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The Brit Pack. Offshore Academy’s Brayshaw and Rook and Unfinished Business.

Published on 03/06/2017

The withdrawl of the Artemis from the groundbreaking Artemis Offshore Academy programme has had a serious impact on the ability of young, aspiring solo British racers to compete in La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro. When there were eight solo skippers from the other side of the English Channel last year, this year there are three.

Alan Roberts, now Brittany based, is an Academy alumni who made the pathway work and through hard work, drive and talent has now managed to find financial backing to compete in at least this and the next La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro.

Hugh Brayshaw (The Offshore Academy) and Mary Rook (Inspire +) work under the guidance of The Offshore Academy, the initiative set up by Charles Darbyshire and his Fourth Cape business, to fill the post Artemis void, seeking to help develop young offshore talent and try and establish a commercial platform for young sailors to build from.

“Our target here this year was simply to make sure we have sailors on the start line and from that perspective we have achieved that. Now it is about achieving improved performances. Mary is capable of being one of the top women and is looking to realise here improvement and be more competitive all round, while Hugh’s result last time did not reflect his ability at all. He broke his forestay on Leg 3 so he is looking really to get a result which marks his level.” Says Darbyshire who headed up the Artemis programme.

“The biggest disappointment about losing Artemis is that there are no British rookies this time around and that is like losing a generation of sailors. It is the hardest step of all for the young British solo sailor, getting a boat, training and getting on the start line. Mary and Hugh have both benefited last time and now have managed to each find a little funding to be here this time. But it is just about impossible as a start out rookie to find sponsorship support in Britain to do La Solitaire.”

Darbyshire continues:

“I am very hopeful for the future. I am hoping that the IOC will see this style of offshore racing as an important addition to the Olympics. The influence of the Figaro 3 (the new replacement for the current Figaro Beneteau 2) in 2019 will, I am sure, help too. And as an organisation we want to make sure we would run our Figaro programme as part of an IMOCA or Volvo project which is one of our goals as a company. For us it is always about development of sailors, making sure there is a good base to the pyramid.”

Brayshaw, 24, a former 420 and 470 dinghy racer who represented GBR at the ISAF Youth Worlds seven years ago showed promise last year with two 14th placings in the Solo Normandie and the Solo Maitre Coq races last year before his damage in his bizuth (rookie) challenge on La Solitaire last year.

Brayshaw has achieved support from KAMAT which has helped his preparation and training:

“ My preparation and planning have gone really well for what has been quite a hard time getting to the start of this race. They’ve been better than before; the boat is the same as I had before so I’ve been able to keep things how I like it or change things from the last race. There’s definitely been a few changes made to the boat. I’ve been more active in how the rig is set up, in how tight I want things in conditions and how I want my setup to be. I’m confident with the sails I’ve got, I’ve been training with them and I know I want to set up.”

He adds:

“ Doing the initial race of this year, going through Normandy it was 30-35 knots for a lot of it so it gave me a lot of confidence in the boat and my ability. That race was very tricky. I finished the race which was more than a lot of the sailors and I came off the water with a big list of things I’d learnt. The main thing was about windy VMG downwind sailing and how to manage
that and the preparation of the boat before it gets to that stage- you can’t leave the helm in those conditions so you have to be even more proactive than normal with a leg like that.”

He comes into La Solitaire URGO Le Figaro buoyed by a 24th in the Solo Concarneau in April.

“ It was such a good race and it felt like I was racing for the whole 48 hours of the race and was within such a close distance to the leaders. I really enjoyed the racing of that. I felt like the boat speed was there and there was just a couple of mistakes that stopped me from being in a higher position.”

“I feel a lot better going into this race than all my previous ones. Compared to previous races, for this one I feel a lot better. I think last time I didn’t know what to expect for the solitaire and it’s hard to be told what it’s going to be like. La Solitaire is a race I knew I had to do again at least once, there’s some unfinished business, I feel I am not satisfied at all so I’m keen to do well but also equally relaxed enough to do the race with all the focus I can put in.”

“The thing I have learned most is weighing up the risk and reward of doing something different- there’s some situations where you feel like you could make split from the fleet and you feel like it could go really well but more often than not it doesn’t so staying in the pack of the boats for the majority of the race I think is the mature way of sailing. And most of all I start with the knowledge that I can be at the same speed as the boats around means it much more endurance. I hadn’t been at sea that long in the last race, going from 470 sailing into off shore sailing, I hadn’t done too many races over three days long. My longest before the last solitaire was two days and that was in one of the pre-races. Now, I feel a lot more confident in the boat and feel I can sail for a lot longer without getting tired.”

Mary Rook has had her share of ups and downs in her solo career so far. She, too, is back for a second year determined to prove her potential. Until now she has been quick and competitive in the first 24 hours of her races – testament to her background as a skiff and match racing sailor, a former Womens Match Race World Champion – but she has not been able to sustain that high level into the middle and later stages of a race.

Rook confirms:

“ I’m definitely better all-round but there’s still things I haven’t had much chance to practice as other things, as there always is. I certainly feel happier now and feel like I can keep up with them all. I’d say the secret now is confidence and experience and a couple of little things- I’ve changed boat this year so, getting to know my boat a bit more in the rig, there’s not any
huge gains to be made in this boat but little clicks here and there help it all to come together.”

“ The tiredness and the pushing yourself to the limit of your everything, emotional, physical is what it’s about. I don’t think you can rehearse it. You can’t train for it. You can’t fake it as you only push yourself this hard in a competition environment.”

“ It is down to recognising how tired you are and how it’s affecting your decision making and just being more comfortable with it and accepting that that is how you’re going to feel. When you’re tired just moving around the boat is hard, just swapping sides of the boat or going downstairs to put the kettle on is an effort, whereas on the first day you’re just bounding around like a gazelle.”

“Now I have learned. Before I think that, for me, I’ll make a mistake and then get really annoyed at myself and then have a bit of an emotional reaction and then a bit of a physical reaction if I’m tired, and then you do inevitably pull yourself out of it. I’ve learnt is you put that mistake aside and segregate it and come to a new one and think how are you going to get out of it, how are you going to improve it. Just having a moment to say ‘ok, that was that, I’m going to take a minute and then reapply myself to the situation’.

She concludes:

“ My target would be top half of the fleet but that’s going to be tough. There’s some very good sailors out there and it’s a long old race. It’s hard to have an actual number in mind when there’s so many things that can happen and the accumulative time (the four stage race is decided on aggregate time rather than points per leg) is a tricky one. It can be good and bad.”

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