So here I sit, on this 105ft trimaran slowly beating towards Panama on the first portion of the delivery back to Europe. Slowly being a relative term since we’re still sailing at 14 knots, the top speed for most sailboats, however it’s a fraction of what this machine is capable of. I think back to just a week ago when we were sitting on and above 30 knots for 3 and a half days on our Transpac record.
We’re all soaking wet as we’ve been sailing through gigantic pacific rain squalls for the last hour. I thought that Rhys was hot to get off the wheel because he’d had enough of being wet, but in fact he and the others had a plan. It is just after midnight and I have just turned 40. Once they got me on the wheel, they waited for a break in the rain to give me a cookie as a birthday cake, and they sang happy birthday. I’m pretty sure the off watch didn’t even hear them, such is the noise of sailing this boat upwind.
2015 has been a huge year and aside from the birth of my daughter Rosemary in March the Lending Club project has occupied pretty much all of my time. When Renaud Laplanche and I spoke in January 2014 and agreed we would come back to break the Transpac record I spent months looking at all the options open to us, both boats for sale and charter.
We quickly agreed that charter was the best option but it took time and negotiation to finally close on the ex Groupama 3. In fact, by the time all was said and done, it was March 2015. Though Transpac was our main aim we had seven months with the boat and we worked on a plan to maximise exposure for the brand and also fun for Renaud and the team. Fun meaning as many records as possible.
We made a plan of sailing that ramped up to the long distance Transpac, starting with a first sprint across the English Channel to break the Cowes to Dinard WSSRC record. A huge learning curve as we realized how important sea state is as well as the wind to optimise boat speed. Less than a month later we upped the challenge and went for the 635 mile WSSRC record course from Newport to Bermuda. This second record was done with a favourable sea state and we noticed almost 3 knots of speed increase compared to the same weather but in big seas. All good things, and a nice prep for the Transpac later in the year.
Alongside the racing program Renaud was keen to use the boat to invite investors of Lending Club to come sailing. We spent a week in New York sailing on the Hudson taking 3 – 4 groups of guests sailing per day and started what turned out to be one of the most incredible runs of sailing with guests I have ever done.
The team then brought the boat from New York to San Francisco – New York to Panama in 4 days – Panama Canal 4 days – Panama to San Francisco 10 days… and we continued straight in our sailing with Lending Club guests on the bay. Renaud wanted to offer his employees the opportunity to sail on the boat, a hugely generous gesture. When I was in San Francisco with Renaud in 2013 he had 300 employees… in 2015 there are 1200 and almost everyone wanted a ride on the record breaking boat!! Six weeks later and we’d taken 95% of the company sailing.
Conditions on the bay were perfect almost every day and we regularly had total novices driving the boat at speeds of 35+ knots. Our policy throughout the charter was to share the boat as much as we could with sailing fans, Lending Club collaborators and anyone curious for a look around. As a team we all knew how lucky we were to be sailing such an incredible boat so it was only fair we show the boat whenever asked. We ended up sailing on weekends and adding extra groups onto the end of long days just to accomodate all the requests.
After six weeks of non-stop sailing we did the count and calculated we’d taken over 1500 people sailing on the boat. You can compare that to a regular fully sponsored campaign in France where a top French team would be contracted to offer approximately 25 sailing days per year with 20 people per day, that’s 500 people per year. We just not only tripled that amount, we did it on both coasts of the USA and offered up the perfect example of how a sailing program can benefit a corporation.
We witnessed business deals being done on the boat, literally. Executives of the company told us how even though not all their clients could come sailing, having the boat to offer was the perfect way for them to reach out to their clients with something unique to offer. The level of employee engagement was incredible. Already a fun place to work, the TV screens dotted around Lending Club’s offices showed videos of the boat sailing during the records, the staff compared top speeds they had driven the boat and all of a sudden the cool look was the ‘windswept’ look – the default hairstyle after a 40 knot blast on the bay!
Our only communication outlet was through a facebook page but we still generated a huge amount of spontaneous local media interest through the record attempts and the uniqueness of the campaign.
Then came Transpac time. We were originally aiming for the race record, a time set within the race starting time but as we got closer to the start date we realized the weather was not going to cooperate. We started to look at the weather around the race dates and found that starting early would give us a good shot of the outright Transpacific record set by Geronimo. In Renaud’s words, if you can’t win the race change the rules. So we did. We bowed out of the Transpac and set off for a new record. We had the most incredible run, true champagne sailing and took over 24 hours off the standing record. A huge achievement only made sweeter to discover on arrival that the Transpac organisers had graciously held up their promise to hold a welcome party. At 6.44am we passed Diamond Head and were followed in to Waikiki by a fleet of power boats and sailing fans. Just amazing.
With our main mission complete its time to return this monster to its new owner by September 15th so we’re hightailing it back to Europe as I type. There may be time for one more record before we give back the keys but we’ll only know when we’ve passed the Panama canal and have better visibility for the final part of the trip back.
What next? I’m not sure. There are a few options out there and ideas to work on. But for now I’m going to sit back, enjoy some of the memories of this past six months and maybe catch up on a little bit of sleep!
I did request that they let me sleep all day on my birthday. We will see….