Exercise TRANSGLOBE: Around a world in recession 1

f-transglobeWe all know that raising sponsorship in current times can be difficult, but different properties have different things to offer. Sponsorship of yacht racing offers a number of benefits to sponsors, but there needs to be a match of audience and goals for sponsorship to deliver.

The vast majority of sponsorships available are related to pure sporting projects, but there are some which add more layers of communication. Exercise Transglobe is one such project. It is a pretty unique platform.

Sqn Ldr Neil Cottrell, Project Organiser, Exercise Transglobe outlines the project and his efforts to raise sponsorship for it in tough times.


Going around the world in sailing boats used to be essential to trade and the economies of the sea faring nations grew on the skills, and sometimes the sacrifice, of the mariners who could navigate the capricious oceans. The age of coal fired steam engines consigned the great clippers and sail powered merchantmen to the history books, and they in turn were superseded by the mighty marine diesel. Trade could run to schedules that were largely independent of the weather. The need to harness the power of the wind to sail around the world was gone but the yearning to do so never has. Exercise TRANSGLOBE is a manifestation of that human urge for exploration, adventure and the testing of one’s skills and endurance in the most adverse of conditions where fear and exhilaration are often found in equal measure.
Thirty-eight years ago there were very few people who had successfully circumnavigated the World in private yachts. Nevertheless, the idea of teams racing yachts around the World started to take shape although it would be another two years until the combination of a powerful commercial backer, the Whitbread company, and the commitment of the Royal Navy created the Whitbread Round The World Yacht Race. At the start of the 1970s, the Royal Navy had invested in a fleet of Nicholson 55ft yachts to provide challenging adventurous training for all three Armed Forces. The Royal Navy Sailing Association (RNSA) was a major champion of the embryonic Around the World race planning. RNSA publicly declared that it would run the race months before they found the commercial backing of Whitbread. This combination of proven ability to manage sailing events with the considerable financial backing of a title sponsor convinced the teams to sign on for the first Whitbread Round The World Race.
Portsmouth Harbour was the starting point for 167 crew members in 17 yachts. The starting gun fired on 8th September 1973 and the race was on. The success of that race proved that good yacht design and well-trained, committed crews could complete Around the World race events. The Whitbread has changed title sponsors several times since then but both team and solo round the world races have a proven history of attracting commercial sponsorship. However, the World is now in recession.


The planning for Ex TRANSGLOBE started in 2006/7 when a booking was made to use one of the Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training Centre (JSASTC) Challenge 67ft yachts for a circumnavigation starting Summer 2009 to be crewed by Royal Air Force personnel. JSASTC had acquired four of the Challenge Business 67 foot yachts in 2002 and they had sailed independently on many deep ocean adventurous training expeditions but were all planned to complete a refit programme in Spring 2009. The Officer in Charge of JSASTC proposed a rerun of the 1998-1999 Tri-Service round the World race that was called TRANSGLOBE and had used three of the Nicholson 55ft yachts bought in 1971. With the agreement of all three Services, TRANSGLOBE planning started in earnest in 2007 with the emphasis on making it accessible to as many personnel as possible. Thirteen stages were agreed with all crews changing at the end of each stage providing 546 berths.
The planners had the yachts, the personnel and limited public funding. The major expense was the air travel costs of changing crews in every stop over. The search for commercial sponsorship to help underwrite the estimated £500K of flight costs began. We set ourselves a target of trying to raise in excess of £200K to try and reduce the cost of participation for the sailors, soldiers and airmen who are routinely placing themselves in harm’s way as part of the United Kingdom’s commitments to multiple International, Operational deployments.


Drawing on the experience and advice of both professional and in-Service sailing event organisers, the initial strategy was to seek a Title Sponsor. Confident that a major UK Defence, Financial or Commercial company would be keen to back the Armed Forces in a three yacht event, that would include the 2009 Sydney to Hobart Race, a flurry of letters were sent out in late 2007 to the Chairmen and CEOs, and we prepared to deliver presentations tailored to the individual company profiles. All those that actually provided a written reply politely declined citing various reasons from “support of many other projects” through to “does not fit with or Corporate image”. So the strategy shifted in early 2008 to attracting multiple, middle level sponsors. The responses, all negative, became more euphemistic about “committed budgets” and “not in our current planning cycle”. When the BBC’s economics reporter Robert Peston broke the Northern Rock story, all the rejections and euphemisms made sense. The World was heading to recession and all the companies were battening down their hatches to ride out the storm.

