Britain's youngest solo hopeful Sam Goodchild makes it look easy

This is young solo sailor Sam Goodchild in action today in preparation for his first major offshore event, La Solitaire du Figaro in August.

As I blogged recently, Sam is the first person to be selected from the Artemis Offshore Academy. This solo sailing training scheme sponsored by the UK fund management company auditioned some of the most promising offshore and performance sailors after a winter training in Portland and France, and Sam was chosen as the most promising candidate to go on and compete in the Figaro series this year.

The Figaro circuit is not so well known outside France, but the 30ft Bénéteau Figaro 2 boats provide some fantastically close one-design racing and the likes of top French sailors Jean Le Cam, Roland Jourdain, Kito de Pavant and Armel Le Cleac’h have all made their mark here.

French legend Michel Desjoyeaux is the undisputed king of the class, having won the offshore event three times.

Together with the diminutive 6.50m Mini class, the Figaro is considered to be the proving ground for solo sailors. A few British sailors have taken that route, including Samantha Davies.

This year the UK will be represented by three, possibly four, sailors who have been through the Artemis Offshore Academy: Sam Goodchild, Nigel King, Conrad Humphreys and, if he can raise the money, 2006 Route du Rhum Class 40 winner Phil Sharp.

But what of Sam?

To say he has promise would be a big understatement. He can clearly make his boat go. But he also has other valuable attributes that are essential for solo success, especially in the UK, where satisfying a sponsor is still the prime criterion.

He’s exceptionally personable, cheerful and pleasant. Although he is just 21 years old, Sam also seems very mature for his years and in his attitude and demeanour could pass for someone a decade older – in the best possible ways.

It’s interesting seeing how agile Sam is around the boat. He grew up on his parent’s boat, so that might account for why he looks so at home on the water. We went for a sail in the Solent, taking a few tacks upwind and gybing down past Cowes under spinnaker. Naturally, I let Sam do all the hard work. After all, A: he’s a nipper and that’s quite right and proper, and B: it’s good practice.

Not surprisingly after more than six months of race training, Sam made the hoists and drops and end-for-end gybes look incredibly simple. Of course, they aren’t. To sail solo you have to be very methodical. If there are any snarl-ups, it can quickly get out of hand.

The little video below shows a neat spinnaker drop and round-up by Sam. Easy peasy, huh?

I thought Sam appeared very calm and unflustered generally, a good attribute I would imagine. He told me that one thing he’d noticed from the French sailors was: “The more short-tempered you are the harder it gets to do things.”

Come August, it will be fascinating to see how Sam and the other British skippers perform in such a hot fleet.