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Going solo

PUBLISHED: 11:13 10 June 2014 | UPDATED: 11:13 10 June 2014

Sam Matson, 23, graduated from the University of Plymouth with a first class degree in navigation and marine science and then set sail for a lifetime of adventure.

Sam Matson, 23, graduated from the University of Plymouth with a first class degree in navigation and marine science and then set sail for a lifetime of adventure.

Tom Gruitt

Devon sailor Sam Matson tells CHRISSY HARRIS about the challenge of ocean yacht racing

There is nothing plain about sailing a 33ft boat single-handedly across more than 2,000 miles of open sea.

Up to 45 yachtsmen and women will be doing exactly that when they take part in La Solitaire du Figaro race in June, considered to be the world championships for solo sailing.

This year’s race is making history by stopping off in Plymouth for the first time, to the delight of the people and businesses that have campaigned to win this prestigious event for the city.

Thousands of spectators are expected to line the waterfront to witness the awesome sight of 45 beautiful yachts sailing by.

Among the race’s competitors is local lad Sam Matson, 23, who graduated from the University of Plymouth with a first class degree in navigation and marine science and then set sail for a lifetime of adventure.

Devon Life caught up with Sam and his fellow competitors ahead of the four week-long Solitaire, which arrives in Plymouth on 11 June.

“I absolutely love sailing into Plymouth,” says Sam, who lives in Exmouth. “I always have a big smile on my face when I come back here and sail past the Breakwater and see Drake’s Island. There’s no place like home and it’s great that we’re stopping off here.”

Sam is now training full-time with the Artemis Offshore Academy and has been a member of the squad since 2010.

He managed to combine his passion for yacht racing while studying for his degree - but that was nothing compared to the challenges he has faced since.

“There’s nothing else like it, it’s a massive learning curve,” says Sam. “You spend three or four days by yourself, racing a boat, sleeping for ten minutes or so at a time. You are pushing yourself to the max constantly. The hardest part is the sleep deprivation. All the scariest moments I’ve had have been sleep related.

“It happened recently when I had a quick nap and realised I was on the wrong side of an island. I wasn’t facing the way I thought I was. When it’s three or four o’clock in the morning and pitch black you have to think quickly.”

Just living aboard one of these boats is tough, let alone competing to win a race.

The cabin inside Sam’s yacht is basic, to say the least. There is one spot where there is just about enough space to stand, if you don’t mind holding your head at a slight angle (more if you’re Sam’s height)..

There is a very basic stove, for heating up freeze-dried food and a computer – Sam’s lifeline to the outside world.

“You do get used to the lifestyle and, luckily, I don’t mind being on my own,” says Sam.

“There is always a lot to do to keep you busy. I reckon competing in a race like this is like having your own Formula One car and having to do all the pit-stops yourself.”

Needless to say, much of the action on this vessel happens up top. Sam took us out for a spin past the Breakwater and became a Gor-Tex-clad blur in a web of ropes and sail-cloth.

This yacht racing at a world-class level is definitely not as easy as it looks.

“It’s physically and mentally very demanding – there’s no sport like it,” says Sam.

The Solitaire sailors will stop over in Plymouth on 11 June, where they will take part in a short race inside the Breakwater.

Sutton Harbour master Pete Bromley says he’s delighted the city can be a part of such a prestigious event: “It’s going to be great for Plymouth. We’ve got the ideal location here in Sutton Harbour. We can control the tide times and it’s sheltered. But most importantly, people can come and see it all happening. It’s how you get people interested and how you breed the next generation of sailors.”

Matching yachts

La Solitaire du Figaro, Eric Bompard Cachemire 2014 is considered the unofficial world championship of solo offshore sailing.

The Class Figaro circuit is known to be a training ground for ambitious skippers looking to take on the Vendée Globe – a non-stop, around the world, solo race.

La Solitaire du Figaro is raced in 33ft boats, called the Figaro Bénéteau II.

The boats are all identical, bar their branding.

The smallest gains in speeds during the race can mean the difference between first and last place.

The 2,014-mile race will start in Deauville, France on 8 June.

You can learn more at artemisoffshoreacademy.com, visitplymouth.co.uk and 
suttonharbourmarina.com

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