You may not have heard of Donald Crowhurst or Bernard Moitessier, but 42 years ago they set out separately on the Sunday Times Golden Globe, the first-ever non-stop, solo, around-the-world yacht race. This epic event ultimately became an infamous story, due to the failure of most competitors to finish, and because of the curious journeys of Donald and Bernard.
An Aspirational Journey
Like any successful event, large or small, the Golden Globe provided a galvanising goal, capturing the imagination of the public and participants. Donald was a perfect example, being at best a weekend sailor, he was compelled to build his own boat to take on the global race. And like many participants who have their imagination captured by an event, like signing up to do a marathon, raising funds for a cause, or travelling across the globe to attend 'a once in a lifetime' experience, Donald put a lot on the line to take part. In his case, sacrificing so much, including several months away from his loving wife and young children, and mortgaging his home, just to take part.
As infamous as the first event was it was the start of a long distinguished career for famous Sailor Robin Knox-Johnston, and ultimately led to the founding of the Vendee Globe, one of the more epic events around-the-world today.
The Aspirational Challenge
As a very part-time sailor, Donald had an immense challenge in front of him, with a very short time in which to plan his journey, build and equip his boat, and at the same time secure the funds and sponsors for the race.
Somewhat unsurprisingly - as any event manager might predict - short cuts taken led to mistakes made - all of his safety devices were left uncompleted (he planned to complete them en route! - and - many of his spares and supplies were left behind due to the rush in his preparations. And… to top all this, he had never actually sailed the boat he had just built before he left!
Unfortunately, as you may have guessed, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Donald, and soon after departing (on his second attempt to leave shore, and a month after the first boats departed), his ship began taking on water and looked like it may sink.
So again like a good event manager, Donald secretly came up with a 'Plan B.'- which in his case was another ‘journey’ - whereby he actually abandoned the race and parked himself just off the coast of South America. You see Donalds ingenious 'Plan B' was to quietly wait for his fellow participant to do their lap of the globe, and to re-join the race as his fellow participants came back past!
Image Topfoto - Eric Hall
Donald parked up for several months… But that’s only half the story.
Our Journeys of Aspiration
As event designers and experience providers, we know our events need some sort of aspiration, some inspiration as a call to action for our participants. After all, events by definition should offer something different from everyday life. Or they are not really ‘an event’ are they?
The 'Journey of Aspiration’, from start to finish. Participants, Fans, Volunteers, or Partners, to see it, sign up, show up, and ideally sign up again.
Great events need a trigger, a call to action, some participation and a finale. For people to sign up, and share again. And yes, ‘journey’ may have become a cliché, but I do think it’s a nice guiding thought. Like any good movie, or any decent story, our events should take people on a journey, through an experience that has a start, a middle, and an end, and of course, with some novel twists and challenging turns on the way.
Not all events need to be as epically aspirational as an around the world race, however, any event, a tournament, tour, match day or any moment along the way, should have some sort of aspiration and purpose behind it.
The Other Side of the Story
It’s also worth being very aware that in today’s world if we are thinking about creating or re-building an event, the aspiration is only half the story across the journeys we provide.
The Aspiration, and, the Support
As experience providers, as event organisers and responsible hosts, we always have a duty of care for our participants, our fans or attendees. There are the non-negotiable responsibilities to ensure we offer safe and inclusive events, and we also have a further need to support our people all along their journey with us. In the big steps as they sign up and show up for our events, and also in the smaller things that we can do to ensure our participants feel supported on their journey, so that we don’t lose them on critical decision points along their journey with us.
Whether it be for an elite or day to day experience, we need to provide the right mix of aspiration - and support. Recent studies have shown that our audiences are prepared to come back, IF we can reassure them we are creating a COVID safe event.
- What inspiration do you provide?
- And, what support do you provide to help them achieve it?
- And, what support do we need to provide in today’s COVID world - that they didn’t need last year??
Aspiration, and Abilities
Which brings us back to Donald, and Bernard, as it turns out to be a story of how as event providers, we need to provide both the aspiration and, the support.
You see, Donald’s plan was to re-join the race, and quietly finish it at the back of the field, without celebration, but simply to complete the race so he could secure the funds from the sponsors he needed to pay back his sizable debts.
But what happened, was that the leading sailors began to drop out of the race, placing Donald back in the running to win the race, with global media and public attention back on him - that he didn't need!
Thankfully fellow competitors Bernard, and Nigel Tetley raced towards the finish and looked like they may be Donald's saviours, but Tetley broke his boat thinking he was struggling to catch up with Donald, and Bernard decided that after almost a year at sea, as he approached the finish line, the public adoration wasn’t for him - so he turned his boat around to do another lap and park up in Tahiti!
Therefore, leaving Donald a position to win it (and shining the spotlight on him that would embarrassingly reveal his now somewhat less ingenious Plan B!).
And so, in what became a tragic story, Donald was unable to deal with the idea of his deception being made public, the public scorn, and the thought of losing it all for his family all became too much, and it is believed Donald jumped overboard, never to finish the race, or return home to his family.
Aspiration & tragedy
I don’t mean to trivialise Donald’s plight, but I feel it does call out some of the important responsibilities we have as event providers, and to ourselves, as part of our 'journeys'. In that, as event providers, we can’t just come up with the big idea, the inspiration - we also need to provide the support - so that our participants can sign up and stay on the journey with us, right through.
While this event occurred in a different era, and this may seem an extreme example, we know such a tragedy would never be wanted, nor would this approach to the management of an event be acceptable in today’s world. Of course, our risk management protocols we have in place these days would hopefully avoid Donald’s situation, but also, risks occur at all levels, and safe and secure experiences must be our non-negotiable, and your event experiences should be designed according.
The Other Side of the Journey - Yours
I definitely don’t want to trivialize or generalise Donald story, as there was obviously a lot going on with Donald that we don’t know about. And I do admire him, for his ambition, and his will to not let people down.
I can also sense a message in Donald’s story that is highly pertinent to us today. In that it is easy to not be meeting our aspirations, given the current environment we find ourselves in right now. And it would be easy right now to get ourselves in too deep, either with our expectations, or those tangible things like money, debts and other commitments.
So, I’ve taken it as a reminder, not to overexpose or expect too much of ourselves right now. There is always a way back, especially if we navigate the current steps in our somewhat challenging and unpredictable journey the right way. So long as we don't get too far out of our depth we can find a way through, we are able to look after ourselves, and if we feel like we aren't meeting other people's expectations, it will be OK. Good people will accept our failings more than we fear they won’t, and if they don’t, well they aren't really the people we need around us, are they?
Your Journey of Aspiration, and Support
So, I think there may be a message in this story for us all, in that if you need some help right now, don't be too proud, or afraid to ask. And if you know of someone who may find this message useful, please do share it with them.