Crushing adversity through grit and teamwork

You may not be aware but 19 days ago 33 sailors set off on a singlehanded, non-stop round-the-world race.  Think about 25,000 miles at sea in all weather alone.  When stuff breaks you have to mend it or retire, and retiring is the last thing these incredible racers wish to do.

Among the favourites is Alex Thompson, a British sailor who has in previous editions of this race retired, 3rd and 2nd to his name.  It only  happens once every four years so he has been trying to win this thing for more than a dozen years.

He is wonderfully prepared and, with the backing of Hugo Boss, has the latest generation of boat in which he hopes to surpass his own 24-hour record of 534 miles in day.  These boats are phenomenally fast, complex and surprisingly fragile.

And that is the rub, his boat just suffered very serious failure of the main beam that holds the whole boat together, whilst he was leading.  This is what he said

It was a bit of a shock at first but obviously it could have been a lot worse. It’s repairable and we’re not yet in the southern ocean.

“I called my technical team and they got the right group of people together – the designers, the engineers, the team. While they were digesting the information, that was my time to sleep. Knowing it was going to be a big job to get it all done, I got myself about six hours sleep so that I’d be ready.

“Then we started running through the repair plan so that I could fully understand it and ask the right questions. The first part of that was to stabilise the hull so that involved some cutting, gluing and bolting. That’s done now and it’s been laminated. The next part is to get the rest of the repair prepped. I need to get all the materials together and do as much of the cutting now while it’s still light. Then the rest of it doesn’t matter because it’s in the bow and it’s dark in there anyway. It’s really humid up in there. But we carry quite a lot of materials – under-water resin, glues that can deal with humid conditions – so the materials can deal with it quite well. I imagine a lot of teams don’t carry as much as we do.

“I’m in a rhythm now so I’ll keep going for as long as I can. It’s quite an intricate job so I can’t rush it and I need to make sure it’s right.

“I’m disappointed obviously but this is the Vendée Globe. This is what it entails. You’ve got to be able to deal with this stuff. This is why we carry these materials and tools, and why we’re generally very good at being able to deal with these things. Normally I feel angry and sad and emotional but I don’t this time. I just need to get on with it. I’m sure at some point the emotions may go the other way but, for now, there is only one thing to do and that is to get the job done as best as I possibly can. I will do whatever it takes to stay in the race”.

That was six days ago, he finally finished the repair yesterday and is back racing, though after losing a lot of places.  But he is still in the race and, with about 20,000 miles to go (he is just entering the southern oceans), has plenty of race ahead of him to somehow gain victory.

Why am I sharing this? Well it is too good not to share, but also it shows that even the most intrepid and talented individuals rely on a team to get them through; it shows how we mush gave grit and determination in the face of adversity.  I am inspired by Alex’s attitude – it is a wonderful summary of how business functions when things need sorting and indeed a lesson for life.

And how good is this for the Hugo Boss brand? Priceless, sponsorship at its best

This is the Vendée Globe. You have to be able to deal with this stuff

By Charles Whelan on 30/11/2020