Britain's first significant Figaro win

Phil Sharp wins Solo Basse Normandie while Sam Goodchild is second

Monday May 23rd 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

Despite not being picked as ‘the chosen one’ for this year’s Artemis Offshore Academy scholarship, former Mini sailor and Route du Rhum Class 40 winner Phil Sharp received slight vindication yesterday when he won the Figaro class’ singlehanded Solo Haute Normandie Race. With the AOA scholarship winner Sam Goodchild coming home second, it was a British 1-2 in this traditionally French-dominated class with Nigel King finishing 15th in the 17 boat class and Conrad Humphreys scoring a DNF (read more in his blog here).

The route for the Solo Haute Normandie was somewhat convoluted, starting at 1258 (local) from Granville on the southwest side of the Cherbourg peninsula on Friday, with a leg west through the Minquiers to a mark northwest of St Malo, then up to a gate off the eastern side of Sark, then the Casquets to starboard, around the top of the Cherbourg peninsula to an anticlockwise triangle in the Baie de Seine (on the east side of the Cherbourg peninsula) and back up to the finish in Cherbourg – around 250 miles in total.

Brits in the race (left to right): Sam Goodchild, Nigel King, Phil Sharp and Conrad Humphreys

Phil Sharp says in the 12 knots northwesterly wind, he got off to a slow start thanks to weed getting caught around his 32ft Figaro’s appendages and then having to take time to remove it.

“I was behind them trying to make up some ground,” he recalls and hoped to make up some ground by ‘bravely’ negotiating his way through the middle of the Minquiers, the notorious low-lying island group to the south of Sharp’s native Jersey. “The fleet split and went either of the Minquiers but as they waited for the tide to turn at the west point of the Minquiers, they didn’t really break through so I went through the Minquiers passage in slightly less water than I expected! But I got through...”

In fact this didn’t benefit him too much. The move that put him ahead was on the run up to Sark. “I decided to go high because the tide was going to turn, to run northeast, so I decided to stick further west to get more tide when it came in and for some reason the rest of the fleet went quite low, so I managed to cruise past people when they tacked for Sark.”

Sharp had taken the lead by the Sark gate, but the fleet condensed again as they passed the Casquets, in fact one of three restarts that took place during the race.

“Casquets that was the tactical highlight,” continued Sharp. “I led from Sark and got around the Casquets, but the tide was too strong to get past them and there were boats condensed right together with kites up, gybing back and forwards, it was carnage, in exactly the same area, waiting for the tide to turn. I knew the tide was going to turn soon so I started to sail a little further offshore to try and find a way through because of the acceleration around the rock and managed just to get a break maybe just by a minute to begin with over the guys who started to get by the rock, but that minute had turned into five minutes by Alderney.”

Thankfully the famous Alderney Race was slack as they reached across it, the wind having backed into the south. Come Friday night and into Saturday the wind went light but fortunately the sea breeze arrived early and by the time they arrived at the eastern side of the Cherbourg peninsula the wind picked up again to 12 knots.

Sharp’s race was made all the harder when his electronics, and in particular his autopilot, packed up as he passed Barfleur on the northeastern tip of the Cherbourg peninsula. “I had to hand steer the whole way which was really horrible because I hadn’t had any sleep and I knew I wasn’t going to get any, so it was a case of trying to keep my eyes open for the rest of the race. There were some fast runs to the foredeck and back! It was upwind to the eastern mark and I was praying it wouldn’t be downwind with lots of gybing. In the end we had about 1.5 hours with spinnaker up and then fortunately the wind went around and I could go off on a bit of a reach.

“The Figaro is so well balanced, it hasn’t got any weather helm to tie the helm and the boat never stays settled, so it is difficult to leave the helm. You have to have millimetre precision sometimes but you have to be close reached or upwind in some breeze to be comfortable.”

Despite his increasing exhaustion, Sharp managed to hold on to the lead and arrived at the finish in Cherbourg at 0400 GMT Sunday to take line honours. “I had no sleep for 50 hours. It was horrible. I was a gibbering wreck when I got back. I was really happy, but I couldn’t really feel too much excitement because I was so tired!”

He arrived just 10 minutes ahead of Sam Goodchild who had been slowly reeling him back during the night and who arrived leading the bulk of the Basse Normandie race fleet in hot pursuit – eight boats finishing within five.

Aside from the Solo Grande Motte, this is the best ever British performance in a Figaro class race. It may not have been one of the class’ premier events, however Sharp and Goodchild still managed to beat some significant Figarists such as Charlie Dalin, David Sineau and former Mini sailors Isabelle Joschke and Xavier Macaire.

Phil Sharp is still hunting sponsorship to compete in this year’s Solitaire, for which he needs around £50,000. In the meantime he is contemplating taking part in the Transmanche next month but may also be lining up to compete in the imminent Generali Solo in the south of France, close to where he has spent the winter training with the Artemis Offshore Academy.


Pos Boat Skpiper Nat
4 PARIS 15   MONNET Jean charles FRA
--- ARTEMIS 43   YOUNG Oliver GBR



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