The only company chairman of our acquaintance that looked beyond the doom and gloom of the gathering financial storm was Nick Gill. Tentative discussions at the 2008 Southampton Boat Show have since transformed into an unprecedented partnership arrangement between TRANSGLOBE and Gill Clothing.

Having received a 100% return of negative responses to initial letters that ranged from the polite and supportive to the very curt, the strategy shifted from trying to attract a title sponsor to seeking out half a dozen ‘major’ sponsors. Once again the letters went out and with the recession news worsening, it was not surprising that even large multi-nationals that have long standing links with sailing sent us their best wishes but nothing else.

Friendly sponsorship professionals advised us to keep trying for even lower levels of financial commitment. Therefore, the third strategy was to seek a larger number of sponsors who would be able to find some marketing or PR funds. This strategy attracted and secured our sole, purely financial sponsor, Crewsaver, who has shared our vision for demonstrating that challenges like TRANSGLOBE need to succeed as a beacon of human endeavour and achievement.

However, with the notable exceptions of Gill and Crewsaver we never seemed to be able to get past the gate keepers to be able to deliver a presentation to the key decision makers. By happenstance the partnership with Gill effected an introduction to Michael Kay who had been a member of Chay Blyth’s team at the Challenge Business. Michael quickly grasped the concept and value of TRANSGLOBE to the UK military personnel due to his intimate knowledge and experience of the life affirming and enhancing nature of the Challenge races. He has undertaken the task of raising funds from potential sponsors and is working tirelessly to attract modest sums from a number of companies. This is ongoing and is an extraordinarily accurate barometer of market confidence.

This aspect of market confidence is only one of the reasons that UK companies of all sizes have been reluctant to support TRANSGLOBE. In no particular order they are;

  1. The Recession has forced companies to become far more introspective, and rightly so, as many have had to make tough decisions from partial shut downs through to multiple redundancies. In such circumstances they cannot justify taking on additional sponsorship to their share holders, staff and the general public.
  2. Sailing around the world has been done by solo sailors and teams in both directions so there is no longer any ‘novelty’ factor. Furthermore, coverage of the team events provides media coverage for only the podium places, the companies who back the winners appear to get all coverage so the marketing return is heavily dependent upon success.
  3. Sailing technology has got better and as a result the highly reported, successful rescues of competitors who have needed help in the remotest of places has de-sensitised the public to the dangers of the sport. The tragedies of Crowhurst in the first solo race, the 1979 Fastnet Race and the 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race have receded in the public memory. The very welcome improvements in boat design and management of safety risks have shifted the public perception of ocean sailing as almost routine and hazard free. This phenomenon creates the scenario where without drama there is no spectacle, without spectacle there will be no spectators, without spectators there are no future customers, no customers no reason to invest in the sponsorship.
  4. Public acceptance of the justification of the current UK Armed Forces Operational engagements. The historical reasons for military intervention in both Iraq and Afghanistan remain somewhat controversial and the level of public support for these ongoing commitments is highly subjective. It would seem that in these circumstances many UK Retail, Commercial and Financial companies would prefer not to be associated with the Armed Forces in any sponsoring arrangements. By contrast there is huge public support of those service personnel injured in the two operational theatres through the highly successful ‘Help for Heroes’ charity appeal.

The bottom line is that whilst we are still actively seeking sponsorship for Exercise TRANSGLOBE, pragmatically the combination of the World recession, a sailing event’s lack of novelty and spectacle and the power of public opinion on many levels are forcing the Expedition planning team to live within a very limited budget.


The parallels to events of thirty-eight years ago are striking. Then people believed that a yacht race around the World couldn’t be undertaken without major financial backing coupled to an unshakable belief that it should happen from an organisation committed to developing its personnel. Now we have an organisation, the MoD even more committed to the personal development of the service men and women of the Armed Forces and conventional wisdom that such events need strong financial backing. Then we had the RN providing facilities and support for the embryonic Round the World Races, now we have the RN committing the use of three of the Challenge yachts one for each of the Services to crew.

