Vendee Globe skippers Caffari, Golding and Thompson attended

Three Vendee skippers, Dee Caffari, Mike Golding and Brian Thompson on
stage in a question and answer session was the highlight of the very
successful Solo Racing Festival at Southampton on Saturday 28th February.

This was the third annual get together for single-handers organised by
Racing at Petit Bateau and a packed house enjoyed some fascinating talks
by solo skippers and the top designers Marc Lombard and Merf Owen.

Cowes Week weather man Chris Tibbs began the day with a tour of the
North Atlantic focussed on the issues involved in sailing through
depression in open waters and ice berg avoidance aimed at this year’s
Ostar skippers and also the well travelled routes south for Mini Transat
and Route Du Rhum fleets.

The audience was filled with seasoned Mini Transat skippers such as the
2001 cohort of Simon Curwen, Paul Peggs, and Brian Thompson but
undaunted Oliver Bond related his Mini career so far and his podium
finishes in all the mini races last season in France. As a member of the
AVIVA team his ‘hands on’ survey of the rocks close in shore at the Les
Sables finish line was especially useful for Dee on her recent
arrival, she though not being asleep.

Mike Golding opened the session after lunch with a key note address on
the years solo racing activity, 2008 /9 seeing the most racing and media support in
the history of the sport in all classes from Mini right up to IMOCA 60
in the Artemeis Transat and the Vendee Globe where 4 Brits finshed in the top 8.

Delegates had the first chance to hear from Marc Lombard, France’s
most prolific designer and a graduate of Southampton 25 years ago. Marc
designed the very succesful Figaro 2 for Beneteau, over 80 of which have
been built and they provide the bedrock for France’s domination of the
solo racing world. The lone Brit in last years Solitaire de Figaro was
Andy Greenwood and his account of the event revealed just how seriously
the stars take this class of racing, Michel Desjoyeux, winner of the
Vendee, will be returning to the race, in its 40th edition this year, to
sharpen up!

Kate Miller had her Figaro 2 /bluQube/ on show in the pool and
described her first win in our bluQube 1000 solo race last summer.
Katies plans for the Ostar in 2009 have been boosted by the financial
support of her new sponsor and her racing mentors Ellen and Dee.

The final session was a double act for Alex Bennett , skipper of the
class 40 Fuji Film and Merf Owen the boat’s designer. Alex told the
story of his successful Artemis Transat race in 2008, first Brit,
coming 6th behind champions Halvard Mabire and ahead of Miranda Merron
, both of whom were listening intently for any slight exaggerations .
Alex’s excellent race movie reveals the stress and exhaustion endured by
solo skippers at this level of pro racing and left several beginners
wondering what they had got into ! Merf discussed some his ideas for
the class 40 , with ‘Splif’ on show in the pool and the latest version
‘RED’ afloat in Hamble he has 10 boats now racing. Several designers in
the audience were listening intently but no espionage was detectable.

There is no doubt that solo racing is expanding rapidly despite the
economic gloom all around , the media opportunities are many, with race
tracking and skipper blogs to bring the excitement of the race course
into every household in the land. The sailors are keen to tell their
stories of setbacks as well as victories to a growing and expert audience.

Petit Bateau continues to provide the UK focus for solo amateur racing
in the UK and plans to run the popular RIOW Solo on April 18th, the
Channel week starts on May 29th from Lymington, with legs to Alderney,
Guernsey , Treguier, Dartmouth and Weymouth

The event was supported by Musto Clothing, Round The World Foods at
Gosport , The Daily Sail and Charles Bertrand of Fox Design studio, all
of whom had representatives in the
hall. Many thanks to the members of Petit Bateau who worked very hard
behind the scenes to make the day such a success.