Will Harris, already regarded as an outstanding young talent in single-handed racing, leads Britain’s rookie echelon in this year’s Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro.
The Cowes-based Artemis Offshore Academy has confirmed that Harris, alongside fellow Academy hopefuls Hugh Brayshaw and Mary Rook, will take his place on the startline of the Solitaire Bompard Le Figaro – the multi-stage unofficial world championship of solo offshore racing – next month.
Harris has had a sparkling start to his first season in the Figaro class, winning the coveted top-rookie prize in two of the build-up races to the championship, and he will be looking to become the third Academy sailor in the last four years to head the rookie rankings in the Solitaire.
“It feels great to be officially enrolled for the Solitaire,” said Harris, 22, who will be at the helm of the Beneteau Figaro II, Artemis 77. “It’s the race I’ve been working towards for the last three years. I’m very happy and grateful to have been selected by Artemis who believe in me and believed that I could perform. “
Harris’s early successes have been built around a clinical focus on his goals, competitive boatspeed and smart tactical sailing, but he has no illusions about how hard it will be to emulate the success of former British rookie champions in the Solitaire, Jack Bouttell (2013) and Robin Elsey (2015).
“I think it will be an achievement to finish the race,” he said, “but as a rookie I would obviously enjoy finishing first in that category. This season has gone better than I could have imagined,” added the former oceanography undergraduate at the University of Southampton. “I’m really happy with my results – I’ve been consistent and fast and I know that I can be faster.”
Alongside Harris, Brayshaw, 23 from Swanage in Dorset on Artemis 23, is also looking for a strong performance to build on some promising phases in the early season races. “The Solitaire is by far the biggest event I’ve ever been in,” he said, “and it feels rewarding to know that I’ll be able to compete, having trained so hard since October. There has been a lot to learn, with big chunks of training that I’ve had to process. But the improvement has been massive, tactically and mentally, and I feel more confident now.”
A racer with a background in Olympics classes dinghies, Brayshaw has relished the switch to the demanding solo offshore scene, even if it has taken a little time to get used to far longer events and being alone at sea. “The big thing with the Solitaire is that it’s over four weeks. The longest I’d raced previously was at week-long regattas but I’m very excited to have the chance to sail against some great sailors,” Brayshaw added.
Mary Rook, aged 30 from Somerset, rounds out the British newcomers in the nearly 50-strong and mainly French Solitaire field. For Rook, who will be racing Artemis 37, the championship will be all about gaining experience and continuing her steep learning curve.
“So far my season hasn’t gone very well results-wise,” she said. “I still have a huge amount to learn about offshore tactics and making these boats go fast. But I aim to learn as much as I can during the Solitaire and enjoy the one-design close competition.”
With longterm goals including competing in the Volvo Ocean Race as part of an all-female crew, Rook will be one of five women taking on the Solitaire this year and she knows it will be a tough test. “The unique thing about the Solitaire is the one-design element which makes for extremely competitive racing and pushes your body and boat to the limit,” she said.
Charles Darbyshire, Sailing Team Manager at the Academy, says this is as strong a group of British newcomers as the Academy has put out since inception in 2010. “Obviously Will has tremendous prospects but all three are talented and determined young sailors who have made big strides in the last few months. It’s going to be exciting for them and us watching how they perform on the big stage that is the Solitaire.”
The Solitaire Bompard-Le Figaro is a world-class, solo sailing competition staged between four European ports and this year it will visit Cowes where the fleet will make its first stopover. Celebrating its 47th edition, the historic offshore endurance race will once again start from the picturesque French town of Deauville on the 19th June. Leg 1 from Deauville to Cowes is the longest stage of the four.
From Cowes the fleet will race to Paimpol in France, then a further 410 miles to La Rochelle on the Biscay coast. To conclude the race, competitors will sail a 130-mile course around Ile d’Yeu and Ile de Ré, starting and finishing in La Rochelle on around the 7th July.
The three British Rookies will join Artemis Offshore Academy Alumni sailors Andrew Baker racing Artemis 64, Chatham skipper Sam Matson, Nick Cherry racing Redshift, 2015 Rookie champion Robin Elsey aboard Artemis 43 and top British 2015 Solitaire finisher, Alan Roberts, sailing Alan Roberts Racing on the startline in Deauville.