Exmouth sailor Sam Matson underway in fourth and final leg of Solitaire du Figaro

PUBLISHED: 20:49 29 June 2014 | UPDATED: 20:49 29 June 2014

Sam Matson on board his Artemis boat

Sam Matson on board his Artemis boat

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Sunday (June 29) marked the start of the fourth and final leg of the 2014 Solitaire du Figaro.

The Artemis’ team of eight British Solitaire du Figaro skippers got a glimpse into what it’s like to embark on the Vendée Globe, parading their one-design Figaro Bénéteau IIs out of Les Sables d’Olonne to the cheers of hundreds of well wishers lining the walls of the iconic canal.

Amongst the Artemis skippers is Exmouth sailor Sam Matson sailing Artemis 21. Matson said: “Sam Matson, Artemis 21

“We’re looking at an upwind start, with a big shift that will see us switch to spinnakers as we approach Chaussée de Sein. After that it’s going to get a bit windy, giving us a good ride up to Ouessant, before we reach across channel to the south coast, then short taking short tacking to the needles before the breeze moderates as we start on the final leg to Cherbourg.”

“I’m really looking forward to sailing around the Manacles Rocks, I’ve been there and seen it all before – it’s always nice to sail in waters you know well. Unfortunately it looks like I won’t be doing a lap of honour past Exmouth this time, but we’ll certainly be going close to Start Point, Dartmouth and Torbay which is where I learned to sail.”

“I’m also really looking forward to heading up from Portland towards the Needles Fairway. I’ve been sailing that area of coastline for years, and frequently when I was doing my double-handed training and RORC racing with the Artemis Offshore Academy. I’ve sailed that stretch in so many different conditions, and I’m quite exciting to be sailing along an area of coastline that I know so well and knowing that it’s the final straight to the Solitaire du Figaro finish line.”

“You can’t take a single thing for granted in Figaro racing. I could go out on the start line and drop my rig (quickly touches wood), I hope to god that doesn’t happen – but you can’t write anything off. I would love to make up the time on Gwenolé and take the win, but we’ll just have to see how it goes. I’m not going to race any differently to how I have over the last three legs, I just want a fast and consistent race.”

Setting out on the final 490 mile Solitaire leg from Vendée to Cherbourg via the English south coast, the 36 remaining Solitaire du Figaro competitors crossed the Leg 4 start line at 1600BST with a sense of caution. Taking it easy in a spritely 20 knots of wind and big rolling waves, REDSHIFTskipper Nick Cherry was again the first British skipper at the windward mark, followed by Henry Bomby (RED) and Sam Goodchild (Team Plymouth) behind him in the top 20 and the rest of the Brits behind them. Going into the fourth and final leg of the 2014 mile race, Academy Rookie Sam Matson leads the British charge sitting 14th in the overall rankings and second Rookie – just 32 minutes and 25 seconds behind the current leading Rookie Gwenolé Gahinet (Safran-Guy Cotten).

“I have a lot of respect for Gwenolé, he’s a really cool guy and I’ve got a lot of time for him,” Sam announced on the docks ahead of the start. “I went to congratulate him after his Leg 3 win – and tell him that I’m glad he wasn’t any further ahead! I said to him that if he does that to me again he’s going to win, but he replied with ‘well if you do what you did in Leg 1, then you will win.’ He’s right, it’s still all up in the air for sure – ideally I’ll beat him by 33 minutes in the next leg, but anything can happen when you’re offshore. You can’t take a single thing for granted.”

Next in the overall rankings behind Sam is fellow British Rookie Rich Mason, sitting 22nd overall and third in the Rookie division. After a sailing a sterling race for the majority of Leg 3 [that frustratingly came to nothing, losing many places in the final hours of the leg], Rich is looking to put in a repeat performance in the final leg – this time avoiding any crippling areas of no wind: “The final stage will be an interesting one, as lots of the skippers are started to feel quite fatigued and perhaps aren’t in the position they want to be. There could be some big splits in the fleet and some people might take bigger risks than they usually would to try to get back in contention. I’m not interested in taking any risks, I want to sail as best as I can and try not to tire myself out too soon.”