Fast forward to 1998 and the Services sent three Nicholson 55 foot yachts around the World via the Panama Canal on a shoestring budget on the first TRANSGLOBE expedition. The main parallel to that expedition is it attracted only two sponsors and this year we again have only three Patrons committed to supporting us, and in real terms for about the same amount of financing. The major difference is that eleven years ago the yachts suffered numerous mechanical problems and required a lot of maintenance but completed the expedition over budget. With so much of the cost of this TRANSGLOBE committed to civil air travel we cannot afford to have costly delays to the schedule so we are employing a number of risk mitigation strategies.

Paring down the budget for TRANSGLOBE has been made possible by;

  1. Having all three yachts extensively refit by a commercial boat yard that has a long established reputation and knowledge of the Challenge class of yachts. These refits were planned before TRANSGLOBE was conceived and the timing is excellent for ensuring the boats are well prepared and the costs were borne in the 2008/2009 equipment budget.
  2. Completing a number of scheduled maintenance periods planned throughout the Exercise at key dates to coincide with preparations for events like the Sydney to Hobart Race and the longest ocean crossing like Leg 8 through the Southern Ocean between Auckland and Montevideo. As a cost reduction measure we are seeking the support of our fellow Commonwealth Armed Forces and their facilities especially in Australia.
  3. The willingness of our Patrons and key supporters to work with us to achieve the success of the Expedition. This is epitomised by our professional PR consultant, Peta Stuart-Hunt, who is working ceaselessly on our behalf. We are also grateful to some very special celebrities who have pledged their support that means so much to the participants.

The largest cost is driven by the need to change over the 42 crew positions (14 per yacht) at each of the 12 destinations. Prices obviously vary greatly from the cheapest UK – Lanzarote to the most expensive UK – Sydney – UK either side of Christmas 2009. Neither of the UK flag carriers, nor their alliance partners, accepted an invitation to become a TRANSGLOBE patron to assist us with any discounts so we are having to purchase the lowest available tickets as soon as they are released on the market. Our agent from Travel Counsellors is providing an exceptional service in this respect but the estimated total is still in the order of £490,000 averaging out at just under £1,000 per person. The individuals will be paying a substantial proportion (40%) of that amount the rest is being arranged from grants and welfare fund donations.”Undoubtedly the World will recover from this recession and companies will survive and prosper again as business picks up within the next few years. The leading British companies that are best placed to herald their longevity and confidence in the recovering markets will return again to using sponsorship, not merely for maintaining or enhancing brand awareness but for building customer and shareholder confidence.

The most entrepreneurial business leader of his generation, Sir Richard Branson, has already demonstrated that level of vision by backing the Brawn F1 Racing Team at the very moment that other, international companies were withdrawing from motor racing. We are looking for sponsors who have that same confidence in the future, pride in their British roots and determination to succeed.

TRANSGLOBE will deliver to its existing and potential sponsors a worldwide proclamation of their durability and long term stability. The very essence of the challenge faced by 500 service men and women on storm tossed seas is a metaphor for the sponsors’ confidence that they will weather the current recession; just as the TRANSGLOBE participants will grow in stature and confidence by completing this circumnavigation, so will the Companies that are strong enough to emerge renewed and revitalised to compete in better financial times to come.

TRANSGLOBE will go ahead and we are certain that even on the taut budget we have that it will be a great success. We may not have attracted the sponsorship enjoyed by the elite of sailing but we do have the courage, determination, stamina and teamwork of service personnel of all ages, rank and gender who are ready to face the challenge of blue water sailing. As Nick Gill our technical clothing partner said at the 2009 London Boat Show, “This is grass roots sailing with a mix of experienced sailors and novices setting out to prove themselves in yachts and equipment that all sailors can identify with” and, in this time of world recession, we are proving that you don’t need to put your dreams and ambitions on hold. Follow the progress of the remarkable people who have volunteered for the Expedition on the official website at www.exercisetransglobe.com .