Accepted into the ranks of the Artemis Offshore Academy in 2014, the UK’s only training center for budding solo offshore sailors, Northern Irish sailor Andrew Baker (25, from Saintfield, County Down) is taking the first steps towards his dream of racing solo around the world by competing on the solo Figaro racing circuit in 2015. Andrew will be racing a nimble 33ft boat designed for sailing solo called a Bénéteau Figaro II.
Taught to sail by his Dad Brian aged 9, Andrew soon became a national Northern Irish Laser competitor and keen Etchell sailor. However previous to joining the Academy, he had never sailed a yacht solo. Now just five months into his training, Andrew is counting down to the first competitive race of his solo offshore career – 196nm Solo Basse Normandie starting 27th March 2015. Racing against a fleet of world-class offshore sailors and a number of first time competitors like himself, Andrew is under no illusions as to the challenge that lay ahead.
“Solo offshore sailing is both physically and mentally demanding, skippers having to keep the boat sailing fast and in the right direction, while finding time to eat and sleep if they can. It’s very challenging” Andrew explained. While he has been keeping up with the more experienced sailors in training, Andrew knows that it’ll be a whole different ball game out on the course: “I’ve learned a lot from our practice races in Lorient. My competitive streak is always pushing me to improve and work harder and I’ve never yet felt like I’m slow in the fleet. However, there’s a big difference between training and competitive racing. The next challenge will be to stay in contention with a fleet comprised of some of the best offshore sailors, and for days on end.”
“I’d love to win the Rookie class (division for first timers), and I have set a goal to finish top half of the fleet. Aside from that, my aim is to sail fast, settle into the race as soon as possible, learn from my mistakes, take no big gambles in tactics and most of all enjoy it. Very few sailors are lucky enough to be in this position, I am going to make the most of it.”
The Solo Basse Normandie starts from Granville, France and finishes in Cherbourg on Sunday 29th March after two nights at sea. This first race is just one of three warm up races for Andrew, as he fights to earn his place on the Solitaire du Figaro start-line in June. The jewel in solo sailings crown, the Solitaire is a 2000-mile race between five European ports – this year stopping in Torbay, UK – and attracts only the world’s best solo competitors to its start line.