Training with the best of the best

Sam Goodchild on his Figaro and Class40 sailing and hanging out with the Port la Foret elite

Friday March 22nd 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: France

Sam Goodchild, winner of the first Artemis Offshore Academy scholarship, enters his third season in the Figaro this year. This will put him on a par with the other Sam, Sam Davies, in terms of British skippers who’ve spent most time in this unique ultra-competitive shorthanded offshore one design class.

The question is – can Goodchild make an impact on the Figaro fleet, whose ranks include the best shorthanded offshore racing skippers, both past and present. For example this year the line-up for the class’ premier event, La Solitaire, is set to feature at least five past winners including the victors of the last four races - Nicolas Lunven (2009), Armel le Cleac’h (2010), Jeremie Beyou (2011), and Yann Elies (2012). They are to be joined by one time boss of Kelt Yachts (remember them?) Gilles le Baud, who won the event twice in 1973 and 1978 when it was known as the Course de l'Aurore.

Goodchild is now no longer part of the Artemis Offshore Academy, from which he ‘graduated’ last season. Despite this he and fellow ex-AOA sponsorship winner Henry Bomby are successfully soldiered on in the Figaro class. They have managed to acquire boats and raise enough funds to be on the start line of June’s all-important Solitaire.

Among Goodchild’s partners is champagne maker Pol Roger, while Peter Harding is backing Goodchild in return for him racing aboard 40 Degrees this season. Goodchild is also receiving the equivalent to around £10,000 in support from Artemis through reduced price access to the Artemis Offshore Academy’s shore support for this year’s Figaro races. Other partners of Goodchild’s campaign are to be announced imminently.

While historically the Solitaire du Figaro has been held in August, it is a blessing for Goodchild that this year, like last, it is being held in June. This means that he is able to have his boat back in the UK for the rest of the summer where it is available for him to take his existing sponsors sailing while also demonstrating to potential sponsors what Figaro racing is all about.

Also good for those on tight campaign budgets is that the duration (but not the distance) of La Solitaire has also been shorten this year, the four legs now held over three weeks. “The legs aren’t shorter, just the time in between each leg,” explains Goodchild. “So we spend a week less having to pay bills effectively and since it is in June, we have got all July and August to take the boat to the UK and provide return for sponsors, which, for foreign competitors like us, is important.”

Top training

Aside from departing the Artemis Offshore Academy, the significance step on for Goodchild’s campaign this season is that he is now training at the Pôle Finistère Course au Large in Port la Foret, ie the premier training school for Figaro sailors. Henry Bomby and he were accepted into this at the end of last year, Goodchild having known Christian Le Pape and his team there since he first bravely ventured across to France to trial for the Challenge Espoir prize (similar to the Artemis Offshore Academy scholarship) in 2009.

Unfortunately now he is running his own campaign means that Goodchild has had less time to make use of the facility. “I have been able to spend a lot less time training than I have done in the past two years which is a shame, because running my own campaign, I’ve been trying to look for sponsors. You start to realise all the benefits you had at Artemis - now they’re not there, you appreciate them a lot more!”

Despite spending less time on the water, Goodchild believes that the training in Port le Foret has been more productive for him. “The big difference between here and La Grande Motte [where the Artemis Offshore Academy rookies train] is that [here] you are left to your own devices much more. They set up briefs, debriefs and sessions on the water, but it is entirely up to you whether you turn up in the first place and how much you use them and how much you put in and take out.”

Training takes place in week-long chunks with daily sessions out on the water where the boats are followed by coaches in RIBS taking video to pour over subsequently in the debriefs. During each of these weeks there is one long race and in these the skippers are set additional challenges such as downloading GRIB files, routing, etc.

But the best part of it is that the skippers they are training against are ‘simply the best’. “We had one race three weeks ago, where we had 19 boats racing and in that there were three or four guys who had won the Solitaire before and another three or four guys who have won legs,” enthuses Goodchild. “So you are constantly doing speed tests and manoeuvres against guys who have been doing it for years and are as good as you can get at this game.”

Armel le Cleac’h has been back training with them this week and Yann Elies was part of the group up until the start of the Transat Bretagne-Martinique last weekend. “You have got people like Armel, who is running a maxi trimaran project on the side [with Banque Populaire] and is coming in and doing some Figaro sailing. The same with Jeremie Beyou, who is refitting his IMOCA 60 and doing Figaro sailing on the side.”

Goodchild provides some additional anecdotes: “I’ve been sitting on the dock rigging up next to Jeremie and you can ask him ‘how do you rig your kite guys normally?’ And then he is running me through how he gybes in big winds and that is different to how I’ve done it, so I’ll try that.

“We were sitting in a debrief today after sailing in 25-30 knot winds. The group wasn’t huge, but there was Armel [le Cleac’h] and Jeremie [Beyou], and the ways they gybe are completely different. There is no fixed way of doing it, people just do it different ways, some are more risky and some are less risky and you choose one that suits you. So it is nice to hear how everyone does it... With the gybes it is about hw you use the sheets and gybes - some people only uses only sheets on each clew of the kite and some use sheets and guys which makes it easier to gybe the pole. And whether you run them inside or outside and things like that...

