A question of money…

Thank you so much for all your kind comments on the blogs; I really get a kick from that fact that people enjoy reading these little snippets of a sailing life.

A recurring comment over the last year or so has been the question as to how I am funding this sailing campaign and so this blog is dedicated to the question of funding.

Running a full time sailing campaign is something many of us dream of doing, and only a hand full will ever make happen. It requires a massive amount of dedication, organisation, an ability to globally manage a project, sacrifice many other aspects of your life and of course in addition it requires money!

A mini campaign is an interesting case to study as there is a sliding scale of funding with which to fund your campaign and I have a spreadsheet with five different budgets labelled starting with ‘I’ll just make it to the line’ and ranging to ‘full time racing campaign’.

Regardless of talent funding and management of your budget do have an end effect on your performance and of course whether or not you even make it to the line.

Money is not something that I have ever focussed on in my blogs; I guess I have felt that it’s sort of a tainted subject, it affects us all and raises most of our stress levels – I am lucky to be doing what I am doing and no one wants to hear about my financial stresses and strains, they want to read about sailing and for some it is an escape to a different world for a couple of minutes.

However I am sure that there are those out there who would like to make the jump; who dream of doing something else or who are just plain curious about how I have made it happen. So here it is a guide to a series mini transat budget.

First of all you need to have a boat; there are three options here you can buy a boat, you can get a sponsor to buy, lend or give you a boat or you could charter one.

The average cost of a racing mini all kitted out is between 55 and 62,000 Euros. I bought my boat using my life savings; I have always lived on a boat rather than a house which has kept the cost of living down a lot over my life time and enabled me to make this investment now.

I bought a boat that had not been raced so it was cheaper at the outset but I needed to kit it out to racing spec. For this I have been incredibly fortunate to work with some amazing trade sponsors who have helped me equip the boat at minimal cost.

The boat of course will depreciate as you use it but with racing mini’s of a high standard, as long as you look after them you should get a chunk of your money back at the end.

Once you have the boat you need to decide where on the sliding scale your campaign will fall, and this will determine your budget.

Over the two years it is possible to organise qualifying, training and racing around a full time job, strategically using holidays and getting extra time off for the big event itself – the bonus of this of course is that you are able in some way to keep afloat in everyday life and mortgages, phone bills, road tax can still all be paid. However the down side is of course less sailing and you often need to employ others to work on your boat and move it around if you cannot take the time off.

At the complete opposite end of the scale are the full time professionals, who dedicate their whole lives to training, working on and racing the boat; this way of running a campaign naturally requires an income from another source to pay for every day life; either private funds or a salary from a sponsor. However it is giving the sailor the best chances of success, to improve their skills, develop their boat; normal life just ticking along ,eyes and mind focussed on the end goal – a result in the mini transat.

This is never cut and dry and though at the moment there are quite a few full time campaigns on the track, most of whom I am currently training with in Lorient; the mini circuit is huge, over 350 sailors took part in events last year and all of those will have been managing their lives and budgets in different ways.

For me at the start there was little choice about the work / sailing balance; I had decided to run a campaign to the transat in 10 months and that meant I had to qualify by competing in the first races of the season or risk making all the investment in the boat but not getting to the race.

I had a great kick start training with the Artemis Academy in La Grand Motte and then after that I was on my own, driving up and down through Europe busting a gut to get qualified.

To give me the flexibility I needed to make this happen I took out a personal loan against the value of ‘The Shed’ the Lightwave 395 which has been my home for the past ten years.

This process of qualification took three months and it was three months where I could do nothing else. But it worked.

Once qualified I returned to the UK with the boat and then attempted to balance the elements of working as a professional skipper and sailing instructor, preparing the boat, training where possible and finding sponsorship to get me through the transat itself.

It’s a fine balance and one which I am sure will ring true with any other sailors trying to make it work. Do you invest all your time in the search for a sponsor, so neglecting your training and if you come up with the funds risking your performance? Or do you train and sail focussing on your own performance but at the expense of finding the budget to actually get there?

Again it’s that sliding scale and in truth sponsors require a lot more than just a good sailor to justify their investment in your campaign, you need to start thinking of yourself and your campaign as a business and the sailing is just a part of it; like with any business time and resources need to be split between investing in the assets you already have and speculating to find others who will invest in your campaign.

