November 24, 2020

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 with the objective to better understand and define the role of leadership in offshore sailing, and recommend improvements to Safety and Sea training and education through the specific inclusion of leadership practices. 

"Our Club and other leading sailing organizations such as CCA and US Sailing have long been in the vanguard of developing new methods of training sailors to venture offshore, yet the concept of ‘Leadership’ has been largely ignored while use of safety-related equipment and specific maneuvers such as recovering a MOB have been emphasized. Yet Leadership is the glue that holds it all together.  Good leadership minimizes the chance of a dangerous situation, and when something goes wrong offshore, good leadership maximizes the chance for a satisfactory outcome,” explained Event Chair Rich duMoulin.  “So we brought together a variety of experts with different backgrounds to venture into the subject of better understanding leadership in an offshore sailing context, and how we can develop leadership skills within our sport.”

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.  Invited participants ranged from professional and amateur sailors, to military, merchant marine, mountaineering, and public health experts. 

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first person to solo-circumnavigate the globe non-stop under sail, kicked off the symposium sharing his unique story from his home in the United Kingdom.  Sir Robin defined leadership as “getting the most out of everyone around you.” du Moulin and Sir Robin discussed the qualities it takes to be a good leader, with Sir Robin 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 split into “Leadership Beyond Sailing,” with individuals who draw their experience from outside the sailing world, and “Leadership Under Sail,” with panelists with many offshore miles under their belts. A complete list of the panelists is below.

Participants  watched Sir Robin and the panelists from their homes, and submitted numerous interesting questions that generated insightful discussions.  In the afternoon everyone, including the panelists and Sir Robin, actively engaged in breakout sessions to focus on leadership topics that affect offshore sailing, such as Situational Awareness, Character, and Preparation (a full list is below). 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. 

Much like the key to a successful offshore campaign is preparedness, the groundwork for this event was laid through over 25  planning meetings by organizers and participants alike ahead of the eight-hour Zoom. The breakout groups, led by veteran offshore facilitators and assisted by younger sailors as ‘scribes’, primed the day for effective use of everyone’s time. 

Attendees gathered at the end of the day to report their findings to the entire conference via their facilitators and scribes. “Tangency across all these groups is evident,” said Vice Commodore Ed Cesare who facilitated the Communication group. “Shared communication is clearly an essential tool of good leadership, but all the topics are integrated when it comes to this complex concept of Leadership.”

“It was a long day to be on a video conference,” said Commodore AJ Evans in his concluding remarks as he thanked all the participants for their active engagement. “Our goal was to leverage your --everyone’s-- experience and opinions in plotting a course toward the development of leadership skills in offshore sailing and today was filled with dynamic and riveting conversations that I believe will truly have an impact on our sport. To use radio speak, this is merely ‘over’ 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 early next year.

In the meantime, members can watch the morning sessions here:

Please note that the link and video is for members only and should not be shared outside the membership.

Breakout Groups:

  1. Situational Awareness (Adapting to Changing Circumstances)
  2. Fight (Sail) the Way You Train, Train the Way You Fight (Sail)
  3. Emergency Management (Dealing with Fear & Panic)
  4. Communication (Transparency & Selectivity)
  5. Character (Integrity, Empathy & Humility)
  6. Preparation & Anticipation
  7. Responsibility & Accountability
  8. Team Leadership Roles & Followership


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
  • 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, US 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, past Commodore, NYYC, Mountaineer, past CEO Fiduciary Trust (purchased by Goldman Sachs), two assaults on Everest.
  • Renee Mehl - Director for the Offshore Sail Training Squadron, US Naval Academy 
  • Stan Honey -  Jules Verne Circumnavigation Record Navigator (and VOR win), Rolex Sailor of the Year, member of  US Sailing Hall of Fame.