DSUK Sailing event with Sir Steve Redgrave

It was a pleasure and honour to be involved in DSUK annual charity regatta on 31st August 2017.  The event has grown over its 4 years and this year had an entry of 15 Sunsail match 40 one-design yachts raising money for the DSUK Charity.  I was fortunate to skipper the BASI yacht, which included Sir Steve Redgrave, BASI CEO Andrew Lockerbie and former BASI Chair Gareth Roberts amongst the crew.

This event reinforced that sailing is an ideal activity for team building or leadership development, it created real and deep experiences to draw upon and develop from.

The key points that could have been reinforced as part of this experience were the importance of delegating responsibility and that responsibility can only be delegated once people have been given the time and support to develop core skills.

It was a beautiful day on the Solent and an early postponement for the wind to fill and settle meant we only had time for 2 races.

We had a poor start in race 1 leaving us decidedly towards the bottom half of the fleet. But, through focusing on basic principles we clawed back to 6th at the first mark, 4th by the second mark and crossed the finish line in third place.

The second race was different. A more complex course with multiple legs was going to be a greater challenge to our crew work.   The inter race conversation was about focusing on our roles and not letting complacency set in.

The race started well for us, we hit the start on the gun, lead to the first wind shift and rounded the first mark with a comfortable lead.  We focused on boat speed and negating the effects of the tide, extending our lead on the second leg. At the second mark our lead was large and things got interesting.

With a large tanker coming in either direction down the channel we had to cross, we gybed and set the spinnaker knowing there was no margin for error.   By staying high on our course we were able to cut across, in front of both tankers without impeding them or entering their 'moving exclusion zone'.  

We got across safely and started to head deeper to our next mark when the first big gust hit us. The 28 knots recorded at brambles bank post behind us hit hard, we broached and the boat sat flat for a few seconds. We came back upright pretty quickly but still had a lot of work to do to recover control.   The sails filled and we were knocked flat again, pointing us straight toward the tanker we had just crossed.

The second time we came upright we were able to settle and regain control and get back to the racing. My instructions to the crew to "hold on" had been clear so everyone was safe and there was no danger, however there was still a lot going on.  The wash from the tanker was big and hit us whilst we were working the sails and sorting the boat.  

By the time we were settled we were past the next mark and still had a comfortable lead. I looked back to see how the other boats were getting on and then realised that I had got the course wrong.  The boats following us had dropped their spinnakers and were heading back up wind.


In the intensity of sorting the boat I had missed, forgotten a whole leg of the race course we had to do.

On a fully crewed race boat, navigation would be a specific role.   Meeting the crew in the morning and heading straight out into the first race meant I only had time to brief the crew on the basics. 

I had not had time to brief anyone to provide the back up and navigation check. I had not delegated responsibility for the navigation and, in the moment of keeping the crew and boat safe when we wiped out, it was the navigation that was lost.

We dropped the spinnaker amidst my quiet swearing, the crew were quiet. We turned around and headed up wind, our half a mile lead now converted to 5th place.

We rounded the next mark still rueing that error and fell back again.  We had gone from 1st to 6th through my error.

But, we started to recover, we started to talk again and we got our heads back into racing.

We rounded the final mark with a 4-mile leg to the finish ahead of us. It was still very windy and tricky sailing.  The lead boat was a long way ahead but we were in contact with the boats ahead so we targeted getting past them.

We hoisted the spinnaker and set about working the boat as hard as we could.   We focused on our boat handling, keeping our boat under control whilst we pushed hard as the boats around us lost control.

We fought back to second place and realized we were making big gains on the leader. 

Everything was to play for.  We were in second and still gaining on the leader, but, we were also pushing so hard we could loose control and be passed by those close behind.

We continued to work and to focus on sailing our boat as well as we could, all the time gaining on the lead boat.  But the finish line came too soon.  We crossed in second place one boat length behind the winner. 

An amazing comeback from a critical error.

With only two races to count there were 5 boats that finished the regatta with 5 points after a day of great racing.   After the tie-break rules were applied, our 3rd and 2nd place gave us 3rd place overall, and bronze medal for Sir Steve, not one he has, or wants, in his collection.

Third place in a fleet of 15 was a disappointing reflection of the sailing we did, but we knew, as a crew, we had sailed our boat better than the others.

One person cannot do it all.  They will become overloaded and things go wrong when they try.

Give people the skills and opportunity to take responsibility and ownership of roles.

Support your team, develop them and delegate to them. 

Trust them to deliver. 

It could go badly wrong if you don’t.