Now less than 2 weeks away from the start of the first race of the season, the Sardinhia cup, and there’s still a lot of work to be done. As I write this my mast and boat are in separate places. After 3 weeks of training in the strong winter storms of Western Europe, one of my spreader roots broke resulting in the mast losing its support.
When I took the mast down the next day, I thought I had got away with it. The mast looked fine and was still upright after we came off a wave and the spreader came free. But, upon further inspection we found a 15cm long crack in the mast just below the spreaders. A fissure of that size is unrepairable so I’m going to have to change the entire mast.
There’s a lot to be done now and not much time to do it. The last 6 weeks of training have involved tuning the mast to the right tensions for the sails, conditions and the boat itself. By replacing the mast a lot of the data I have collected for this will not be useful anymore. It’s also a 2 or 3 day job to re-rig the new mast.
That being said, it has been a great 3 weeks of training. The conditions have been relentless, depression after depression meaning big waves and wind. The foils really start to come into effect when reaching or downwind in 20 knots and you can feel the boat starts to take off.
The last 2 weeks of training has been focused on solo sailing the boat. With the Figaro 3 this has meant a lot of focus on the manoeuvres and how to do them safely and efficiently. Lining up against 15 other boats with Le Pôle Finistère Course au Large try practice this is certainly stressful at times. But it’s the best way to learn how to get around a course as fast as possible.
It seems to be an endless amount of tweaking after each day of sailing. Anything you can do to simplify a job on the boat the better since it will give you more time to focus on other things, with is usually the actual racing! I’ve added loads of small bits of elastic, calibrations and anything else to the boat that will make my life easier when sailing the boat solo. Everyone is doing the same but with their own ideas on how to do it. The great thing about being part of such a large training group is you can see how effective each idea is and therefore the learning is amplified and much quicker.
The biggest complication seems to be hoisting the spinnaker. With such a low cockpit there’s a lot of friction hoisting from the clutch and it takes a lot of time to hoist. At this point you risk losing the spinnaker in the water if you are too slow. The other option is to hoist from the mast. Its very quick this way but there are several risks. Firstly, you are leaving the spinnaker halyard on a small cleat on the mast which could break if loaded too much. You need to quickly pull the halyard through the clutch to make sure this doesn’t happen. Secondly, if you are going around a windward mark at the same time as 40 other Figaro 3’s you leave a lot to risk by going so far away from the helm. You must really set the auto pilot up well to be sure it keeps you pointing in the right direction.
As the Sardinhia Cup approaches, I’ve also spent a lot of time planning the courses and analysing the leg themselves. The Sardinhia cup will be made up of 3 legs, one 24 hour followed by 2 four day legs with only 2 nights break between each leg. That leaves little time for the preparation before each leg. What food and drink you will need, what clothing and also the navigation and strategy needs to be thought about well in advance of the start of leg one.
Although it is a double-handed race which will make the sailing slightly easier, you still need to analyse the course down to the finest detail, what the tide will be doing at each headland and what are the general wind trends in each region. We have been given 3 potential courses for each leg, which will be decided closer to the start time dependant on the weather conditions. Its great for timing a race to finish at a nice mid-afternoon hour but it means even more preparation in needed.
I’ll be taking the boat down to the start in St-Gilles next week. An 18-hour trip from my base in Brittany, it will be my first time sailing the boat offshore solo. Something I’m really looking forward to doing to get a feel for how easy the boat is to handle for long periods of time.
We’ll arrive with 5 days until the start which allows time to get the boat into conformity for the strict one-design ‘jauge’ rules. This involves having a measurer come and seal all your safety gear such as the liferaft, fire extinguishers and anchor in a particular place on the boat. Preventing you from ‘stacking’ it in different places in the boat for performance advantages. This year we will even have a seal on each foil to make sure we don’t remove it from its housing. It is critical to make sure you have this done correctly since a broken seal while racing will mean a time penalty.
We are also limited to 100kgs of moveable equipment on the boat. The includes everything from clothing and food and drink to the necessary sailing equipment for general offshore sailing as defined by the rules. One thing that is very clear about the boats is they are extremely sensitive to weight movement. Although 100 kgs doesn’t seem like a lot for a 3-ton boat, having this on the wrong side is certainly noticeable when doing a speed test. Much more so than the Figaro 2 since we no longer have the 250kgs of water ballast that could be moved from side to side between tacks.
The movement of the weight fore and aft also has a big influence and requires movement as you change between different points of sail. It’s quite physical work to move the stack around as much as we are now. Making sure you stay with in you’re 100Kg limit is important but also asking the question, do you really need all the 100 kgs if it will be a light wind leg?
With 35 boat entered it’s sure there will be some really close racing. But, I have to keep in the back of my mind that there is still the whole season of solo sailing ahead. With not much time to prepare for each race, keeping it simple and safe and not risking too much will certainly be an objective. But I’m really looking forward to going head to head with the rest of the fleet to put what I have learnt the last couple of months into practice.