Timothy Long: Set for Success

At the beginning of his competitive sailing journey, 19-year-old Timothy Long reflects on his first steps into the world of offshore racing and looks ahead to the remainder of the year.

My first experience of sailing was an eventful day. Having been signed onto an RYA 1 & 2 course by my dad, I was bundled into the back of a car and we headed to a reservoir near Swindon. Soon, I found myself in a cold changing room, putting on an equally cold wetsuit and by the time we started the daily briefing, I was miserable.

I must have been experiencing flashbacks from the PGL residential I was sent on the year before, during which I attempted to re-enact The Great Escape (with less success, being caught at the end of the dormitory corridor just after lights out).

Little did the nine-year-old Timothy know where those early days on the water would lead him

However, as we began to launch into the water, I remember the feeling of anticipation and excitement. Suddenly, I found myself in an environment that I had never been in before AND in control of what I was doing. The combination gave me a sense of freedom that I had never previously felt, and from there the spark was lit! The experience left me feeling really inspired, and I quickly set myself the challenge to sail to the other side of the lake.

A WHOLE NEW WORLD
Now that I had placed my little nine-year-old feet into the sailing world for the first time, the next few years were full of discovery. Often after school I would pour over books, documentaries and YouTube videos to find out about all the different sides of our sport. I was fascinated!

When I was 12, I read Ellen MacArthur’s book Taking on the World. Reading about her adventures made me believe that if I just tried hard enough, I too could set off on one of my own – and possibly one day even sail around the world. Not long after that, I decided I was going to start off the way she did and sail around the UK single handed, although at the slightly younger age of 15.

Setting off on 16 July 2020 was my first BIG trip. There had been so many delays and frustrations due to lockdown that I had thought the day would never come, and I was desperate to get underway. Over the course of 11 weeks, though, I experienced a whole range of conditions, met some incredible people and was privileged to see lots of wildlife in their natural habitat… often jealous at how effortlessly they would be dealing with conditions, whilst I bashed upwind counting down the hours until I reached land!

The life lessons and learning were huge. It gave me a strong basis in seamanship, as well as teaching me a lot about myself, and my strengths and weaknesses. To my parents’ distress, it also left me wanting more. Before I had even finished sailing around Britain, I was already looking into the possibility of a Mini Transat campaign.

A NEW DETERMINATION
Through my final years in school, my focus was set firmly on finding a pathway into the world of offshore racing. The idea that you could race for days on end out at sea, alone, sounded like one of the coolest challenges in the world.

I identified that getting into the French ‘Figaro’ class would be the best way to progress. The fleet is an elite one design class that breeds the offshore sailing legends of the future. Every Vendée Globe winner since 1992, for example, has previously competed in the fleet.

So, in February 2022, I completed my first ever training week in the Figaro class. The level of sailing blew me away, and I was immediately out of my depth. That year, I competed in my first ever double-handed Figaro race and spent most of my summer holiday working as a technician for a competitor in the Solitaire du Figaro – a pinnacle race in the offshore sailing world.

EDUCATION TO RACING
Last year, weeks after finishing A-Levels, I took my next big step – going solo. Towards the end of July, I competed in the Solo Guy Cotten, a single-handed 380nm race around the west coast of France. It was a huge leap in my sailing career; for the first time I would be racing alone, in a professional fleet and against some of the skippers that I had so keenly followed throughout my childhood. It was a huge learning curve and, above all, crossing the finish line gave me a big boost of self-confidence. I now realised that I was in fact capable of taking on such a challenge.

A BUSY 2024

As well as welcoming visitors onboard his boat, Timothy spoke on the Foredeck Stage at last year’s Southampton International Boat Show

Going into 2024, I was really keen to build on my experience of the past few years, and to launch my biggest campaign yet. Like most professional sports, offshore sailing relies heavily on commercial sponsorship, and it is up to you as a sailor to raise the necessary funds.

After a winter of working to build up my project and pitching to companies to join my business syndicate, I have earned enough investment to start (but not finish!) the sailing season.

From April through to June I am competing in three elite Championship Figaro events. Two of these are long solo races (350-500nm each), alongside a five day double-handed race. It will be an intense and challenging three months. Never before have I managed a project this large, or competed in such high level events.

Following this first batch of races, my aim is to find further investment that will enable me to compete in the Solitaire du Figaro this August. The race is 2,000nm long, broken into three intense legs around the west coast of Europe. It is widely regarded as one of the hardest races in sailing; with every boat being exactly the same the competition is intense, with results often being separated by minutes.

We frequently see sailors push themselves to extreme lengths in order to sail slightly faster than their opponent. For me, starting the race would be a big step forward in my sailing career.

Beyond 2024? Well, we will have to see. The Figaro fleet is one of the best places to build my skills and learn from those who have more experience in the sport, so I hope to focus my time there. However, one of the great things about sailing is that opportunities are always arising, and I am looking forward to saying yes to as many of them as possible.

timothylongsailing.co.uk

 

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