Mike Golding talks about plans for the Vendée Globe next year with a new sponsor

It’s great news that Mike Golding has finally got a sponsor to back him for the next two years until the end of the 2012 Vendée Globe solo round the world race. In a deal that seems like the perfect match, his new sponsor is a Spanish wind farm manufacturer, Gamesa.

There must have been nervous times for Golding when Ecover ended their long-term deal with him, but it would have been crazy had Britain’s best prospect not got a backer for the next race. Possibly because of Golding’s longevity in solo sailing it’s all too easily forgotten what a skilled operator he is.

In the last 12 years of racing, Golding has rarely been off the podium of any of the major Open 60 races. Since the retirement of Ellen MacArthur, he is the only British sailor realistically capable of taking on French rivals and winning.

He is, understandably, thrilled to have found a new commercial sponsor, and he tells me: “It’s a perfect fit, it couldn’t be any better. And the nice thing about Gamesa is it’s in the green sector but no-one knows it so we can’t fail but win.”

Gamesa see the UK as likely to adopt an energy plan that involves building many new offshore wind farms, and are aiming at a slice of that. So one of the sailing project’s objectives will be, says Golding: “to widen the visibility to a broader audience.”

Gamesa are not the only power and wind power company in sailing. Iberdrola were involved in co-sponsorship of the 33rd America’s Cup, and in the TP52 circuit.

The deal with Golding is for two years covering the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre in November, the crewed Europa Race next summer, then the 2012 Vendée Globe. That marks a change – traditionally solo racing campaigns were built on four-year budgets.

“In the current economic climate you have to find a way to make sponsors feel safer,” says Golding.

But he adds: “There is a question mark over IMOCA [the Open 60 class association run by skippers] and where they are going, and that’s not great.”

He adds that plans are afoot to revise the class rules again as well to shape a simpler boat with less ballast and a shorter keel, changes that he considers will be expensive for owners of existing boats.

And there’s the question, beyond 2012, of where to go next. “I wouldn’t want to commit to the 2016 Vendée Globe, it wouldn’t be right,” he says. “I would be 56 then and right now it’s going to hurt a bit more than it used to, but I can do it. I don’t know if I’d want to do another afterwards.

“I’ll be quite open: there are lots of exciting things around. I would be interested in managing an Extreme 40 team. And the MOD 70 [one-design trimaran class] is a great concept, more in keeping with how the economy is now. The boats are fixed in cost and it makes the whole game quite attractive.

“But the thing is that sailing is very dynamic. It’s not like other sports; there are fashions.”

Right now, Golding is concentrating on refitting his Owen Clarke design IMOCA 60, which is undergoing a strict diet at Green Marine in Southampton.

“We are making quite a few changes,” he reveals. “We’re dressing a new rig, a classic [fixed] three-spreader rig. The rule is driving boats towards the lightest solution and not necessarily the most aerodynamic so some of the benefits of wingmasts have gone away.”

That is allowing Golding’s team to take some weight out of the keel bulb as well and, in common with many yachts that raced in the Barcelona World Race earlier this year, winches are being pared back from seven to four. In all, it Golding reckons his boat can be slimmed from 8.3 tonnes to 8 tonnes.

Other changes include a sliding roof that offers more protection, which in turn means he is having to change from twin wheels to a wishbone tiller that fits beneath.

Alternative power sources are in Golding’s sights for the Vendée Globe next year, but he is frank about the reason. “The motivation for removing as much fossil fuel as possible is competitive, it’s about reducing weight.”

Despite the new sponsor wind power is high on the agenda. “The problem is these boat are already very efficient at using the wind on board, so upwind it’s too strong [for a turbine] and downwind it’s too light. It’s only when you’re reaching you get good benefit.”

Hydro power is a different matter, and like most IMOCA 60 skippers, Golding will be carrying the latest generation of small water turbines optimised and championed by French solo sailor Yannick Bestaven. At the speeds the 60s routinely hit, these mini turbines can generate 40 amps of power.

“With the new wind generators, solar panels and hydrogenerators you’re going to find you have enough power to run all your systems,” says Golding.

“But we still have to have driving power and the most efficient is a little diesel engine. That’s what I’m going to need if I have to go and rescue Alex Thomson!” he jokes.