wind slog that could take three days. In the past Roberts, who finished top-Brit and ninth overall in the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro last year, has struggled with gear-changing, but he is trying to prepare as well as possible for this marathon with the sprint races now out of the way.
“I have been working hard on my checklists, getting everything prepared on board and thinking about what mode I want to sail in off the wind and offshore,” he said. “The biggest thing I have been working on this year is having a plan all the time – always checking and validating that plan against the forecast and against the situation I find myself in.”
Behind Roberts Will Harris on Artemis 77, has posted another impressive performance after his sixth place on debut in the Solo Concarneau race last month. Lying in fifth place overall and top-rookie – as he was at Concarneau – Harris is showing that he has quality both inshore and offshore.
Like Roberts, his dinghy racing background came to the fore off Les Sables where his best finish was a second place in race two. “I wanted to be in front of the other rookies and be in front of the guys that were ahead on day one and I managed that for the most part,” said Harris, 22 from Surrey after racing on day two.
“It was quite tough in the windy conditions and I’m not as quick as the other guys with the spinnaker and my manoeuvres were slower than the others, but I am very happy with what I achieved in the inshore racing where I’ve always struggled with consistency,” he added.
Among the other Brits, Nick Cherry on Redshift, was the winner of the second inshore race on day one, and overall sits one place behind Harris in sixth with Andrew Baker from Northern Ireland 11th on Artemis 64 and Harris’s fellow Artemis Offshore Academy rookie Hugh Brayshaw 16th on Artemis 23.
In between Baker and Brayshaw is the third British rookie, Mary Rook, who is 14th overall on Artemis 37. Rook revelled in the lighter conditions on the first day but had her work cut out in the stronger breeze which included a mark-rounding clash with Roberts’s boat.
“Well I’m currently feeling absolutely knackered, like I can’t do anything – I just want to lie down in a dark room,” she said. “I am hoping I recover and it will all be better. The thought of having two nights at sea now is making me feel very sleepy at the moment.”
The light wind forecast for the offshore might suit her though. “Yes, it could be good for me – hopefully we will actually be able to get round the course and it doesn’t get too fickle or crazy,” she said.