There is only one downside to a yacht race that features over 1700 boats and an estimated 16,000 competitors. In such a race there are 16,000 stories, almost all of which are positive and reinforce the best things about sailing, not just as a sport, but as a great past-time. Luckily, we live in a world of Twitter and Facebook, where individuals stories have more chance of being heard.
One of the first stories we ever published was about the Round the Island Race. That year, there were also thousands of stories, but there was only one that made the back page of the paper. In 2008, Lewis Hamilton joined Ben Ainslie and Alex Thomson aboard Hugo Boss and became the biggest story of the race.
In 2010, all the hard work of hundreds of volunteers from the Island Sailing Club, worthy investments by title sponsor J P Morgan Asset Management and big publicity opportunities for charity were all obliterated in the media by BP CEO, Tony Hayward deciding to take part in the Round the Island Race aboard his Farr 52 – BOB.
While Hayward’s participation gave the Round the Island Race massive worldwide exposure, it only perpetuated the stereotype of yacht racing as a sport for spoilt captains of industry. Ironically, the Round the Island Race is one of the most inclusive races in the world. While the branded up race boats are out in front, the vast majority of the fleet is made up of sailors of all ages and abilities.
The publicity given to Tony Hayward will not take away the sense of achievement from competitors in the race. In a world of social media, ambassadors for charities like Breast Cancer Care, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Ellen Macarthur Trust and Prostate UK, can talk directly to their audience and bypass the mainstream media. This is what sailing does on a more regular basis. Used to being ignored by the mass market traditional media, sailing has innovated to be heard in new ways.
In 2010, Apprentice UK Winner and Princes Trust Ambassador – Michelle Dewberry competed in the race alongside Ben Ainslie. Michelle has nearly 10,000 Twitter followers* – which is 10,000 people who will hear about the Round the Island Race and sailing in a positive light. Unfortunately, millions more will hear about the Round the Island Race, not as a huge participatory event that does great work for charity, but as a bit of fun for a CEO who should be thinking about the water quality on the other side of the world.
So not only is Tony Hayward responsible for having a massive negative impact on the marine economy in the Gulf of Mexico, by participating in the Round the Island Race, he will also have a massive negative impact on UK sailing by single-handedly repositioning the UK’s favourite, most inclusive yacht race as a bit of fun for out of touch, rich men.
* We don’t think there is anyone in the sailing world who has more Twitter followers than Michelle Dewberry, except for Giovanni Soldini. If you can think of anyone – please let us know!