A season's diligent is paying off for Sam Davies as her skill shows in the highly competitive solo Figaro race

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how much hard work goes into supporting natural sailing talent, and what an arduous road it can be. But if you’ve followed the career of Sam Davies (pictured left) you’ll have seen that offshore racing can be every bit as demanding a discipline as Olympic sailing.

For Davies, the small boat practitioner of the Offshore Challenges sailing team, the summit this season is the single-handed Solitaire Afflelou Le Figaro race, raced in identical Beneteau Figaro 2s. She raced Skandia successfully as a rookie last year and has been honing her skills diligently at a specialist racing academy in Port la Forêt in Brittany and from a training base in Finisterre.

Her application is paying off. In the first leg of the Figaro, from Caen to Portsmouth this week, Davies finish 6th, in a 52-strong fleet that features some of the big names of French sailing.

“It was pretty close. You could see from the front to the back of the fleet the whole time, even after 24 hours,” Sam Davies told us. “The standard of everybody in this fleet is so high – no-one can really get away.”

The result proves that she is now part of the leading pack as of right. “I’ve learnt about everything,” she says, reflecting on the past year’s work. “And I’ve got more used to my boat, more used to how to set it up to sail fast. We learnt a lot over the winter about the tuning of the rig and the tuning of the rudders, which you can toe in and out, and I’m really happy with the set up I have.

“Last year I could get up with the good guys but usually it was through doing something clever on the course rather than through pure boatspeed and I really struggled to stay up there with them. But now I feel as if I can always defend my position.

“This year with the budget from Skandia I was able to put some more money into sails with North Sails France, and I think they’re one of the best suits of sails in the fleet. Last year I did the whole season with one suit of sails.”

She says she has no problems in bigger winds keeping up with the ‘muscly guys’ and is happy that her performance is now consistent and instinctive throughout the range of conditions. “It’s really important to have everything really natural in terms of boathandling and finding good trim because it’s like any one-design, but instead of you being the tactician or the trimmer or the bowman, you’re everything,” she comments.

“You’ve got to make sure to concentrate on the right thing at the right time. If everything else comes naturally to you, if you know the barber’s right, up-down is right, in-out is right, sheet tension is right, you can just do that quickly and know without doubt you’ve got your boat in a good setting for that wind strength. Then you can really concentrate 100 per cent on the tactics and keeping your head out of the boat. And the bigger a percentage of the time doing the tactician’s job, the better your performance is going to be.”

The next legs of the race are longer and more tactical, taking the fleet to St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie in France, Gijon in Spain and then back to Quiberon in Brittany for the finish. Davies is of course hoping for an improved result, but says winning has to be a longer term goal.

“I’m not expecting to win. You’ve got guys who’ve done this 10-11 years and you’ve got to work for it – and be a bit lucky. My whole plan with this campaign was to put in a whole lot of hard work and in three years be in a position of being capable of winning it.”

Meanwhile, among the most promising of this year’s rookies is Liz Wardley, a 25-year-old Australian. Wardley cuts a tiny figure among the Figaro sailors, though lean and dauntingly fit-looking. Wardley sailed on the last Volvo Ocean Race on Amer Sports Too, has built her own Mini and has twice been on the podium of the Hobie Worlds. Despite having raced only once in this class before, she finished 12th on the leg to Portsmouth, a spectacular result.

“Two weeks ago I had to qualify for this race in the Mediterranée so I did that regatta, but it was a very different format with short racing. So this is my second Figaro race. It’s exciting!

“I’m learning all the time. Yesterday was the first time I’d ever done any light winds spinnaker sailing on the boat. Sometimes I was fast and sometimes I was slow but I’m learning mainly how to get the boat going fast at different angles of breeze.”

You can follow the fortunes of Sam and Liz on the Figaro website, www.lasolitaire.com