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British pairing hammer downwind in Transat AG2R La Mondiale

by Artemis Offshore Academy 8 Apr 2016 23:05 BST 8 April 2016

British sailors Sam Matson and Robin Elsey, are making excellent progress in the Transat AG2R La Mondiale double-handed transatlantic race from Concarneau in Brittany to St Barts in the Caribbean.

After five hectic days at sea that have been dominated by fast downwind conditions, the British sailors on board the Figaro Bénéteau II, Artemis, are sailing in sixth place in a fleet of 15 mainly French-crewed yachts.

The race leaders are the French pairing of Adrien Hardy and Vincent Biarnes on board AGIR Recouvrement who are about 34 miles ahead of the British pairing as the fleet passes the island of Madeira on its way to the only turning mark of the 3,890-mile course northwest of La Palma.

Elsey who, like Matson, is originally from the West Country and an alumni of the Cowes-based Artemis Offshore Academy, said conditions at night have been particularly difficult as the boat powered ahead in gusty winds and big seas with zero visibility.

"It was pretty hard last night," said Elsey on a crackly line from the chart table on Artemis, as Matson took his turn on the helm with the boat surfing at up to 14 knots. "At times we were hanging on for dear life. The first few nights have been pretty hectic and we've definitely learnt a lot.

"Last night you couldn't see anything and the boat was being flung around by the auto-pilot, trying to keep it in a straight line. We are setting up for another rough night tonight but we are hopeful that it will be a little easier."

The tough conditions have already taken their toll on the fleet on pre-race favourites and front-runners, Skipper Macif, co-skippered by Frenchmen Charlie Dalin and Yoann Richomme, dismasting earlier today when their spinnaker pole caught in a wave.

The British boys had a similar drama earlier in the race but got away without damaging their rig, as Elsey explained. "We had one pretty big gybe the night before last when the boat went on its side, pretty hard," he said. "We recovered – the pole was fine, the spinnaker was fine – so we were quite glad to get out of that one."

Elsey and Matson have sailed together before on the Royal Ocean Racing Club circuit and have quickly settled into a working rhythm on a tough transatlantic course that could see them at sea for more than 21 days. "It's cramped but it's not too bad," said Elsey. "It's not the end of the world. Sam is mainly the chef and I mainly play around with the computer (navigation). Life on board has got a little easier today I must confess."

They enjoyed the attentions of an unexpected visitor earlier today. "I was sat there steering and this whale popped up beside us which was quite cool," said Elsey. "He flipped his tail and then dived – he was obviously checking that we were alright."

The British boat is slightly to the northwest of the leading five ahead of them, but Elsey and Matson are quite happy with their positioning and speed at the moment.

As they approach the Canaries and the transition to the trade winds that will begin to propel them west towards the Caribbean, they will be trying to ensure that they do not split further from the rest of the fleet.

You can track the race here: transat.ag2rlamondiale.fr