“So just small things like that you are constantly picking up information from guys who’ve been doing it for 15-20 years.”

So while in La Grande Motte, Artemis Offshore Academy rookies are told the basics of how to set-up and race Figaros singlehanded, in Port la Foret the training is much more about each individual skipper making observations about how they are sailing compared to their opponents and then debriefing all this post-sailing. As Goodchild explains: “You watch someone next to you doing something better than you, then next time you say ‘I’m not going to do it like I’ve been doing it, I’m going to do it like he did’. Then at the debriefs we get to discuss all of this - the pilot settings peope were using, or how did you do this gybe or this have a bunch of good guys there sharing what they think.”

There is also classroom-based training. Traditionally weather/routing guru Jean-Yves Bernot comes in to give weather briefings. Goldchild says he missed the one for the Transat, but there is another coming up for La Solitaire. “We’ve also had some other interesting sessions on nutrition and sleep and things like that, where they get specialists coming in from outside of sailing. I think for the Solo Concarneau, we are having sleep monitors put on us, so we’ll find out what our sleeping is like so we can then optimise it.”

The Pol Atlantique also runs fitness training and aside from when they are out sailing, every day there is a session of some sort, in the gym or the pool. “Loads of people turn up, from IMOCA 60 skippers to Volvo sailors, M34 sailors - it is a big mix," says Goodchild. "It is not designed specifically for Figaro sailors it is for anyone who is a member of the training centre.”

The deal with the training centre is incredible too. It is subsidised by the local government and Goodchild says it costs him just 3,000 Euros/year to be part of – food for thought should we ever get a similar set-up established in the UK. “That includes all the coaching and they come to all the events you are doing, where you get free weather, briefs and debriefs. And then there is all the shore side support and the free mooring for the year in Port la Foret, either in or out of the water, etc.” As well as getting to hang out with the French shorthanded sailing elite.

Goodchild adds that apart from the language issues, which they are trying to speedily resolve (not living with another Brit might be a solid first step), there is no trouble with he and Bomby being two ‘roast beefs’ within the largely French centre. Of course they are not the first foreigners to pass through, following on from Sam Davies, Emma Richards, Miranda Merron and Damian Foxall, all of whom have spent time to varying degrees at the centre. “They are really friendly. They obviously don’t speak English out of principle, which is great for us as we learn faster,” says Goodchild. “But in no way have I ever felt that they are being cagey or hiding anything from us because we’re English.”

Due to his sponsorship hunting and campaign running commitment, so far this season Goodchild reckons he has only been training 15-20 days. Today the fourth training week at the Pole Atlantique finishes. Between now and the start of La Solitaire du Figaro, in Bordeaux on 2 June, are two training races – the Solo Arrimer (known as Sol les Sables, over 9-13 April from Les Sables d’Olonne) and the Solo Concarneau (4-9 May out of Concarneau) - and two more week-long training sessions in between.

The Solo Arrimer will be the first occasion that Goodchild and Bomby join up this season with the Artemis Offshore Academy sailors Ed Hill and Jack Bouttell, plus old hand Nick Cherry. Goodchild hopes that all three will get to compete in La Solitaire this year.

As the season gets underway all five on them plus newbie Irish Figaro sailor David Kenefick will be sharing resources, shore crew, etc.

“We are getting massive help from Artemis,” says Goodchild. “We can borrow a few virtually new sails from them and we are able to tap into their shore crew system without having to pay the full cost.” So this means that neither Goodchild nor Bomby has to hire his own shore crew.

Class 40

While the Solitaire du Figaro remains the top event for Goodchild this year, he will have an even more active year in the Class40. As mentioned, in this he will sail the bulk of the season with Peter Harding on 40 Degrees. Already they have competed in the RORC Caribbean 600, and they will follow this up with the doublehanded Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race in July, and then the Rolex Fastnet Race and possibly the Class 40 Worlds – due to take place in Plymouth straight after the Fastnet (more details follow). The Fastnet race will be an interesting one, for although Goodchild will be racing in the Class40, the event for the first time is part of the Classe Figaro calendar, the Figaros competing in the race doublehanded.

After his stint with 40 Degrees, Goodchild will then jump ship to join Ned Collier Wakefield on the spangly new Jason Ker-designed Class 40, the 40 One Design. The new Team Concise is due to arrive in the UK mid-July and Goodchild will work on her shore side until he starts training on board in the build-up to he and Collier Wakefield sailing the Transat Jacques Vabre together in November (unfinished business after they were forced to retire in 2011).

“I am quite excited to get stuck in with that,” says Goodchild of this ride. “It has some radical ideas and if they do what they say on paper it should be a quick boat.”

But the main focus is on getting a good result in La Solitaire. What does he think his prospects are for this, his third stab? “I hope I can improve. Compared to last year in that I have spent more time focussing on singlehanded sailing whereas last year we spent more time preparing for the doublehanded Transat. And it is my third year so I have got more experience and in Port la Foret we are learning a few more tricks.”

Fingers crossed...


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