Last year I found my balance and until the summer kept investing in my campaign by taking out further loans against my boat and working as hard as I could in the interim. In the last two months in the lead up to the race I was fortunate enough to sign three sponsors, whose injection of cash enabled me to buy new sails, finish the refit of my boat and get to the line in reasonably good form.

The trade off had been a complete lack of training over the summer, in the absence of any programme in the UK I sailed alone in the evenings and on days I had no work and though I turned up to the transat with a reasonable mileage in the mini, through 2011 I had no boat on boat training with other mini’s and this definitely affected my performance.

Fast forward to 2012 and I am now three months into my 2013 transat campaign. My personal funds are all run out; ‘The Shed’ is up for sale to cover the loans from last years transat and the realms of what I can achieve on personal funds are very curtailed.

Taking the positive outlook and believing I can make it work I decided at the beginning of this year that the investment I would make in myself would be early in the season in the form of training in Lorient with one of the best mini coaches there is; this has already paid off in spades, my boat speed has improved I have learned an enormous amount and am on the water with guys who were in the top five last year; watching them, chasing them, aspiring to sail like them.

To fund being here I have downsized my life. I rounded up all of my possessions and identified the things I can live without and have sold or am selling it all to pay for training and living expenses during the months of March and April while I will be in France. I am living in my van or on the mini and think hard about every mile I drive and every item I purchase.

This may seem a little extreme but early season training is a set up for the whole of the rest of the year; my objective for this campaign is to improve on the skill I already have, not just to do the miles but to achieve better results, to increase my level of competition and move forward. With that goal in mind, a good start to the season is high enough a priority to demand such a sacrifice.

For the rest of the year the balance will adjust to reflect the different needs of the ‘business’ adjusting to the circumstances I am in and heavy on the hunt for sponsors. Without a sponsor I will not be able to carry on, so strategically I am hoping this early boost to the training will take me through any lean sailing months ahead where the demands of real life may keep me off the water.

It’s a complicated equation and of course one that involves risk. I have risked spending my life savings but at no point will I ever regret the decisions I have made. One of the great pleasures in life has to be developing a skill and attempting to excel in that field. Aside from the immense pleasure I get from sailing in general; to push myself to the limits in solo sailing and compete at an international level has been one of the greatest achievements of my life to date, I am proud of what I have done and though I am determined to carry on with this career if it does not work out I will have no hard feelings.

For anyone reading this blog and wondering when, how or if they can make the jump in any sport or project my advice would be that actually taking the jump is the biggest step of all; but it is only a tiny percentage of people who will get offered a deal without making an initial investment themselves.

If you really want to do it then don’t hang around waiting to be given something; go out and start on whatever terms you can, it may be a small beginning but at least it is a beginning; your own circumstances and personal goals will shape the course of your project and whether you succeed or not, whether you find a sponsor who will invest in your campaign or you go as far as you can on your own steam, the action of actually trying and investing in yourself is something you will be proud of for the rest of your life.

2012 Race Calendar


2012 from whatever angle you look at it is going to be a massive year for sailing. The finish of the Volvo, the start of the Vendee and of course the Olympics in the summer polarising the focus of the world on two short weeks of competition that have been fed by years and years of dedication.

Though the mini’s are in their ‘rest’ year from the bi-annual transat race. Rest is far from my mind when I look at the race calendar for the year ahead. It’s full, in fact it is bursting at the seams and my foot is hard on the gas looking forward to a year of learning, development and hard competition.

The season starts for me in the Atlantic with the Demi Cle, a double handed coastal race which is notorious for Spring storms and tricky navigating. It is the first race of the season for the Atlantic boats, a chance to flex muscles after the two months of training in Brittany fog we are putting ourselves through at the moment; bravado has lead to boats on the rocks and the fierce competition sets the scene for the season ahead.

Where the Demi Cle ends, the Select starts and Pornichet hosts one of the biggest single handed races of the season. A fleet of close to 70 boats battle their way around Belle Isle, down to Les Sable d’Orlonne, up to ‘the poxy’ Isle de Groix (as some know it) and back home. This race is a floating test of your stress levels; as if it wasn’t hard enough to navigate 300 miles of tidal and rocky coast alone; to race with close competition breathing down your neck at your every move sets the heart rate thumping and will punish those that sleep!