Initially excited by the gutsy conditions for the start, the skippers soon learned that this was a weather ‘ruse’ and instead they can again look forward to a long, light and sail flapping leg, conditions that have been a characteristic of this year’s Solitaire du Figaro: “It’s looking like we’ll have quite breezy conditions for the first half of race along the French coast, before the wind then dies along the south coast of England,” explained GAC Pindar skipper Jack Bouttell. “This is always hard, because you get your adrenaline up going fast and then suddenly you’ve stopped. The whole regatta has been super light and I think everyone is a bit over it now, but that’s how it is. You can’t change the weather you can only make the best of it.” Currently sitting 23rd in the overall rankings, Jack is just one hour behind Isabelle Joschke (Generali-Mixité Horizon) in 16th – making his 2014 goal of top 15 not totally out of reach: “If I can beat Isabelle by an hour then I could still do it, but to finish inside the top 20 would be great for me this year. With a quarter of the race left to sail, anything is possible.”

The final 490 miles of the 2014-mile race sees the fleet head north from Les Sables d’Olonne through the Chaussée du Sein, past Ouessant and to the Manacles buoy at Lizard Point, Cornwall. From Lizard, the fleet will battle against strong tides in light winds past Start Point and Portland Bill, all the way to the Needles Fairway in one final hurrah through home waters: “I’m really glad that the race director chose this course rather than the second option along the French coast. Sailing home to the overall finish line through home waters is going to be so cool, almost like doing one final lap of honour before it’s all over.” Sam Matson concluded.

From the Needles, conditions are expected to get even lighter as the fleet drops south onto the home straight to Cherbourg. Leg 4 is expected to take four days and four nights at sea, seeing the fleet cross the finish line sometime on Thursday 3rd July. This is it for the British solo skippers, their last chance to make their mark on the 2014 Solitaire du Figaro.

You can track Sam Matson, Rich Mason, Alan Roberts, Nick Cherry, Henry Bomby, Jack Bouttell, Ed Hill and Sam Goodchild as they make their final lap of honour along the English coast via theArtemis Offshore Academy and Solitaire du Figaro websites, via the Academy Facebook page andTwitter.

The overall British results going into Leg 4

Skipper/Boat name/*Rookie/Cumulative time/Spread

1. Jérémie Beyou/Maitre Coq/10d, 1h, 18’, 32”

2. Corentin Horeau/Bretagne Crédit Mutuel Performance/10d, 1h, 33’, 45”/0h, 15’, 13”

3. Charlie Dalin/Normandy Elite Team/10d, 1h, 37’, 29”/0h, 18’, 57”

14. Sam Matson/Artemis 21/10d, 5h, 32’, 26”/4h, 13’, 54”

22. Rich Mason/Artemis 77/10d, 8h, 3’, 52”/6h, 45’, 20”

23. Jack Bouttell/GAC Pindar/10d, 8h, 18’, 25”/6h, 59’, 53”

27. Sam Goodchild/Team Plymouth/10d, 8h, 48’, 18”/7h, 29’, 46”

28. Henry Bomby/RED/10d, 8h, 52’, 20s/7h, 33’, 48”

29. Nick Cherry/REDSHIFT/10d, 9h, 3’, 7”/7h, 44m, 35”

30. Alan Roberts/Artemis 23/10d, 9h, 11’, 45”/7h, 53’, 13”

37. Ed Hill/Macmillan Cancer Support/10d, 18h, 50’, 19”

Solitaire du Figaro Rookie overall results

Skipper/Boat name/Cumulative time/Spread

1. Gwenolé Gahinet/Safran-Guy Cotten/10d, 5h, 0’, 1”

2. Sam Matson/Artemis 21/10d, 5h, 32’, 26”/0h, 32’, 26”

3. Rich Mason/Artemis 77/10d, 8h, 3’, 52”/3h, 3’, 51”

4. Clément Salzes/Darwin – Les marins de la lune/10d, 8h, 40’, 59”/3h, 40’, 58”

5. Alan Roberts/Artemis 23/10d, 9h, 11’, 45”/4h, 11’, 44”

6. Gwanael Gbick/Made in Midi/10d, 10h, 30’, 4”/5h, 30’, 3”

7. Sébastien Simon/Bretagne – Crédit Mutuel Espoir/10d, 14h, 40’, 19”/9h, 40’, 18”

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