This year saw the launch of "Vendee 2020 Vision" a project run by Whitecap Ltd and supported by Artemis Investment Management. 

The alumni of the Artemis Offshore Academy, run by OC Sport, have been given the opportunity to gain experience on AOR2 an IMOCA 60 owned by Artemis, predominantly used for corporate and the RORC offshore series. With the ultimate aim to get more than one Brit in the 2020 Vendee Globe.

Run by Phil Johnston and Simon Clay, recently joined by Sean Woods and Jess Dhalgren to help manage the sponsorship and marketing of project Vendee 2020 Vision. While the project is supported by Artemis, sponsors are being sourced, both for the project and individual sailors moving forward.

3 Days Solo Coaching

As part of the project every sailor has been invited onboard AOR2 for a three day solo training session with boat captain Mikey Ferguson, coach Dee Caffari and media man Conrad Manning.

 I joined the boat from 10-12th May in what turned out to be very light winds and thick fog for the majority, somewhat disappointing although saying that, it was a good way to gently ease into the boat.

Nikki Curwen Vendee 2020

A couple days before the planned training I was set a 400 mile course, with instruction to create a road book. My course took me out the Solent, West to Eddystone Lighthouse, then a jump across the channel, around Guernsey, hugging the coast around the corner to Le Harve before heading back to the Solent and Southampton.

Due to the expected light winds, the night before departure my course was changed, now venturing over to the East of the Solent and Brighton way, and a hop over to Le Harve and back, now only a 330 mile course, with little time to re prepare my road book. I was now feeling somewhat unprepared, as I now had an evening of "real" work to do before being out the office for 3 days, having spent part the day preparing the first road book.

In true mini style I had my laminated sheets with the tidal streams, and tide times for the varying corresponding ports. It's time to join the digital world I fear...!

The morning came and I ventured down to Ocean Village where AOR2 is moored and met the team and familiarised myself with my home for the next few days.

AOR2 was the first time I'd sailed on a boat with locking halyards, grinding pedestals, even stay sails. There was certainly a lot to take in, it was like learning a new language. Ultimately the set up was quite similar to that of the mini: asymmetric kites, furlers, square top main, running back stays...but everything was MUCH MUCH bigger and the loads I was managing matched it. Where I was used to being able to just pull a kite sheet through a gybe or to simply trim it, unsurprisingly I now had to use the pedestal, which took a lot more grunt. If I'm going to be sailing these boats I really need to get to the gym and hit the weights.

Heading out into the Solent we hoisted the main, having to put a climbing harness on to get up the mast just to attach the head of the sail to the mast track!

With a bit of discussion it was now time to put in my first solo front of Cowes with none other than Brian Thomson watching from a rib as he was passing pressure. Mild success, we tacked, definitely room to improve but not completely disastrous.

Pit controls and bitch winch

Pit controls and bitch winch

Prepare…main sheet out? daggerboard down, line on “bitch winch” to lift the old one after the tack, new runner on, winch handle in ready to grind, old ready to release, main up track, old trav line slack and placed behind the track, prepare new sheet, connect the pedestal to the right winch, in the right gear, keel central? ready? Autopilot in motion...GO! It's a lot to think about and it really took some time to get it right, trying to relax and make it natural and not just a process and a list being shouted at you. Every tack I was really having to pause and mentally visualise the steps I was about to do...if I didn't stop for that time, I'd certainly forget something.

Often when it went wrong it was due to a problem causing me to panic and skip a step. So for example, if I went through the tack quicker than expected, maybe because I was late letting the sheet off, or crossing the boat. I then would skip grinding the new back stay in, panicked that I needed to get the jib in, before it was too late. Grind the wrong way on the pedestal then your stuck in the wrong many factors that could ultimately fuck up your maneuver, hugely frustrating. However, when it went god it was satisfying.

Gybing, made tacking seem easy, it takes much more grind work. Inside or outside gybe? With the technique changing depending on the wind strength. As a general guideline you inside gybe in less than 12 knots, and outside if greater than. Inside gybing is definitely harder, and very much down to technique and timing while outside is purely a release and a big big grind in. Worst case situation, the kite is flying out to front like a flag. Where as inside gybing, you run the risk of wrapping the kite around the forestay/furled Genoa.

Nikki Curwen Vendee 2020 - Grinding

For the majority of my training we had less than 12 knots, so I was inside gybing. In simple terms it's a case of easing the sheet out enough to let the clew float in front of the forestay, while grinding in the slack on the new sheet. Committing to the turn on the autopilot, then grinding like crazy, and then some more, trying not to give in to the lower gear!!!

The runners, like in the mini are much more important in the gybe than the tack, as, if the old runner is on, the main is pinned and the boat won't be able to bare away. Quite often I felt I was playing bulldog running back and forth across the cockpit, sometimes stopping mid way for a quick grind on the pedestal, hopefully in the right direction. As getting stuck in a low gear pulling in slack on a kite sheet is certainly less than ideal. 

At the beginning of the training session I was paranoid about the runners, in my deck stepped mini, I HAD to have a runner on at all times, so it really was a case of grinding the new one on before releasing the old one. On the 60 it's still important when tacking and gybing, but just not to the same degree. It was difficult to get it in my head that I could release the old runner at the beginning of the tack/gybe and grind the final bit of the new one in the middle, and finish it off at the end. I quite often got held up in my maneuver grinding in the backstay, then was held up for the jib/spini sheet. Then moving to the opposite spectrum, forcing myself to forget my natural routine from the mini, I could quite easily skip it or stop half way, if it meant being on time for the jib or spini sheet.  

I'm pleased to say by the end of the training session, I had managed to master at least one tack, one inside and one outside gybe.

Nikki Curwen Vendee 2020 - Bow

As well as tacking and gybing I learnt the procedures of changing headsails and kites. Often swapping between the 0 and Genoa, and the staysail and A2. All headsails and O's are on furlers, and the A2 in the snuffer, which makes life a bit easier. Saying that, they're massive sails and just moving them around the boat takes a lot of work. Stowing or moving any of the sails, can involve attaching a halyard and hoisting it up to drop it down the front hatch. Thinking ahead and preping is key, and can save you a lot of hard work. Why get the sail on deck, when you can hoist it straight from the hatch?

It's all common sense, but takes a bit of time to process, for me anyway! 

I thoroughly enjoyed my training, even in the drifting conditions and thick fog. Particularly the morning of day 3, when the wind picked up and we were able to bash out a number of tacks and gybes in succession and really get to grips with everything. Albeit in freezing conditions and rain!

Given the opportunity again I would definitely prepare more, to have had a copy of the manoeuvres beforehand to be able to visualise the process and pre learn it before jumping on the boat. Or even, to have been onboard before to watch someone else do what I was trying to achieve.

I'm now really looking forward to joining the team for both the RORC St. Malo and Ushant race later this year, and to expand on my initial training in a race environment.


Commercial Training Day

As well as on the water training, we've all been given the opportunity to sit down 1-to-1 with Jess and Sean to discuss the commercial side of sailing and gain some invaluable advice from their experiences. During my training day I will be focusing on:

  • Presenting in a corporate environment and public speaking
  • Elevator pitch 
  • Performing on camera
  • Qualifying the value of sponsorship