A recurring question left on the comment page of my website over the last year or so has been the question as to how I am funding this sailing campaign.
Running a full time sailing campaign is something many of us dream of doing, and only a hand full will ever make happen. It requires a massive amount of dedication, organisation, an ability to globally manage a project, sacrifice many other aspects of your life and of course in addition it requires money!
A mini campaign is an interesting case to study as there is a sliding scale of funding with which to fund your campaign and I have a spreadsheet with five different budgets labelled starting with ‘I’ll just make it to the line’ and ranging to ‘full time racing campaign’.
Regardless of talent funding and management of your budget do have an end effect on your performance and of course whether or not you even make it to the line. Money is not something that I have ever focussed on in my blogs; I guess I have felt that it’s sort of a tainted subject, it affects us all and raises most of our stress levels – I am lucky to be doing what I am doing and no one wants to hear about my financial stresses and strains, they want to read about sailing and for some it is an escape to a different world for a couple of minutes.
However I am sure that there are those out there who would like to make the jump; who dream of doing something else or who are just plain curious about how I have made it happen.
So here it is a guide to a series mini transat budget. First of all you need to have a boat; there are three options here you can buy a boat, you can get a sponsor to buy, lend or give you a boat or you could charter one. The average cost of a racing mini all kitted out is between 55 and 62,000 Euros, a charter could be 12,000 for the season.
I bought my boat using my life savings; I have always lived on a boat rather than a house which has kept the cost of living down a lot over my life time and enabled me to make this investment now. I bought a boat that had not been raced so it was cheaper at the outset but I needed to kit it out to racing spec. For this I have been incredibly fortunate to work with some amazing trade sponsors who have helped me equip the boat at minimal cost.
The boat of course will depreciate as you use it but with racing mini’s of a high standard, as long as you look after them you should get a chunk of your money back at the end.
Once you have the boat you need to decide where on the sliding scale your campaign will fall, and this will determine your budget. Over the two years it is possible to organise qualifying, training and racing around a full time job, strategically using holidays and getting extra time off for the big event itself – the bonus of this of course is that you are able in some way to keep afloat in everyday life and mortgages, phone bills, road tax can still all be paid. However the down side is of course less sailing and you often need to employ others to work on your boat and move it around if you cannot take the time off.
At the complete opposite end of the scale are the full time professionals, who dedicate their whole lives to training, working on and racing the boat; this way of running a campaign naturally requires an income from another source to pay for every day life; either private funds or a salary from a sponsor. However it is giving the sailor the best chances of success, to improve their skills, develop their boat; normal life just ticking along ,eyes and mind focussed on the end goal – a result in the mini transat.
This is never cut and dry and though at the moment there are quite a few full time campaigns on the track, most of whom I am currently training with in Lorient; the mini circuit is huge, over 350 sailors took part in events last year and all of those will have been managing their lives and budgets in different ways. For me at the start there was little choice about the work / sailing balance; I had decided to run a campaign to the transat in 10 months and that meant I had to qualify by competing in the first races of the season or risk making all the investment in the boat but not getting to the race.
I had a great kick start training with the Artemis Academy in La Grand Motte and then after that I was on my own, driving up and down through Europe busting a gut to get qualified.
To give me the flexibility I needed to make this happen I took out a personal loan against the value of ‘The Shed’ the Lightwave 395 which has been my home for the past ten years. This process of qualification took three months and it was three months where I could do nothing else. But it worked.
Once qualified I returned to the UK with the boat and then attempted to balance the elements of working as a professional skipper and sailing instructor, preparing the boat, training where possible and finding sponsorship to get me through the transat itself.
It’s a fine balance and one which I am sure will ring true with any other sailors trying to make it work. Do you invest all your time in the search for a sponsor, so neglecting your training and if you come up with the funds risking your performance? Or do you train and sail focussing on your own performance but at the expense of finding the budget to actually get there? Again it’s that sliding scale and in truth sponsors require a lot more than just a good sailor to justify their investment in your campaign, you need to start thinking of yourself and your campaign as a business and the sailing is just a part of it; like with any business time and resources need to be split between investing in the assets you already have and speculating to find others who will invest in your campaign.
Last year I found my balance and until the summer kept investing in my campaign by taking out further loans against my boat and working as hard as I could in the interim. In the last two months in the lead up to the race I was fortunate enough to sign three sponsors, whose injection of cash enabled me to buy new sails, finish the refit of my boat and get to the line in reasonably good form. The trade off had been a complete lack of training over the summer, in the absence of any programme in the UK I sailed alone in the evenings and on days I had no work and though I turned up to the transat with a reasonable mileage in the mini, through 2011 I had no boat on boat training with other mini’s and this definitely affected my performance.
Fast forward to 2012 and I am now three months into my 2013 transat campaign. My personal funds are all run out; ‘The Shed’ is up for sale to cover the loans from last years transat and the realms of what I can achieve on personal funds are very curtailed.
Taking the positive outlook and believing I can make it work I decided at the beginning of this year that the investment I would make in myself would be early in the season in the form of training in Lorient with one of the best mini coaches there is; this has already paid off in spades, my boat speed has improved I have learned an enormous amount and am on the water with guys who were in the top five last year; watching them, chasing them, aspiring to sail like them.
To fund being here I have downsized my life. I rounded up all of my possessions and identified the things I can live without and have sold or am selling it all to pay for training and living expenses during the months of March and April while I will be in France. I am living in my van or on the mini and think hard about every mile I drive and every item I purchase. This may seem a little extreme but early season training is a set up for the whole of the rest of the year; my objective for this campaign is to improve on the skill I already have, not just to do the miles but to achieve better results, to increase my level of competition and move forward. With that goal in mind, a good start to the season is high enough a priority to demand such a sacrifice.
For the rest of the year the balance will adjust to reflect the different needs of the ‘business’ adjusting to the circumstances I am in and heavy on the hunt for sponsors. Without a sponsor I will not be able to carry on, so strategically I am hoping this early boost to the training will take me through any lean sailing months ahead where the demands of real life may keep me off the water.
It’s a complicated equation and of course one that involves risk. I have risked spending my life savings but at no point will I ever regret the decisions I have made. One of the great pleasures in life has to be developing a skill and attempting to excel in that field. Aside from the immense pleasure I get from sailing in general; to push myself to the limits in solo sailing and compete at an international level has been one of the greatest achievements of my life to date, I am proud of what I have done and though I am determined to carry on with this career if it does not work out I will have no hard feelings.
For anyone reading this blog and wondering when, how or if they can make the jump in any sport or project my advice would be that actually taking the jump is the biggest step of all; but it is only a tiny percentage of people who will get offered a deal without making an initial investment themselves. If you really want to do it then don’t hang around waiting to be given something; go out and start on whatever terms you can, it may be a small beginning but at least it is a beginning; your own circumstances and personal goals will shape the course of your project and whether you succeed or not, whether you find a sponsor who will invest in your campaign or you go as far as you can on your own steam, the action of actually trying and investing in yourself is something you will be proud of for the rest of your life.