Matson and Elsey in leading northern group

British crew doing well in the Figaro's doublehanded Transat AG2R

Wednesday April 20th 2016, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

On their 18th day at sea on the 33ft Figaro Beneteau II, Artemis, British sailors Sam Matson and Robin Elsey are up for the final battle to the finish of the Transat AG2R La Mondiale.

The British pairing – both alumni of the Cowes-based Artemis Offshore Academy – are showing no signs of race fatigue as they continue surfing downwind in the northeast trade winds in the mid-Atlantic. They now have less than 1,000 miles to go to the finish and a cold beer at St Barts.

Lying in seventh place, 54 miles behind the leader, Matson and Elsey are still part of the relatively tightly-packed bunch of eight leading boats and believe they can still make gains in the closing stages of what has been an intensively-contested transatlantic passage.

“It’s amazing that after so much separation out here that the finish looks as though it could be so tight,” said Matson in his latest bulletin from the chart table. “I feel we are in the fortunate position that we can see what’s going on with the front pack and try to learn and improve from their approach, or at least know what to expect.

“The fleet is more or less sailing with the same strategy from what I can gather now,” added Matson. “It’s just a case of slowly closing gauge at the right moment as we begin the final approach.”

The leading pack is split into a northerly group and a more southerly one. The Brits are the third boat, in terms of distance to the finish, in the northerly group which is led by the current overall race leader, Cercle Vert, co-skippered by Frenchmen Gildas Morven and Alexis Loison. Another boat, Fulgur-Evapco, skippered by Czech sailor Milan Kolacek and Frenchman Pierre Brasseur, is just ahead of them.

“We were very pleased yesterday to see Fulgur for the first time as they crossed our bow and continued to the horizon. They certainly weren’t that far away and we continue to aim to get ahead,” said Matson.

He and Elsey have been keeping a close eye on their routing software which suggests Artemis could finish within minutes of one of the southerly boats, currently miles to the south of them. Between now and a possible endgame in the Caribbean on Monday, the two yachts will slowly converge as they draw ever closer to the finish.

Matson is clearly up for the battle ahead and he and Elsey are still fully focused on trying to catch not only Fulgur but as many of the other boats ahead of them as possible. At this stage of a long race, avoiding gear failure is critical and so far the British sailors have managed to deal successfully with a charging problem and some minor sail damage.

“We must not forget that there is still a fair amount of ocean and uncertainties to cover,” summarised Matson. “We have every intention of making every opportunity count and squeezing every last ounce of performance from the boat all the way to the finish – after all that is the only element of this that we can control.”

The 15 boats in the AG2R set sail from Concarneau in Brittany on April 3rd. The two-handed crews in identical monohulls then raced across the Bay of Biscay, past Cape Finisterre and then down the Spanish and Portuguese coast.

As they continued south, the best of the wind conditions pushed the fleet tight up against the coastline of the Western Sahara before the crews struck out for the Cape Verde Islands and then picked up the tradewind sleigh ride to the Caribbean.

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