Shorthanded racing is on the up. There are over 50 double-handed entries in this year’s Fastnet Race, after French father and son Pascal and Alexis Loison won the 2013 edition. But if you are used to sailing with other crew on deck, how do you set about doing it all alone? We sailed with Alan Roberts to find out
During Cowes Week 2015, I had the chance to sail with rising star Alan Roberts on his 33ft Beneteau Figaro Magma Structures. Roberts finished 9th in the Solitaire du Figaro earlier this year – the best result for a British skipper in the last 40 years. He is one of an impressive new crop of offshore racing sailors coming up through the ranks in the UK
The Artemis Offshore Academy, which set up in Cowes in 2010, is grooming this talent and lending them the support required to break into the French-dominated world of solo racing.
Fellow academy graduates of Roberts like Sam Goodchild and Jack Boutell are showing promise in a variety of offshore disciplines. Boutell for example was onboard Team Dongfeng for their victorious third leg of the Volvo Ocean Race in January. He then finished 10th in the Solitaire in June and has just announced that he will compete in the Transat Jacques Vabres with Gildas Mahé aboard the Class 40 Concise 8.
Alan Roberts meanwhile remains firmly committed to solo racing in the Figaro class, with eyes on the ultimate solo prize of the Vendee Globe. Aged 25, he comes across as mild mannered, intelligent, and focussed. A qualified naval architect, Roberts says he is ‘passionate about engineering,’ and specialises in composite design.
The plan was for the two of us to compete in the IRC 2 fleet, however, with a max gust of 3 knots seen over a glassy Solent that day, racing was unfortunately cancelled. Our time aboard still served as a prime opportunity to get some tips off Roberts that may benefit the increasing amount of sailors moving to or interested in short-handed sailing.
As we headed into the western Solent, Roberts subtly adjusted our course using a wrist-mounted remote control for the autopilot. He explained how he and his fellow Figaro skippers need to constantly trim their NKE autopilot systems. “Getting the trim of the autopilot right so the boat can sail quickly, and having confidence in it, is key,” he said. “This year [during the Solitaire], I probably hand-steered 10 per cent of the race – the top guys maybe five per cent.”
The biggest thing I took away from sailing/drifting with Roberts, was his methodical approach to preparation. “The key is to leave as little to thought processes and as much to methodical repeatability as possible.”