February 3, 2021

Storm Trysail Club Holds Inaugural Offshore Sailing Leadership Symposium

Larchmont, NY -  On Saturday, November 14th, the Storm Trysail Club’s Seamanship Committee virtually gathered 90 leaders from within - and outside - the sailing world for its Offshore Sailing Leadership Symposium. World-class sailors, military officers, mountaineers, Merchant Marine officers, public health experts, and business executives  worked together to better understand and promote a culture of safety and leadership in offshore sailing, and to recommend improvements to Safety at Sea training and education. Their collective achievements include America’s Cup campaigns, summiting Mount Everest, commanding a US Navy nuclear submarine, solo and crewed circumnavigations, and combating Ebola and Covid-19. 

"Our Club and other leading sailing organizations such as the CCA and US Sailing have long been in the vanguard of developing new training methods to better prepare sailors venturing offshore. Until recently, however, the concept of ‘Leadership’ has been largely ignored while the use of safety-related equipment and specific maneuvers - such as recovering crew overboard -  have been emphasized. Yet Leadership is the glue that holds it all together“ explained Event Chair Rich du Moulin.  “Good leadership minimizes the chance of a dangerous situation, and when something does go  wrong offshore, good leadership maximizes the chance for a satisfactory outcome.  We therefore brought together a variety of experts with widely different backgrounds to explore various aspects of leadership in an offshore sailing context, and how we can help skippers and crews sharpen their leadership skills.”

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to solo-circumnavigate the globe non-stop under sail, kicked off the virtual symposium. He defined leadership as “getting the most out of everyone around you.” Knox-Johnston and du Moulin discussed the qualities it takes to be a good leader, with Knox-Johnston concluding:  “It’s my view that leadership can be developed, no matter your background. You have got to have ambition, the right experience, and the right attitude.”

Themes of communication, empathy, and integrity emerged throughout the morning among two expert panels: “Leadership Beyond Sailing” with individuals who draw their experience from outside the sailing world, and “Leadership Under Sail,” incorporating panelists with many offshore miles under their belts. A complete list of the panelists is below.

Participants were able to submit questions, which generated many insightful discussions.  In the afternoon, all participants , panelists, and Sir Robin, actively engaged in breakout sessions focused on Character, Responsibility, Team Leadership, Communications, Preparation,  Sail the Way You Train, Situational Awareness, and Emergency Response. The groups were tasked with creating recommendations that could be developed into specific suggestions for improving Offshore Safety at Sea training through leadership training and education. 

Successful offshore campaigns require extensive preparation, and in a similar fashion the groundwork for this event involved over 25  planning meetings between organizers and participants ahead of the eight-hour Zoom. The breakout groups, led by veteran offshore facilitators and assisted by younger sailors acting as ‘scribes’, made effective use of everyone’s time. 

Commodore AJ Evans in his concluding remarks thanked all the participants for their active engagement, and promised that “To use radio-speak, this is merely ‘over’ and not ‘out.’  We hope this channel will remain open among all the organizers, influencers and participants of offshore races to collaborate on this, and other, subjects of offshore sailing going forward.”

The breakout groups and organizers will be compiling their recommendations over the coming months and the Storm Trysail Club will release a final report for the public in February.

Presented by Safe Harbor Marinas and supported by the Bonnell Cove Foundation, the USMMA Foundation, Gifted of Larchmont, and Gowrie Group, the single-day event was originally planned as an in-person conference at American Yacht Club in Rye, NY prior to the pandemic. As it became evident that would not be possible, the event was revamped into a virtual meeting held over Zoom and streamed online for the Storm Trysail Club membership. 

Keynote Speaker (Sir Robin Knox-Johnston)

Leadership Beyond Sailing  (John de Regt, Moderator)

  • Walker Potts – USMC Recon and Medic, Professional Sailor, Medevac/Rescue support to America’s Cup and Ocean Racing Teams
  • Dr. Susan Blank - Epidemiologist & pediatrician, managed large public health programs at the NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
  • Stephen Polk  - Merchant Mariner and Trainer exemplar
  • Todd Gautier-  L3Harris Technologies Senior Executive, Former Commercial Airline Pilot and Pilot Trainer, Cockpit Resource Management
  • Eric Simonson - Professional Mountain Guide, has led over 100 major expeditions around the globe (over 30 to the Himalayas)  
  • James Childs - U.S. Navy Submarine CO and Commodore, Graybeard, Bridge Resource Management

Leadership Under Sail  (Gary Jobson, Moderator) 

  • Ken Read - Skipper, Comanche, President, North Sails, 2 time VOR skipper
  • Dawn Riley - Executive Director - Oakcliff Sailing, “Maiden” Crew for Whitbred 
  • Larry Huntington - Past CEO - Fiduciary Trust (purchased by Goldman Sachs), Past Commodore - NYYC, Mountaineer, two assaults on Everest.
  • Renee Mehl - Director for the Offshore Sail Training Squadron, U.S. Naval Academy 
  • Stan Honey -  Jules Verne Circumnavigation Record Navigator (and VOR win), Rolex Sailor of the Year, member of the National Sailing Hall of Fame