After the Select we have a choice and of course I am going all British.

This year is the first year that Britain will host two official classe mini events and it is a really important progression in the development of the class in our country.

In early May the new Solent650 will depart from Lymington via the Needles Channel, race down to the Poole fairway buoy and then on to Wolf Rock and back into Plymouth as a feeder race for the UK Fastnet.

This new cat C race will allow British boats to qualify for the UK Fastnet cat B race without leaving the country and runs at the same time as a Cat C feeder race to Plymouth from La Trinite in Brittany. Anyone curious about mini’s should catch us rounding the Poole Fairway buoy on the 6th May in the afternoon. I will be sailing with fellow transat skipper and great friend Christa ten Brinke; come and give us a wave!

The UK Fastnet is one of the favourite races in the mini Calendar due to the hospitality of the home club The Royal Western. Well let’s face it; the race wouldn’t be a favourite for the course. Slogging upwind from the Eddystone to the Fastnet rock in grey cold, bone chilling damp; the British weather at it’s worst, but at least we should have a blast back via Conneberg (if we can find it! Some had trouble last year) under spinnaker which made it all worth while last time.

After all this double handing I think I will be ready to bin my co-skipper again and the MAP out of Dournonez is the next race on my calendar at the end of May, and it’s single handed. This course is shorter than the Select but just as competitive, last year I did not manage to enter but this year my form is in and I am on the list already. No hesitation!

Next another crack at the Fastnet; it’s a shame I can’t do it with RORC as well; just to make sure I was properly familiar with the form of the lighthouse.

Again it’s a new race for me but the buzz around the mini Fastnet race is legendary; it’s simple. A full on drag race across the approaches to the English Channel from Douarnenez to the Fastnet rock and back, accepting along the way whatever the weather sends at you. Last year the poor forecast changed the course and kept the little boats on the French side.

And then the Ocean race of the year, to the Azores and back from Les Sables. This is the race I am really looking forward to. Single handed ocean racing, facing the Atlantic fronts in all their fury. The last Azores race saw a front pass over the fleet and continued wind speeds of over 30 knots for a few days. Record speeds were recorded and rigs were lost.

After the Azores things tail off in the Atlantic so I shall be heading down to the Mediterranean where there is still some great competitive racing on offer in the back end of the year.

All new this year is the AIR race which stands for Around Islands Race. Starting from the incredible Americas cup Village in Valencia, this is a drag race out to Mallorca, round Ibiza and back again. Like the Solent 650 this is an important progression in the mini calendar for Spain as it’s their first Cat C race and will feed directly into the mini Barcelona Cat B race a couple of weeks later.

The race organiser is promising a massive welcome and strategically this race will be important in the scheme of qualification for anyone coming into the Classe later this year to get their miles in ahead of the Atlantic boats and so get onto the entry list for the 2013 transat.

Anyway can you see a down side from racing from Valencia around the Balearics and back?? I can’t!

So after that the mini Barcelona……….. or maybe not…….. other plans may be afoot…….


Training in Lorient

The last five days have gone past in a blur.

I know they have gone past; there are tell tale signs. Like the rough skin forming into wear pads on the palms of my hands, the marks in permanent pen all over my boat, a job list that nearly reaches my toes and a note book bulging with golden nuggets of information from the debriefs and my time on the water.

The training is intensive; our coach is Tanguy Leglatin, a well respected coach for many of the single handed disciplines in France, who has no off switch.

Turn up at 8 and get the boat ready (not such a big deal for me as I am sleeping in my van at the top of the ramp). Briefing on the dock, boat rigged at 9 am; this is just a run through of the days exercises and a presentation of rig settings.

Then off. If you are not ready you are not coming. There is no waiting and so from the moment we push off engineless from the dock we have to think about sailing fast, even to keep up with the pack to get to the area of the first start of the day. A couple of times now I have still had my spinnaker up when the first four minute warning has gone.

The days have been a mixture of speed testing; where the boats line up with the same sails, sailing in the same direction and we are able to try subtle differences in trim and tuning to see what effect this has on our boat speed and course in relation to the others.

