RICHARD Mason will take on the first solo offshore race of his sailing career next week.
The 26-year-old took a break from his 470 training last year to learn how to sail the 33ft Figaro Bénéteau solo, before eventually competing on the Figaro circuit in France.
Last summer, the Weymouth ace was selected from a number of candidates to join the Artemis Offshore Academy – the UK’s only training centre for budding solo offshore sailors.
Mason, pictured, has put everything into his solo training since his selection, but going from being at the top of his game in his dinghy to struggling in the Figaro has not been easy.
Mason is currently training in Lorient on the west coast of France with fellow British rookies and Artemis Offshore Academy squad members Sam Matson and Alan Roberts.
In two weeks’ time, Mason will be on the start line for the first time with as many as 35 other Figaros, setting sail on the 320-mile Solo Maitre Coq.
It will not only be his first competitive Figaro event, but his longest stint in the vessel since he began learning to sail one.
After the Solo Maitre Coq, Mason will sail a further two smaller races under 1,000 miles on the north western coast of France, before the academy selects those who will compete in the 2,014-mile Solitaire du Figaro, a four-stage solo coastal hop, starting in Dieppe and eventually finishing in Cherbourg.
Drawing only the best of the solo offshore scene to its start line, for the first time in 11 years the 2014 Solitaire will stop over in the UK, paying homage to the achievements of the very select number of British sailors who compete in this race.
Mason will be one of a possible seven this year.
The Figaro is a dynamic and highly-competitive racing class and the Solitaire du Figaro is seen as the unofficial world championships of solo offshore sailing.
The Class Figaro and Solitaire is a proven training ground for skippers looking to take on the Vendée Globe – the non-stop round the world race.
It is Mason’s goal to one day compete in this event, and the academy and Figaro are the first rungs on the ladder to achieving this dream.
His first race of the season, the Solo Maitre Coq, starts from Les Sable d’Olonne, the home of the Vendée Globe.
For the first time, but hopefully not the last, Mason and his British team-mates will get to sail out of the iconic canal travelled by Vendée Globe greats Michel Desjoyeaux, Francois Gabart Dame Ellen MacArthur.