It’s been a very busy, constructive and celebratory start to the year for me.
The growth of the double handed mixed offshore class has piqued the interest of many sailors and I am among them. So, I was excited to have the chance to reunite with Henry Bomby and be invited onboard his Jeanneau Sunfast 3300 earlier on this month. It has been a while since I sailed in the Solent in January and Storm Brendon decided to put in an appearance to welcome me back. It was wet, windy and cold, but there was a window of opportunity each day to do some sail testing before we headed back to shore to avoid the rapidly deteriorating weather. We had a great couple of days sailing and it definitely helped to blow away any post-Christmas cobwebs. I loved both the boat and the concept, so hope there will be more of this sailing for me in the coming year.
Safely back onshore, I made my way up to London for a couple of celebratory events. I joined the Royal Yachting Association as they acknowledged their Royal Patronage with HRH The Princess Royal as their guest of honour. The lunch event recognised that sailors work collaboratively, and it is the coming together and sharing of our experiences that make our sport so special, successful and forward thinking. That evening, as a guest of Yachtmarket.com who support the charity, I joined the National Coastwatch Institution for an evening reception to celebrate 25 years of being ‘our eyes along the coast’. The institution is made up of volunteers that work alongside our HM Coast Guard and the RNLI, monitoring radio channels and providing a listening watch in poor visibility. When people get into trouble, they alert HM Coastguard and direct the appropriate rescue services. As their royal patron, HRH The Princess Royal was in attendance and was thanked for her ongoing support.
The celebrations hadn’t quite finished for me as I headed over to Germany for the world’s largest boat and water sports fair, boot Düsseldorf. The Flagship Night opens the show with a ceremony to award prizes for European Power Boat of the Year, European Yacht of the Year and Seamaster Award. Termed the “boat building Oscars” the full list of winners can be found here
I was invited to present the Seamaster Award to German sailor Boris Herrmann. Presented every year for outstanding achievement in water sports, Boris has joined a prestigious list of sailing excellence such as Loick Peyron, James Spithill, Lutz W Lester, Emily Penn, Clarisse Cremer, Francois Gabart, and Carolijn Brouwer. Last summer, Boris made the headlines when he transported Greta Thunberg to the UN Climate Summit in New York on board his IMOCA 60 and later this year he aims to be the first German to take part in the Vendée Globe. I was delighted to congratulate Boris on his achievements so far and wish him luck for what will be his first solo round the world race.
It was great to join two other veterans of The Ocean Race, Abby Ehler and Anje-Marijcke Van Boxtel, as guest speakers for an event at Aspen Insurance in London. We shared our experiences of ocean racing and high-performance teams, and in particular how we dealt with change and challenges. Although the corporate world can appear very different, we were able to demonstrate that the strategies and leadership skills we use in extreme environments are transferable to business.
The tail end of January had a definite safety at sea theme! Safety has always been of paramount importance for me. As a skipper you are generally responsible for those onboard with you and when you sail solo, safety is paramount as there is no help on hand should you make a mistake or get into trouble. In can be easy to become complacent in our environment and, as we quickly adapt to the conditions, it can be hard to resist the temptation to take risks. The ocean can generally be relied upon to provide a stark reminder as to who is in charge and when things go wrong, it often happens quickly and in a big way. On my first race around the world on ‘Imagine It Done’ in the Global Challenge I was proud that my team won the BP Safety prize on several legs and the importance of safety has stayed with me ever since. I am therefore delighted to have become an ambassador for marine safety experts, Ocean Safety. I am looking forward to working with them on the development of marine safety equipment and in supporting their campaign to improve safety awareness within the sailing community.
As a member of the operations committee for the RNLI, I have the pleasure of participating in one of several Coast Reviews. This involves travelling to several stations along a stretch of UK coastline to assess the equipment, procedures and to ascertain whether each site has a sufficient level of support in place. Every location on our coast has its own challenges and for this review our visits were focussed on the Essex and Thames region, which included the RNLI’s busiest station – Tower Lifeboat Station on the Thames. Despite their differences, what every station does have in common is the amazing group of volunteers that willingly give their time and commit to saving lives at sea, every day of the year, no matter what. They are all heroes and I am in total awe whenever I meet them.