Into the Storm

Lessons in Teamwork from the Treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race

 Into the Storm

Author: Dennis N.T. Perkins
Pub Date: November 2012
Print Edition: $24.95
Print ISBN: 9780814431986
Page Count: 288
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814431603

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The AFR Midnight Rambler

The 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race proved to be the most perilous in the event’s sixty-five-year history. As the fleet sailed down the coast of Australia, boats were hit by an unexpected weather bomb—a massive storm that created 80-foot waves and 92-knot (105-mile-an-hour) winds. While many crews tried to maneuver around the storm, the 35-foot AFR Midnight Rambler chose to head directly into its path. After battling mountainous waves and hurricane force winds in the Bass Strait, the tiny boat arrived safely in Hobart, three days and sixteen hours later.

Their decision to head into the eye of the storm—along with extraordinary tenacity, optimism, courage, and teamwork—enabled this crew of amateur sailors to beat professionals on much larger and better financed boats. The skipper, Ed Psaltis, and his crew of six were proclaimed the Overall Winners and awarded the coveted Tattersall’s Cup. They were the smallest boat in ten years to win the race.

A number of books have been written about the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race, but most focused on the tragedy and loss of life. The spotlight was on death and destruction. When I looked further, however, I found that the story of the AFR Midnight Rambler had been almost completely overlooked.

I immersed myself in the saga of the Midnight Rambler and the Sydney to Hobart Race. I contacted Ed Psaltis, and the more I heard about his philosophy— and the way the crew worked together—the more engaged I became. It was clear to me that the success of the AFR Midnight Rambler was not a fluke or mere luck. It was the result of a consistent set of exemplary practices that embody the concept of Teamwork at The Edge.

In the years following my initial contact with Ed, I spent considerable time studying the AFR Midnight Rambler crew and the Sydney to Hobart Race. I made numerous trips to Australia and conducted extensive interviews with members of the crew. I also spoke with other accomplished sailors who had won the famed race. Finally, with some trepidation, I sailed the race myself so that I would understand as much as I possibly could about the Everest of ocean racing.

To be clear, the story of the Midnight Rambler is not the only story that can be told about teamwork in the Sydney to Hobart Race. The lessons in this book incorporate insights from conversations with many extraordinary sailors. Roger Hickman, skipper of Wild Rose, is one of Australia’s most experienced offshore ocean racers. “Hicko,” who won the 1993 race and many other trophies, was exceptionally generous with his observations about effective teamwork.

Adrienne Cahalan—navigator of Wild Oats—holds five world speed sailing records and is a veteran of nineteen Sydney to Hobart Races. Adrienne shared her insights from years at sea on a diverse array of boats and crews. Neville Crichton, owner and skipper of the “super maxi” Alfa Romeo, also took time from his busy schedule to speak with me. And, though most of my conversations took place with Australian sailors, I was able to get some “Yankee insights” from the crew of Rosebud—including Jim Slaughter and Malcolm Park. Rosebud was the first American winner of the Sydney to Hobart Race in thirty years.

Each of these sailors contributed important ideas about teamwork that are incorporated into this book. As is the case of Leading at The Edge, however, I felt that the best way to talk about the strategies was to focus on one story. In my previous book, that story was the saga of Ernest Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance. In this book, I chose the story of the AFR Midnight Rambler.

There are a number of reasons why the metaphor of ocean racing can help teams facing today’s tough challenges. Let’s look at some of the core characteristics of the sport:

■ Ocean racing is a complex team endeavor.

■ It’s a test of endurance and tenacity involving a journey into the unknown.

■ Like today’s business environment, racing is characterized by constant change. The weather can be sunny one minute, with gale force winds the next.

■ Ocean racing is competitive, stressful, and anxiety-provoking.

■ While there is a skipper in charge of the boat, leadership can be distributed among other members of the crew.

■ A team that fails to execute flawlessly can lose a race. There are winners and losers in the sport.

■ Winning a sailing race requires clear vision, a cohesive and committed team, and the ability to learn and adapt.

The demands placed on a crew of ocean racers are strikingly similar to those faced by any team working to overcome tough challenges. And I believe that, by understanding the things that make ocean racers successful, we can draw useful insights for a broad range of team challenges.

Having a superb team doesn’t guarantee success, and every challenging adventure involves an element of chance. But I believe that the kind of teamwork exhibited by the best ocean racing teams changes the odds. Every race will still involve rolling the dice, but the dice can be weighted in favor of teams that strive to get everything right—crews that excel in

Teamwork at The Edge.

After sharing the story of the AFR Midnight Rambler and the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race, I’ll explore the strategies that I believe provide the foundation for their success, and for the success of other ocean racers. Then I’ll suggest ways that these Teamwork at The Edge strategies can be applied to your own challenges.

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