Britain's best solo sailor and Boat Show poster boy puts out the word out that he needs a sponsor
As one of the poster boys of the London Boat Show, Mike Golding has been flying the flag for ocean racing. Last weekend he was giving talks on his preparations for the 2012 Vendée Globe, when he should be the UK’s brightest prospect for a win.
This would be Mike’s fourth Vendée, so he knows exactly with what needs to be done. From a sailing and preparation perspective, he needs no practice.
But the boat show provided Mike with an opportunity to do something all-important that he’s very much less familiar with: courting sponsorship.
“One of the problems I’ve got is people thinking I don’t need sponsorship or that I’m not available,” he says.
It’s been Mike Golding’s good fortune, though now his difficulty, to have been backed directly or indirectly for almost all his racing career by one longstanding sponsor and patron, Jorgen Philip-Sorensen.
It began when Golding was allocated Group 4 as sponsor in Chay Blyth’s 1992 British Steel Challenge. Philip-Sorensen was chairman and took a shine to the ambitious, focused and scrupulously organised 31-year-old former fireman.
His backing extended beyond another Challenge round the world race in 1996 to a westabout solo record, a foray into the Admiral’s Cup, the Vendée Globe and IMOCA 60 circuit and latterly through his company Ecover a team in Extreme 40s.
Jorgen Philip-Sorensen died last year and his personal and professional backing came to an end. Ecover has decided not to renew its sponsorship for either the 60 or the Extreme 40. Mike has bought the monohull and chartered it to Jean Le Cam for the Barcelona World Race (Le Cam sadly was dismasted last week) and the catamaran he owns with Mark Turner is being sailed by Team New Zealand.
“I’m a charter company now,” he laughs.
But to make the start line of the Vendée Globe in 2012, Mike Golding needs sponsorship, something he is less experienced at raising than most of his contemporaries.
“We’re looking at finance to keep going,” he says candidly. “We own the boat so we don’t need to built one and the charter fee covers the costs to some extent; it covers a refit afterwards to bring it back to where it was. But we are using our existing network and trying to communicate that I’m available.
“I need to be in a solid conversation by the middle of this summer to do the Transat Jacques Vabre and then the Transat and the Vendée.”
It’s no easy matter to raise several millions for such a campaign even if, like Golding, you have a proven and successful track record. With the exception of Alex Thomson who has Hugo Boss, no other British solo sailor yet has sponsorship for the next round the world race: Sam Davies, Dee Caffari and Brian Thompson are all looking.
So is Steve White, though he told me last week he is within a whisker of a major deal for a westabout solo record and a properly funded, competitive 2012 Vendée Globe campaign – more on that shortly.
Without wanting to comment on the economics of sponsorship deals – always enigmatic to me – I think it’s sad for British sailing. “We are slowly going backwards on offshore sailing,” Mike says, “and without us there it will be even harder for people to come up.
“If someone wants to operate in that space, the Vendée Globe is a very, very valuable proposition and I suppose the upside of fewer British boats is that there is more to get out of it. But it takes a bolder sponsor. JPS [Sorensen] was prepared to take that risk and it is a chairman-like decision. He made a business decision to create value.”
It looks like the relatively high-rolling days of British ocean racing campaigns are over for the time being. The flip side of this is that Britain’s offshore sailors, solo and crewed, are having to rethink their formula.