A meeting is underway today between the crew of BT Challenge yacht Team SpirIT and their skipper, 32-year-old Andy Dare, after a series of complaints by his crew. After seven years of preparation for this race, and only 3,000 miles of it sailed, Dare’s fear is that his job could depend on the outcome.
The dispute between some of the crew and their skipper has been exacerbated by a disappointing first leg performance. Team SpirIT finished in 10th position but had trailed the fleet for a large part of the leg. But the wider issue for the band of malcontents seems to be Andy Dare’s racing skills and leadership. Some crew feel so strongly about the situation that they asked Sir Chay Blyth to intervene to help solve the troubles on board.
His answer was to put them together behind closed doors and get them to thrash out the problems and find their own solutions. “It’s an industry standard problem-solving exercise,” he says. “You ask everyone ‘Is there a problem?’ Then everyone has to say what is the problem. Then you draw up solutions, and within these something will work. The skipper is party to all of it.”
One of the main issues, he says, is Dare’s decision-making process. “He’s a really nice guy; you can’t get better than Andy. But he does everything by discussion and it’s decision by committee. In severe conditions you have to be decisive,” comments Sir Chay.
The sponsors’ expectations are also playing a part in the complicated lines that have been drawn up. Team SpirIT, a consortium of IT companies, whose motto for the race is ‘in it together’, want to do well in the race are also disappointed with the result. Campaign manager Edward Scott says there will be a post-mortem.
The dispute highlights what has been a repeated trouble for Sir Chay Blyth. In the last two round the world races, two skippers have been sacked and another had a near miss because of crews’ or sponsors’ grievances. Both parties are paying customers of his Challenge Business. That a similar impasse should be reached so quickly in this race, after the much-vaunted management training and selection of skippers, is an interesting reflection of how difficult it remains to fulfil crews’ and sponsors’ expectations.
Team SpirIT is not unique in having had difficulties on board during this leg, but for others the scene has been played out with less public blood-letting. Neil Murray, skipper of Norwich Union, also had to face dissent at sea, after he made a decision a few days out of the Solent to split from the fleet and head south in a gamble to pick up better winds. When it failed to pay off, Murray and his crew had to cut their losses and head north again to rejoin the pack – in last place.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he comments. But the error was a crushing disappointment to his crew, who had hoped and expected to do well. “Some of them did raise doubts, but the bottom line was that they said; ‘You’re the skipper and we’re right behind you.’ Afterwards, those who did have doubts were kicking themselves for not being more vocal.”
Asked if it had led to a bad atmosphere on board, Murray admits: “Disappointment was the overriding emotion for myself and the crew. To the crews, the skippers are held in very high esteem. The sun shines, and all that. The realisation that I had made an error was difficult for a lot of them to cope with. The doubters were cross.”
Murray’s approach was to air the subject with crew individually and as a team, but he freely acknowledges it was a difficult time. “We’ve had some fairly heavy sessions and it has brought out a lot of emotions,” he confesses. “Some immediately put it behind them, others were more broody and kept going over and over it in their heads. There were some tears and some frank exchanges between crew.
“It’s been a test of leadership,” says Murray. “It’s easy to lead a team that’s winning. When you’re losing that’s harder. And when you’re losing because of a lea