Although British James Bird knows he's not going to win the Mini Transat this year in his aging design, he has big plans for the future

With so many new Mini Transat prototype designs and production boats packing the marina in La Rochelle in preparation for the Mini Transat start on Sunday, it was interesting to catch up with the one the youngest skippers sailing one of the oldest boats in the fleet.

At 20 years old, having come virtually straight from the Cadet class, James Bird is the youngest ever British competitor in the Mini Transat. He’s sailing a Berret 91 design chartered from former Mini Transat sailor Mike Ingliss, and is using this year’s event as a stepping-stone to future Mini Transats. Chatting from the boat this morning Bird said: “Campaigning for this event has been a big learning curve. I intend to consolidate everything I’ve learnt and use the experience in the future when I hope to have a new boat.”

While Bird sailing this ‘old’ design knows he is by no means a hot favourite (finishing 26th from 35 in last Saturday’s Prologue) his positive attitude and invaluable Mini experience will put him on the right track for success at future events. Not surprisingly it’s Bird’s parents who are most concerned about their son’s adventures. He continued: “Yes, my parents have just arrived and I think, like most parents, they are slightly concerned. They are however, my best supporters because they know it’s something I really want to do.”

As one of the oldest boats in the fleet it was interesting to find a complete water-ballast system down below in place of a canting keel. Although this system was popular on boats from that era, it’s rare to find system within this modern-day fleet. With the tanks positioned on either side under the gunwales, there’s certainly more of a roomy feel down below. In fact, one could almost go as far as saying it looks relatively comfortable. “It is,” added Bird, “I have a lovely spacious platform above the keel on which to lie, it does get a bit tricky however, going upwind in a big sea. That’s when you have to lodge yourself in and find as comfortable a position as possible.”

Having been campaigning this Mini since last year and paying a mortgage-style charter fee for the duration, Bird is, not surprisingly feeling the financial pressure and says he’ll be looking for a job as soon as the race is over. “I’ve been funding it through my previous job working as a sailmaker for Hyde Sails in Hamble.” He said, “but my idea now is to get a job, save up and build a boat for the next race or get hold of a fast proto and aim for a good result.”