Alex relishes challenge of the high seas

120912-Artemis-Selection-Trials_266Sail heaving, rope tugging, furious grinding and a regular dowsing of salt water are just some of the physical toils of sailing usually shared by a crew.

So imagine being in the middle of the Atlantic taking a battering from the wind and waves; it’s dark, you’re alone and you’ve got the same jobs list.

Throw into the mix sleep deprivation, mental exhaustion, a couple of sachets of freeze-dried shepherd’s pie and a bucket (you don’t want to know) and you’re set. Welcome to the world of solo offshore sailing!

That are the type of conditions local sailor Alex Gardner will voluntarily put himself through as he aims to follow in the footsteps of British offshore greats Dame Ellen MacArthur, Mike Golding, Dee Caffari, Samantha Davies and Alex Thomson, Newchurch sailor Alex is throwing caution to the wind and putting his all into realising his dream of making a career out of competing on the solo offshore sailing circuit, one of the most demanding and dynamic yacht racing circuits in the world.

Alex became hooked on sailing at an early age after holidaying with visiting friends on their yacht in Yarmouth. On leaving his Island education he decided to take his sporting passion more seriously, training to become a sailing instructor and regularly competing on the fully crewed circuit.

Then only last year Alex took his first step on the ladder towards his solo offshore dream, applying for the East Cowes based Artemis Offshore Academy – the UK’s only centre of excellence for short-handed offshore sailing. After being put through his paces over a gruelling 52 hours of mental and physical tasks and coming out the other side relatively unscathed, Alex proved he had the potential to succeed in the tough field of short-handed sailing – solo or two person sailing. He was given joint charge of a 33ft French solo or two skipper racing yacht called Figaro Bénéteau II or Artemis 43.

“You’ve got to have quite a bit of grit and motivation to be a solo or short-handed sailor, you have to want to push yourself,” said Alex, now in his second year at Southampton Solent University where he studies for a degree in Yacht and Powercraft design.

“It also pays off to be a happy and resilient person and able to bounce back. Being able to be happy when it all goes wrong and also being able to keep calm – it’s too easy to panic. It also helps to be fit.”

120912-Artemis-Selection-Trials_306Dedicated to his ambition to become a professional offshore sailor, for the past year Alex has juggled learning the theory and technicalities behind sailing at University and his practical training and racing with the Academy and his Figaro co-skipper Dyfrig Mon. Having already competed in three Royal Ocean Racing Club races this year, Alex, Dyfrig and Artemis 43 currently sit fourth on the series double-handed leader board as they work towards their title race of 2013, the 608-mile Rolex Fastnet.

Drawing over 350 boats to the start line, for the first time in the races history it will include a Figaro class – something not usually seen this side of the Channel and a great step forward for British short-handed offshore racing.

Alex said: “I’d like to think Dyfrig and I can do the Fastnet in around four days. We have to put a lot of trust into one another and it’s quite mad to think we had never met each other before and from one person meeting us both once they could tell we would be a good team!” He added: “We do work well together and I’m looking forward to the Fastnet, although it is quite daunting to be sailing 600-odd miles on a 33ft boat, but I think we are ready for the challenge!”

You can follow Alex as he prepares for the first major milestone in his short-handed offshore career at www.artemisoffshoreacademy.com

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