BT return to sailing sponsorship in a multi-million pound deal, but Ellen's main role isn't afloat. Elaine Bunting reports

After a seven-year gap from sailing sponsorship BT is back with a multi-million pound sponsorship of Ellen MacArthur’s sailing team. The three year project, which runs until 2010, will include a Vendée Globe race, but Ellen herself will not be returning to solo sailing as part of the deal.

The two sailors who are to head up ‘BT Team Ellen’ are French racer Sébastien Josse and Australian Nick Moloney. Josse will take over the Farr-designed Open 60 launched by Ellen MacArthur’s and Mark Turner’s OC Group this summer (presently sponsored by Estrella Damm) after it has completed their Barcelona World Race. He will then race in the Vendée Globe in 2008, the Transat Jacques Vabre in 2009 and the Route du Rhum in 2010.

Nick Moloney will be racing a BT-sponsored Extreme 40 in the European circuit until next year.

The thrust of the sponsorship, however, is on BT’s corporate social responsibility programme, with Ellen as a global ambassador. BT has spent £108 million in the last five years on community and charity projects and ‘BT Team Ellen’ is partly about drawing attention to that.

Ellen will race with Josse in fully events and in the two-handed Transat Jacques Vabre in 2009 but she is not planning a major return to sailing – as yet.

She freely admits that she has not yet recovered from her solo record in B&Q, and is happy to be doing more work ashore. She says: “For 13 years, I’ve been the key focus in the sailing team. That’s really a lot of work for one person. It’s takes a massive toll and it’s a lot to deal with. This gives me a chance to do some other things.”

Read my analysis of BT’s sailing sponsorship on my blog