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Ocean Elements 2018

James Hardiman Blog: Solo sailing, racing, work, life...

by James Hardiman 24 Jan 14:00 GMT 24 January 2018
James Hardiman on Fluke during the 2016 Solo Fastnet Race © Ocean Elements

I'll be writing this column on a regular basis to give readers a glimpse of what it's like to compete in an offshore solo race series whilst keeping up a busy working and family life. I'll fill you in with all the highs, the lows and the emotional strains whilst giving an insight into the hard work and attention to detail that goes into a solo offshore race campaign.

I'll be writing about the big events which I've got lined up this summer, for which my physical training and boat prep starts in the early New Year. I'll be racing in events like the SoloFastnet and the complete Offshore series with the Solo Offshore Racing Club (SORC), which races out of the Solent.

I'm an amateur solo sailor with 7 years solo racing experience and 15,000 solo miles. I'll be racing up against some of the best and most experienced Corinthian (and professional) offshore solo sailors in the UK and France; which is a tough gig in itself, but no less than trying to juggle sailing with my lovely family and my business commitments in London, France, Greece and Austria. With 350+ staff who also need me, a family home in Devon and all my racing from the Solent - just writing this makes me shudder! Even on paper it sounds like a challenge.

The day job

At the age of 21, I started my business Alpine Elements, (20 years ago), to follow my passion for snowboarding. We [the Company] is now one of the largest ski holiday operators in the UK and in 2010 we started Ocean Elements, Beach Clubs and Yacht flotilla sailing with RYA Training in Greece. I've set up these brands in part to incorporate my passion for sailing, and because I've had a pretty good track record of mixing business with sports I am passionate about.

My route to solo racing

I've been sailing boats and racing dinghies ever since my early school days when I learned to sail on a small reservoir near Birmingham at age 12. I progressed from Toppers to Lasers which I raced on and off as a nipper until at the age of 15 snowboarding took over and my sailing career went on hold. Fast forward a decade and I bought my first yacht at the tender age of 26, (a beaten up 15 year old Beneteau 305). I soon yearned for more performance and I traded up to a J-109, then a J-120. My pathway into solo sailing was paved by the dreaded admin of having to organise crew for racing, (which we all detest), and that was 11 years ago. I've never looked back. Now I race the Ocean Elements race yacht whenever I can and for my "downtime" I like to race an RS100 and an Aero at North Devon Yacht Club in Instow.

Why we love sailing single handed

Going out on a yacht, solo, for the first time is always a daunting task. So I began by picking the calmest days to venture out in my J109 and so my confidence quickly grew. I then hooked up with SORC a couple of years later and I've been racing with a great bunch of solo sailors for about 6 years on and off. And now I'm properly hooked! Like most solo sailors you'll meet, the interest for us is in the challenge. Little compares to the feeling of achievement at having 'done it all yourself' whilst often beating fully crewed boats in the running! As a one-man navigator, driver, bowman, trimmer, cook and general dogsbody... it's easy to see where the satisfaction comes from. Having now successfully completed some big shorthanded and solo races like the AZAB, (Azores and back), SoloFastnet, countless cross-channel races, races to Ireland and various inshore/offshore series, I'm racking up the miles but never bored. Still yearning for more.

First, some hurdles to climb

With all my challenges ahead, this season is not starting so easily for me. With the first race of the season a little over 3 away and three very major hurdles to climb:

  1. I am recovering from major shoulder surgery

    I had surgery to my rotator cuff last September. My surgeon says it's a 12 month recovery period, but my Physio is more optimistic than that and I'm hoping to be able to ease myself back into sailing after 7 months, (by April's first race). As luck would have it, my friend Lucy [Tighe] is a Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist and lives near me in Croyde. She happens to work for the Australian Olympic Sailing Team, so she knows a thing or two about building strength for sailing. Lucy has worked with medallists, Tom Slingsby, Tom Burton, Matt Belcher and has me on a fast-track rehab programme to get strong for the season. She has her work cut out as I still can't raise my drinking arm above shoulder height!

  2. I have to set up and learn a new boat

    In a fit of utter madness I sold my (perfectly good) boat a few months ago in order to fund a new sailing project, unconnected with my 2018 race campaign. So, I will have to find and set up an entirely new boat in the coming months! My old [very good] boat was a 2014 Sunfast 3200. I've done just over 10,000 miles racing in 3200's and I'm just starting to get to know the boat, so having to learn a new boat all over again is a daunting prospect. I spent a good deal of time on the boat working with Carbon Yachting [in Hamble] with Chris Prevost and Andy Greenwood, (ex-Figaro sailor), getting her set up just right. Knowing your boat is sometimes more than half the battle, and a level of trust takes time to develop.

  3. I have no boat...

    So, there you have it... I'm entering this season with the knowledge that not only do I have to set up a new boat, but I have to bring her back from Holland and rebuild her too. She's a J105 and she's quite old, (2001), and full of problems. I acquired her from a Dutch agent and she's currently out of the water and in the capable hands of Yagra Yacht Services who are going to deal with some soft bits in the hull, seal several leaks, re-rig the mast and fix a worn engine among a heap of other jobs before I attempt to sail her back across the North Sea (with a wounded shoulder) and finish the job of setting her up to make her race-ready in Hamble. Did I say I like a challenge?

In my coming instalments, you'll get to see the type of modifications and work I'll be putting into this fresh water used (non-raced) J-105 which is in need of some TLC and several tweaks. Lucky for me that Ocean Elements will be funding the project and Carbon Yachting will be helping me get her race ready in March/April when I get her back from Holland...