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Artemis Offshore Academy sailors prepare for first big challenge of 2016

by Artemis Offshore Academy 17 Feb 2016 13:17 GMT 17 February 2016
Hugh Brayshaw during Artemis Offshore Academy 2016 winter training © Artemis Offshore Academy

Three British rookie solo ocean racing sailors are preparing for their biggest test yet, a 350-nautical mile, non-stop, single-handed race that takes place along the French Brittany coast.

The Solo Concarneau Trophée Guy Cotten is the first of three build-up races to the 2016 Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro race in June, the unofficial world championship of solo ocean racing.

Sailed in identical 33ft Beneteau Figaro monohulls, the race – featuring a fleet of up 25 British and French skippers – starts from the picturesque fishing town of Concarneau on March 17.

It promises some full-on racing, as the sailors take on a two-day – or even three-day – course along the rocky Brittany coast, complete with challenging tidal gates, including the infamous Raz de Sein.

For aspiring British single-handers, Hugh Brayshaw, Mary Rook and Will Harris, the Solo Concarneau is going to be the first big challenge as they enter the racing section of the Academy programme.

Harris, 22 from Surrey, is realistic about what he can achieve in this, his first major solo offshore race. So far he and his two fellow British rookies have only ever practiced racing for up 10 hours alone, so a minimum of 36 hours at sea is going to be a big step.

"Considering I am a rookie, I think getting round the course without any major mistakes will be my priority," said Harris. "I want to make sure I am on top of my navigation and that I am looking after the boat. I hope that will put me up there in the rookie rankings. I won't be trying to win so much as trying to make less losses than everyone else."

Brayshaw, also 22 and from Warwickshire, is feeling reasonably confident after some good practice races but he knows that after 36 hours at sea he will be in new territory. "Last year it was a very windy race and there were a lot of interesting calls on whether to use a spinnaker or not," he said. "These are big decisions and after two days on your own on the water, decision-making can become a little less than perfect. This first solo race will be a learning experience for me."

Mary Rook, at 29 is the eldest of the three rookie sailors, and she will celebrate her birthday at sea during the race. "I think I'll have to take at least a couple of bottles of gin to make it a little less painful," joked Rook who grew up on a dairy farm in Somerset. Like Harris she is not aiming too high in what will be a tough test of mind and body.

"I would just like to finish it and feel like I had been involved in the race and actually take some tactical decisions rather than just going round the course. Some of the other rookies we'll be racing against in the Figaro are taking part in the Solo Concarneau, so it's a perfect way to check in against them, and see where we are," she said.

The rookies will be joined on the start line by Academy alumni sailor Alan Roberts, who clinched the highest ever finish for a British sailor in the modern Figaro when coming 9th last year. Nick Cherry returns to start his 5th Figaro season, racing Redshift in his first competitive outing since his 5th place in the Generali Solo race at the end of 2015.

For 2016, the Solo Concarneau organisers have also invited double-handed entries, to accommodate sailors taking part in the two-handed Transat AG2R La Mondiale, which starts two weeks later from Concarneau on April 3rd.

Taking advantage of this opportunity to race together are Sam Matson and last year's Figaro Rookie Champion Robin Elsey. Andrew 'Hammy' Baker will also race two-handed in the Concarneau race with French sailor Nico Jossier who's been coaching the Academy sailors this winter, and who's boat Andrew has chartered for the 2016 season.

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