Solo Normandie offers British sailors chance to check out the start of this summer’s Figaro course
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 ALLMER 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.
“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.”
Alan Roberts – Vasco de Gama
“I’m feeling good going into the third race in our build-up to the Figaro. I had a couple of bad starts in the earlier races, but I felt I sailed well and always pulled through the fleet.
“For me the main goal is to get a good start in this race. I’d like to have a race where I’m more ahead and trying to keep it, rather than battling towards the front.
“This race will be a hard one because of the current. We’re looking at parts of the race where the back end of the fleet will be able to reconnect with the front, and the front will be able to pull away from the rest. It will be very tricky because of that and nothing will be certain.
“We’re looking at light winds for the start building towards the end of the race ending on Saturday. But regardless of that, it’s going to be the current that is key to this race – tidal preparation.”
Andrew Baker – Artemis 64
“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.
“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.”
Hugh Brayshaw – Artemis 23
“Having done two races already this season, I’m feeling more confident going into the third. I’m still looking to get as much experience as I can ahead of the Solitaire. It’s a different race so I’m sure there will be new challenges. I also want to work on my speed – it would be nice to have a fast boat.
“I’ve been preparing for the rocks and tides we’ll face in this race. It’s really quite a unique race 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.”
Robin Elsey – Artemis 43
“I’m a bit tired after doing the Transat AG2R La Mondiale, but I’ll see how it goes. It’ll be good to get back into it solo.
“For this race I’m just looking to finish, not break anything and get the boat back up to racing standard as she’s had some time off – and enjoy it.
“I learned a lot during the AG2R, but mostly that staying relaxed on board and enjoying sailing makes things easier.”
Will Harris – Artemis 77
“I’m feeling well-rested, we’ve had a long four months training in Lorient and I’ve not been home since Christmas, so it was great to have a few days off at home and get my mind back in the right place. I’m definitely feeling motivated going into this race because of it.
“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.”
Mary Rook – Artemis 37
“I feel like we’ve not had much time to learn anything new from the last race. But I’m looking forward to it and the new challenges, particularly the tide. I just feel like I need some more time.
“This race is a completely different coastline. We’re faced with a lot of rocks and a lot of tide. My hope is to try and understand this kind of the coastline ahead of the Solitaire, and also not to do things in the middle of the night that might risk me running aground.
“We’re looking at rain for the start of the race, but I like light winds so that’s good for me. The end is going to be quite a challenge, 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."