James Bird secures major sponsorship deal with money brokers GFI Group. Sue Pelling reports 18/1/07

James Bird, one of Britain’s most experienced young offshore sailors, has secured a major sponsorship deal with international money brokers GFI Group.

Twenty-three-year-old Bird, who made his name in the Mini Transat class four years ago as the youngest ever British sailor to compete in and complete the 4,000-mile solo race from La Rochelle to Brazil, is now embarking on a full-time Solitaire Afflelou le Figaro campaign.

When Bird did the Mini Transat he was just 20 year’s old see previous news story here and fairly naïve about what was in store, despite the fact that he’d already done a transatlantic crossing with Alex Thomson in his Open 50 following the 2000 Europe One Star. But campaigning an aging (1991) Berret design chartered from former Mini Transat sailor Mike Ingliss, he built up a lot of valuable experience which provided a platform on which to base his sailing career.

Despite his transatlantic crossing while he was working for Thomson, he still however, had a lot to learn about solo offshore sailing but his respectable 22nd overall from a 70-boat fleet including the likes of Olympic medalist Jonathan McKee, gave him just the boost he needed, recalling: “I was so surprised when I arrived in Brazil to find that not even half the fleet had finished, for me that was a great personal achievement.”

With the Figaro a natural progression from the Mini fleet Bird was then keen to investigate a possible campaign but realised the financial barriers would be difficult to overcome. Chatting to yachtingworld.com earlier today Bird explained: “The difference between the Mini and the Figaro is that you can just about do a Mini campaign off your own bat but the Figaro is another level altogether. It’s a full time, seven days a week job, and often 20 hours a day covering boat preparation, paperwork, planning and organizing. There is no doubt that to do it properly you have to have a sponsor. It’s just impossible to do otherwise.”

Having decided the Figaro was the route he wanted to take he wisely set about gaining as much experience as he could. In early 2004 he managed to bag a job with Steve Fossett’s Cheyenne team helping prepare the boat for her round the world record attempt. Bird continued: “This was really interesting. I then went on to work for Mike Golding. I spent the season with Mike from spring to late summer as full time shore crew which included all the delivery trips. Mike used to put me on the boat for all the delivery trips. From there when I’d finished at Mike’s I went back to Cheyenne and worked for them during the run-up to the Oryx Quest.”

Trying to juggle a full-time job with looking for a sponsor was virtually impossible for Bird so any spare time he had in between jobs was crucial in his Figaro-planning campaign planning: “During the gaps in between my work with Mike I worked hard trying to plan things and learn as much as possible about how to go about it hoping that if one day my plan did come to fruition, I at least I would know where to start.”

In a case of being in the right place at the right time Bird got a job working on a private yacht owned by Micky Gooch – Chairman and CEO of GFI Group. The rest, as they say, is history. Bird is now fully signed up with Gooch’s company who will cover his entire campaign including charter and total running costs of the yacht – Sam Davies’ ex Skandia which he believes is one of the best Figaro class yachts around not only because is it well-prepared and has all the kit but it has been extremely well looked after. Also because it’s had no major damage, is probably one of the lightest charter boats around.

With his first event on La Solitaire Afflelou le Figaro calendar looming – Trophee BPE (Belle Ille to Guadeloupe) – on 25 March, Bird has a tight schedule ahead, adding: “Between now and then I need to have the boat weighed. Every boat has to be weighed and have a 2007 weighing certificate. This takes place at La Rochelle on 29 January. A round and back trip is about 700 miles which will be a good opportunity to try the boat out, other than that I just need to get out there as much as I can. I’m hoping to do some sailing with Brian Thomson and learn more about the meteorological side of things, hopefully with Andrew Cape.

Bird’s yacht, which is currently based in Hamble awaiting its hop across the Channel, will be in London at St Katharine Dock for it’s official naming ceremony and press call on Friday 2 March.