Exmouth sailor Sam Matson is currently undergoing extensive training with the Artemis Offshore Academy.

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Established in 2010, the Academy is the UK’s only training centre for solo and short-handed offshore racing, giving British sailors the chance to compete exclusively on the Figaro circuit and helping them on their pathway to the Vendée Globe - a non-stop round the world solo race nicknamed the ‘Everest of sailing’.

Physically and mentally demanding, highly competitive and all encompassing, solo offshore racing requires a unique sailing skill set. The annual Artemis Offshore Academy Selection Trials and subsequent training programme are designed to push sailors to their limits in all areas needed to run a successful sailing campaign, ensuring Academy skippers have what it takes to be competive on one of the most demanding and dynamic racing circuits in the world.

Now heading into the 2014 Figaro racing season, the Artemis Offshore Academy continues to strive towards producing world- class short-handed sailors, with Academy trained skippers Sam Goodchild and Jack Bouttell having recorded some of the best British Solitaire du Figaro results in the history of the prestigious 2000 mile solo race earlier this year. With their sights now set firmly on the 2014 Solitaire du Figaro start line, Artemis Offshore Academy graduates Matson, Nick Cherry, Henry Bomby, Jack, Ed Hill and Rookies Sam Matson, Rich Mason and Alan Roberts are working hard to raise the vital sponsorship they need to race this coming season.

The Solitaire du Figaro is considered the unofficial world championship of solo offshore sailing. It is the highlight event of the Class Figaro calendar. Regarded as one of the most competitive and highly dynamic racing circuits in the world, the Class Figaro circuit is known to be a training ground for ambitious skippers looking to take on the infamous Vendée Globe - a non-stop around the world solo race nicknamed the Everest of sailing.

The Solitaire du Figaro is raced in 33ft boats called the Figaro Bénéteau II. The Figaro is one-design, which means they are all identical bar their branding which means it is down to the talents of the skipper as to their result. The smallest gains in speed in the Solitaire du Figaro can be the difference between first and last place. Sailing thousands of miles on their own, the boats will finish each leg and the race overall with just minutes between them.

In 2014, the Solitaire is 2014 miles long over four stages. Starting from Deauville, France on June 8, a fleet of usually around 40 boats will leave for Plymouth where they are expected to arrive on the 11th. From there they will race from Plymouth to Roscoff, from Roscoff to Les Sables d’Olonne to the final finish line in Cherbourg. There are just a couple of days stop over in each of the towns to allow the skippers to rest and recover and for their boats to be repaired. The stop over in Plymouth this year comes as a direct nod to the British skippers who competed in 2013, where southwest sailor Sam Goodchild became the highest ranking Brit in the race in 38 years and Jack Bouttell became the first Brit to have ever won the prestigious Rookie division - a class for first timers of the race held in prestige by the French. It is the ‘one to watch’ class. Sam Matson will be a Rookie in 2014. The UK stop over in Plymouth in 2014 is the first for 11 years since the race when to Portsmouth in 2003.

Out at sea, the skippers are all alone with no communication, no phone, no Facebook/twitter, no crew. Solo sailing is one of the most gruelling tests of stamina and endurance around and it affects the skippers not only physically and mentally too. They must learn to manage themselves on board, knowing when to eat and sleep and leaving the auto-pilot to sail the boat while they do. The more tired and more sleep deprived the skippers are, the more their racing intelligence is compromised.

On top of this there is the weather. The Solitaire du Figaro never takes sailors to sunny climes, instead they have to contend with hours in the driving seat, steering their boat up wind through lashing rain, fierce winds and fog while negotiating rocks, tides and other boats and often in the dark. Solo sailing isn’t fun, it’s more about the challenge and the adventure, the sailors pushing themselves to their ultimate limits. The reward comes at the end when they finish. Often they hate every minute they are out there, but as soon as they are on the docks it’s all forgotten and they can’t wait to race again.

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