Then practice starts, a small race of around two hours. Sail changing exercises, gybing, tacking, upwind settings, downwind settings. The day just disappears in a blur of manouvres, sails and endless coiling of ropes, which just seem to undo themselves and revert to the big pile of spaghetti that has become the trade mark of my cockpit.

It’s so bad the coach took a photo of my cockpit to show during the debrief as an example of a mess! Oh the shame!

Everything is done in French, which face to face is not a problem but I have been struggling to understand the scratchy and windblown language over the VHF, the radio takes away any intonation that would make the words understandable; we have come to a compromise where if I do not react to a command, it is reissued in English.

At the end of the day we sail our way back up past the ancient citadel often tacking against the furious tide around the viscous rocky outcrops and back into the Submarine Base.

The debrief is an hour and a half, and this is when we really understand the huge knowledge that is being passed on to us.

Using video footage from the day we dissect every aspect of every exercise; sail shape, boat on boat positioning, rig tuning, sail selection, stacking and angle of heel. Through the eyes of Tanguy from off the boat we can clearly see what we have done well or not. If only it was so easy to judge from onboard.

My brain and my body have been exhausted. It’s been a fulll immersion back into racing the mini, and also into the French language.

I started off staggering behind, trying to keep up both physically and mentally but fairly quickly it came back, and then some.

I have learned more in the last five days than I have learned in at least six months on the mini. I have sharpened up my techniques, started to calibrate and record settings and information and am keen to keep improving.

The standard of the group is high; including me there are four pogo 2’s a Nacira and a tip top, two women four men. These guys are good!

I have always been of the opinion that to improve you need to sail with people who are better than yourself, and this I am doing now. There is not one moment when I can give less than 100% or I will be spat out of the back of the pack. Thinking, doing, remembering and then writing it all down.

On top of all of this I have started to run again to keep my cardio vascular fitness in line with the rest of my training. This will be a slow progression back to my old form and is not always an easy thing to consider after a hard day on the water. But I am determined to get back to form and to run a half marathon before the year is out.

I’ve managed 25 miles this week and have gone from creaking and groaning to slightly stiff! This is not going to come back as easily as the sailing no matter how good the coach!

And the fog rolled in

It has been a long day of fiddling, getting my boat back up to racing spec and noting all the wear and tear that our head long charge across the Atlantic has caused.

Frustratingly the kind of day where one simple task seems to take 1000 complicated steps, mostly due to the consequences of leaving the boat damp over Christmas.

Dusting everything off and firing it up again, I am finding tiny things that are not quite perfect; mostly caused by corrosion; the boat owner’s nemesis.

One such problem was with my autopilot system. I fired up the computer and that worked fine, but when I plugged in the trusty ram that had taken me all the way on leg two of the transat, there was no action.

I tried the second and then the third ram but still no life.

The first tool to reach for in these circumstances is always going to be the multimeter; even on a boat as basic and tiny as the mini, a multimeter is an essential piece of kit and goes everywhere with you. A failure in the electrical system could mean no pilot, no lights, no navigation system, no communication; and though as a practical sailor I am confident I could carry on without the help of all things electrical, it does rather remove your competitive edge.

My multimeter appeared from the plastic box that has been its home for the past few months and flatly refused to power up. A new battery did not help matters, it had got wet and that was game over for this piece of kit.

And so a small job of plugging in the pilots turned into a marathon, a van safari to the closest DIY store, getting lost of course in French rush hour traffic on the way.

By the time I returned to the boat a thick fog had rolled up the estuary and was sitting heavy over the submarine base. It was getting late in the evening so the cloud took on an eeery green light made all the more spooky by the ominous form of the Submarine silos looming over me in the murk.

I was alone on my boat, water from the fog dripping off the shrouds and rigging. I dropped a tool and the small clatter from my boat, travelled into the open submarine silo opposite, transforming to a large boom which bounced around off the walls and came back at me.

The submarine base is an amazing place to be, the constant activity creates a buzz such as I have never experienced before. The Figaros have been out training over the last week, Banque Populaire sits resplendent in the middle of the marina; 40’s are being lifted in and out, weighed and of course the minis buzz around it all, often being towed behind other boats and always active.

