For Peter, Managing Director of a £10m T/O family engineering company, it was the end of a 3½month, 9000mile adventure which started in San Francisco and took in the last two “legs” of the race. “Leg six took us down the West coast of America, through the Panama Canal to Jamaica and then the final leg seven saw us sailing up to New York, then to Sydney on Cape Breton Island, across the Atlantic to Cork and finally around the south coast of England via Ijmuiden in Holland to Hull – seven races in total”.
“It seemed a good, fun idea when I first signed up to the race in September 2007, but as my start date of April 2010 grew closer I began to realise that my 15 week absence would create some problems.” Peter had a good Management Team around him, but he had never ever been away for more than 2 weeks at a time and he did not want to be trying to run his business from a boat. “Phil Jesson (ACE 42 Chairman) asked me some probing questions and I realised that some planning was necessary, not only for my exit but also for my re-entry. He mobilised the members to help with practical advice and suggestions about how I might achieve this. This would also be an ideal opportunity to re-assess my own role within the organisation and to learn how someone else might run my business – scary stuff and I needed time to work it all through in my mind.”
Peter decided that Alan, his very experienced Sales & Marketing Director, would assume the role of Acting Managing Director and he would recruit a new Sales & Marketing Director to cover Alan’s role. He would also need to agree realistic Terms of Reference for Alan and the Team. “On my return I would not rush back into work, but would take a few more days off for a private briefing with Alan and a meeting with Phil and Joanna Jesson to discuss how I would settle back into work.” Peter also agreed that there would be no contact with the business whilst he was away, save for specific force-majeure situations. “Whilst I knew that this was right it was difficult to accept totally, but I came round in the end.”
All went well, until, at the 11th hour, the recruitment exercise failed and Peter had no replacement Sales & Marketing Director. Alan decided that if he employed a secretary he could manage both roles, so that became the solution.
“After a dry run in February when I was away on holiday and business, March slipped away and suddenly it was time to go. Alan couldn’t wait to get started and his enthusiasm gave me a lot of confidence.”
Peter flew out to San Francisco and finally set sail on the 3,300 mile race to Panama on the 20th April. “I’d had a comprehensive training program with Clipper which had finished 7 months earlier, so I was a bit rusty, but I was not alone as there were five of us joining the boat. The crew was split up into two watches with 4hrs on, 4hrs off, a totally new sleep/work pattern. It was hard and I was well out of my comfort zone. I found myself asking endless questions as I tried to learn everything in double quick time. It was tough being part of a team when I’d mostly been the Team Leader, but trying to remember all the actions in the many types of sail change seemed at times to be an impossible task, very frustrating!”
Life on board had its challenges. “We got soaked and exhausted on the foredeck as we fought to change the headsails with the bow bouncing up and down quite violently. Simply moving around on deck was a challenge, often clipped on with safety lines, always wearing a life jacket, we tried to avoid sheets, winches and various other ropes and obstacles. Hoisting sails, grinding the winches and generally moving sails up and down from below was quite hard work and we soon improved our levels of fitness. For some (luckily not me) there was sea sickness to contend with as well. I was keen to try my hand at helming and fortunately got on well, finding it a tough but rewarding challenge. On a later race into New York I enjoyed a very memorable hour on the helm under spinnaker, feeling well in control as the boat powered down the waves reaching speeds of 16+knots.”
Below deck there was a different set of challenges –dealing with wet clothing (there’s nowhere to dry anything), sleeping when the boat is pitching violently and heeled over at 30degs and simply trying to move around – one hand for you and one for the boat. “And then there was cooking, we took it in turns to be on “mother watch”, whatever the sea state was, two hot meals had to be prepared each day. Personal hygiene was another challenge!”
Did Peter enjoy the experience? “A big YES – we had a happy crew, we got on well and had much fun and laughter. However, my over riding memories are of the many, many times that I sat on deck loving every moment of the wind and the waves, the thrill of surfing the waves and trying to extract every last bit of speed out of Qingdao come rain or shine. The busy watches which flew by, the favourite dawn watch, or the dark moonlit skies so full of stars, the dolphins that played in the bow waves and not forgetting the squall which took us all by surprise, frightened us and soaked us to the skin. Finally, the euphoria as we beat Hull & Humber into Kinsale, Ireland gaining 3rd place by a margin of 98secs after 2200miles of racing!”Joanna Jesson comments, “ACE 42 were delighted to support Peter as he planned his Clipper 09/10 trip – we were curious about one of our colleagues leaving his business for 3 months to go off on his adventure. We were able to share some of his plans and thoughts as he prepared for his voyage and also sent him off with a list of questions and things we would like to know about his learning and his insight whilst he was at sea. When Peter came back he gave a detailed presentation to the group members responding to all our questions. One of the most interesting answers was that, although he had had a great time, he would not be applying to go again!”
“This was truly an amazing adventure which lived up to all my expectations.” Peter adds. “It’s given me many memories and some worthwhile management lessons too. I have decided to take up a new role as Chairman so that I can concentrate on strategy, new product initiatives and exports, but first I must recruit a Managing Director…”