• Patrick Hutchings

Team Vendee Formation Academy Race

The Team Vendee Academy race was the first event of the 2022 Figaro season that took place in St Gilles Croix de Vie. On the program was a small 30nm prologue race followed by a 300nm offshore race around the west coast of France. The race is designed for newcomers of the class to race against and with some of the top sailors in the fleet. A real baptism of fire for my first ever Figaro race!

We left Lorient on Monday the 7th, late in the evening, ready to head straight to St Gilles to link up with the other boats doing the race. Four other boats left Lorient at the same time as us so we cruised down together, enjoying a nice 80nm sail, through the night. After arriving, we got straight into boat prep for the upcoming prologue race on the Thursday. After so much prep and hard work from December until March on the project, right from the initial training sessions in Plymouth with Andy, to training with the world famous Lorient Grand Large under Bertrand Pacé’s watchful eye, it felt great to finally get to the first event and put all of the hard work into practice and show people that I am a serious contender in the Figaro class, along with some nerves of course!

The first few days at the race village were dedicated to safety checks, briefings and making sure that all the newcomers were happy with the specific rules that come along with the class. Something new to me was the rules around mobile phone usage. In the Figaro Classe you are not allowed any outside communication on the boat while racing, this means, no sim cards and sat phones. This is to ensure a level playing field when we are out on the water as we all start with the same information that we finish with. It feels so weird to not be connected to the outside world, especially when I have grown up feeling connected my whole life. However, there is something amazing about being isolated on the boat with no outside distractions to worry about!

After prepping the boat to the best of our ability, doing our safety checks and buying food, we embarked on the prologue race. We raced in 15-20knots over around 30nm across a classic course that has a history with the Figaro class. The goal was to beat the previous record for the course which was just over 3 hours, set by the sailing legend Sam Davies! We were happy to beat this and come away with a 6th position after a tough few hours of racing. We definitely felt there was plenty more in the tank and decided on a few last tweaks to the boat before the following day's racing.

Race Day!! I always find a lot of emotion on the day of an offshore race, no matter the length of the wind forecast, but it’s always great to channel this nervous energy into focussing on the task ahead. With a forecast of over 25knots for the first 24 hours, we definitely knew it wasn’t going to be an easy race as the Figaros are very hard to live on when they are going fast, with lots of water over the deck and not many opportunities to sleep. This was exactly the case as we ripped off the start line in over 30knots of wind, hitting my new top speed on the boat of over 22knots of speed, seriously quick on a little boat! Hanging on with one hand and steering with the other is something I mastered during this race.

After settling into the rhythm of the first few hours of the race, the breeze dropped slightly and we sped off to our first mark that was around 90nm away, we quickly approached this in the night and gybed towards Belle Ile. Throughout the night, we had a few sail changes between the Code 0 and Small Spinnaker, which proved hard work in wind and fast conditions, but we were happy to come out of the night in 6th position, just behind our friends Kenny in 5th and Mael in 4th. This is when the sailing got trickier, as the wind died throughout the day, it diverged from the forecast that we had downloaded before the race started. This meant there were big decisions to be made as we sailed back towards St Gilles.

We were lucky enough to make the right decisions and ended up taking Kenny and moving into 5th with only 100m separating us and Mael in 4th going into the second night. So many people have told me how intense the Figaro racing is, but it summed it up so well on the second night, when all 3 boats were match racing, gybing downwind, letting up nothing, it was so cool! Eventually, after a short 20-mile upwind leg, we finished, in 5th place, only 5 mins behind Mael, and 15 mins behind Phillipe in 3rd, incredibly happy after only my first race in the Figaro and also with some really testing conditions!

It’s been fantastic to reflect back on racing last weekend and how much it is going to take to get to the Solitare this year and get a result that I’ll be happy with, but the overwhelming feeling is that I cannot wait to be back out there again, racing in the Figaro class. For me now, I have a really important period of finding the remaining budget to allow me to compete in the rest of the season and compete to my full potential. Everyone says how this is always the hardest part of the campaign and I definitely have to agree with this, being an unbelievable amount harder than the sailing.

Thank you all so much for following along on this journey and I hope to update you all soon with some news about new sponsors!

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