Exmouth sailor Sam Matson is returning to school, writes Stephen Birley.

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Matson is studying hard with the Artemis Offshore Academy and, together with fellow sailors Alan Roberts and Rich Mason, is undergoing an intensive solo training programme in France.

After four months getting to grips with the Figaro Bénéteau II in the familiar waters of England’s south coast, the three British Rookies made their longest voyage to date accompanied by 2013 squad member Ed Hill, sailing from Cowes to their new home in Lorient, France – an ideal route allowing the sailors time to suss out the infamous French racing landmarks the Raz du Sein, Ushant and the Chenal du Four.

The solo Figaro trio were thrown in at the deep end during their first training session on Tuesday 21st January, headed up by experienced solo coach Tanguy Leglatin. Sam, Alan, Rich along with Ed are four in a group of 12 skippers that includes respected French Rookie Gwénolé Gahinet, Solitaire du Figaro ‘veterans’ Adrian Hardy, Nicolas Jossier and Paul Meilhat, along with fellow British skipper Phil Sharp and Irish skipper Dave Kenefick, who will all train on the rocky shores of the north-western coast of France ahead of the 2014 racing season.

Matson said: “Our first day of training in Lorient was certainly enlightening. Training together in the well known waters of the Solent lulled us into a false sense of security and given us the impression that we know how to sail! Training has definitely been stepped up a level and we’ve realised just how much we have to learn from Tanguy and the more experienced sailors ahead of our first race in March.”

No strangers to rain and an overcast sky, the British skippers took to the water on their first day of training under the gloomy grey clouds of Brittany in around 15 knots of wind, lining up for a day of upwind speed testing, before being set a short course to race.

Despite having made huge leaps forward in their abilities over the past four months, the 2014 Figaro newbies have so far only had each other for comparison. Stepping out with the big boys, the three young English sailors were soon made aware of the steep learning curve they’ve still yet to climb and of the different approach to sailing taken by the more experienced Figarists.

Roberts said: “From just our first day on the water we could see that the French had a different view about the way to sail a Figaro and their boat set up.Everything they did seemed simplified and consistency was key over speed – which makes sense in an endurance sport. In the Artemis camp we’re all so keen to learn, it’s now about getting into the routine of training and making the most of our time to bring us up to speed with the more experienced sailors.”

Rich Mason said: “Lining up nine Figaros up for speed testing was an eye opener, I can’t imagine what it is like at the start of the Solitaire du Figaro with 40 plus boats. It takes a lot of organising to get these big boats all going the right way at the same time.”

As it has been every year since the start of the Academy and much like the first day of term, the sailor’s introduction to the French training regime came as a bit of a shock to the system.

For now, it’s time to get heads down and work hard as the Academy skippers prepare for their first ‘check-in’ with a full competitive race fleet in the 320 mile Solo Maître Coq, starting on March 13.

You can follow the progress of the Rich, Sam, Alan and the rest of the British Figaro sailors via the Artemis Offshore Academy website, Facebook and Twitter.

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