It would be a nice idea to set up a camera for the day doing time lapse photography of the base. It would be fascinating to watch.

But despite the buzz, yesterday I was reminded of the sinister purpose of the huge buildings around us. The silos were built by the Germans when they occupied Lorient during the Second World War to house their submarines.

They are ugly and functional and indestructible.

How lucky we are to live in safer happier times now and particularly in the mini class 19 nations sail, compete and share a genuine lover of our sport together.


An incredible journey


I am sitting on the TGV on my way back to Lorient after quite a tour of Europe in the last couple of days and looking forward to home; in the back of my van parked next to the mini.

I left last Tuesday night from Lorient to take the pogo 2 of Geoff Duniam ‘Mad Spaniel’ to the Solent for training and to be made ready for the two UK races in May this year.

It was my first time afloat in a mini this year and so despite the long dark nights and the promise of a cold and wet crossing I was very much looking forward to getting back out there alone in a little boat. Remembering what it was all about.

The trip didn’t disappoint and in stages I was reminded of all things mini and my body still knows about it.

A little passage planning and a favourable wind up to Brest allowed me to hit the tidal gates through the Raz de Sein and Ushant just right; with flat seas, a fantastic speed over ground of 15 knots at times and even a visit from the dolphins in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

As I passed Ushant the cloud that had slowly been rolling in bought with it the wind that was promised and before too long I was screaming along with the code 5 (little spinnaker) doing a steady 14 knots.

This was the first time Mad Spaniel had been sailing for a while and so I was constantly checking running and standing rigging to make sure everything was as it should be and conscious that I should not push her too hard.

As the wind gusted up to 30 knots my decision to take the spinnaker down was prompted by the appearance of a cardinal marker I had not been expecting to see; I spotted it at two miles on the horizon, and expected it was a North Cardinal marking the shape of the coast to keep large vessels off the rocks.

At 14 knots two miles disappears quite quickly and before long I could tell this was no Northerly…. It was a westerly and I was heading East.

For the non-sailors reading my blog a West Cardinal indicates there is an obstruction to the East of the buoy and any boats should stay to the West. In short I was heading into danger at 14 knots.

My heart jumped inside the many jackets I was wearing and I was gripped by a searing panic…. I wasn’t sure I wanted to throw the boat into a gybe under spinnaker in that much wind and what ever was on the other side of that buoy was coming at me way to fast.

There followed the fastest spinnaker take down in history, all the more impressive due to the fact I was wrapped up like the Michelin Man so moving was quite and effort.

The sail came down; I gybed the main headed sharp north and dived below to check the chart.

Common sense had told me I was far enough from the coast not to worry about rocks and I was right. There was not danger and as suspected this was a cardinal designed to keep large ships from getting too close to the corner at Ushant, however instead of being north as I expected it was a Westerly to reflect the gentle curve of the coast to the South. I was not heading into danger; just a scare but with it a stark reminder that single handing through the British Channel and around the coast of France and the UK is a very different ball game from the open and empty Atlantic.

I wasn’t complacent before, but remained on high alert for the rest of the trip, edgy and on constant look out.

The rest of the trip passed by well, offering a dark wet and windy crossing of the shipping lanes with less than half a mile of visibility but made possible and safe with a great AIS.

On my boat currently I have an AIS transponder but do not have a screen to show positions of other vessels and this is something I will now be looking to change immediately; I would not have been able to cross those ships without it.

I remembered the feeling of the boat underneath me and fell straight back into a system of ten minute naps like I had been at sea forever.

The spinnaker went up again with the sun on Thursday morning and I enjoyed a very relaxed sail into Lymington for the rest of the day; I was tired, bruised completely full of tea and remembering what life is all about.

After a weekend working in the Solent my next trip was by plane to Valencia where I have been to test sail the new RG650. This is an Argentine designed boat which hopes to be the new series boat on the block by the end of this year………. It’s bold, it’s new and I’ll write more of that another time.

From Valencia to Montpellier by overnight bus a quick coffee in the square and now I am on the train heading back to Lorient.

I would say I’m looking forward to my own bed, but the place I sleep at the moment takes many forms, buses, trains, the back of a van and a wet cockpit; the comfort might not always be there but when I close my eyes sleep is never far away.