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Rich Mason blog - Time well spent

PUBLISHED: 16:42 21 May 2014

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Time and money, two things often compared. Money is obviously important for a sailing campaign, but few are fortunate enough to have the budget to achieve all of the equipment and development goals all world class sportsmen seek to gain that edge in competition.

Time, however, is by far the most precious commodity. You can’t store it, you can’t change it and you absolutely cannot get it back. The way that you use your time to learn and further yourself as a sailor has a far greater impact than whether your spinnaker is 10 hours older than the next guy.

Our last race, Solo Basse Normandie, marked time running out for the training phase of my Figaro campaign. In under two weeks I cast off for a 2000 mile race with some of the worlds top sailors, most of whom have more than 10 years more offshore experience I do. That is a lot of hours.

However I am not disheartened, I know that I have worked the longest and the hardest possible within the time constraints of my campaign and the rewards of this started to show during Basse Normandie.

After a good first beat and windward mark I was in 3rd (dinghy sailing background doing me proud), but a tactical error on the first 20 mile upwind leg pushed me all the way to the back of the fleet! In a race that I knew would be governed by tidal gates in a rich-get-richer style, I made a massive effort to be on deck and alert at all times, something that was super important because the wind was light and very fickle. I slept for only 26 minutes during the entire 32 hours we were racing.

I began to catch boats in the early hours of Saturday morning. With everyone that I overtook I grew in confidence and the gap between me and Sam Goodchild, the race leader, started to shrink.

My confidence peaked 24 hours into the race when I caught a group of eight boats which included Yann Eliès (double Solitaire du Figaro winner), the skippers were trying to get around an extremely tidal headland with what can only be described as pathetic breeze. They had been stuck there for around 30 minutes and to what I’m sure was their utter disgust, I arrived as close as I dared to the rocks, nailed my tack in the strong tide, and passed the entire group.

Around half an hour later though, my luck ran out. Sailing an area of the course where, as I had been told by an experienced Figaro sailor ‘the crabs wear helmets’, I hit an uncharted rock at about 4 knots. I don’t think a hard hat would’ve helped any crustaceans in the way as the boat came to a bone-shuddering halt and I was almost thrown down the hatch. I had sprung some of the internal structure away from the hull, but there was no water coming in and the boat didn’t fall over so I assumed the keel was still attached. I decided to continue racing. I later learned that five other boats had hit the bottom during the race, so I didn’t feel as bad.

During the final night I made some good tactical decisions and found myself fighting for second place, it was the first time in my campaign I had really been in contention at the front of the fleet and didn’t feel out of my depth. Unfortunately, early in the morning the breeze shut down completely around 30 miles short of the finish line. The race committee took the decision to abandon the race and use the results taken from a timing gate that we passed almost 12 hours earlier. This was before I had overtaken a good portion of the fleet at the headland and I finished 11th and 2nd Rookie.

I have genuinely never felt better about my Figaro sailing, which is great because I think ‘backing yourself’ is half way to achieving, especially in offshore sailing where a difference in tactical opinion between sailors could easily lead to a 10 mile split.

This week I have to try and take some time out whilst juggling the repair of my boat. It’s difficult to pull myself away from tinkering this close to the Solitaire, but it’s important because from the 8th of June, Artemis 77 will be my home for a month. It will be time well spent.

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