10 October 2023
Welcome to the first episode in our mini-series with James Harayda from the Gentoo Sailing team.
In this episode, Ashurst's Global Sustainability/ESG Partner Anna-Marie Slot is joined by James Harayda, skipper and team principal at the Gentoo Sailing team.
James is the youngest skipper currently entered in the next Vendee Globe race, and in November 2024 will become the youngest competitor to embark from France on this 25,000 nautical mile solo nonstop round the world yacht race. Not only is James going to skippering throughout this competition but also taking water samples to collect data for scientific research to help provide a greater understanding of what's happening with our waters and help give scientists fundamentals, to decide what actions we really need to take, the combat the adverse impacts of humans.
James and Anna-Marie discuss what sustainability means to him as a sailor, the importance of learning more about the ocean for sustainability purposes and what needs to happen around ocean stewardship.
Ashurst are delighted to have partnered with Gentoo Sailing Team whose innovative vision and sustainability ambitions reflect our own. To find out more about our partnership, visit our partnership page.
The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to. Listeners should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.
Hello and welcome to ESG Matters at Ashurst. I'm Anna-Marie Slot, Global Sustainability and ESG partner here at Ashurst. And I have the great pleasure in being joined today by yachtsman James Harayda. James is the skipper and team principal at the Gentoo Sailing Team and we at Ashurst are delighted to have partnered with Gentoo Sailing Team whose innovative vision and sustainability ambitions reflect our own. James has competed in many of the world's largest offshore races. In the process, becoming a two-time British double-handed national champion with renowned teammate, Dee Caffari. James is the youngest skipper currently entered in the next Vendee Globe race, and in November, 2024 will become the youngest competitor to embark from France on this 25,000 nautical mile solo nonstop round the world yacht race. Thank you so much for joining me today, James. You have a couple of busy years ahead of you, but maybe can you give us a little background about how you got into sailing and what that means for you?
Yeah, sure. Thank you so much for having me. So, I'm 25 years old. I was born and grew up in Singapore actually and started sailing when I was about 11 years old I think. And I grew up, I did a very traditional route into sailing, so started competing in small sailing dinghies such as the laser class. And then when I was a little bit older, around 16, transitioned into more and more yacht racing. So that was mostly fully crewed and competed in some of the world's largest offshore races such as the Fastnet Race, Sydney to Hobart, Caribbean 600, and Middle Sea Race.
And then I went to university here in the UK and while here I transitioned into more shorthanded sailing, so teamed up with a tremendous Sailor, Dee Caffari, who was actually the first woman to sail in both directions around the world. And our goal together was to win a gold medal for Great Britain in the Paris Olympics. And this is actually where Gentoo Sailing Team was born, which funnily enough, the name Gentoo Sailing Team is actually named after one of the fastest breeds of Penguin, which we thought was relevant. And we had some fantastic success in this class together. As you said, we won two British National Championships and also represented the country in the European Championships as well.
Unfortunately, two years after we started that campaign, the IOC, the International Olympic Committee later dropped this class from the Olympics and it left me wondering what to do next. I felt that my sailing career wasn't yet over and I hadn't achieved what I set out to. So after doing a lot of thinking and considering different options, I decided I would take a bit of time out to go and explore three different classes of sailing that I've always been passionate about and fascinated in, which is the TP52 Super Series, which is an inshore circuit, fully crewed, the Ocean Race, which is a fully crewed offshore event. So that is sort of a staged race around the world. And then finally the Vendee Globe. These were all dream goals of mine. So after this disappointment around the Olympic class, I went off and sailed in each of these disciplines to determine which one I wanted to pursue.
And pretty safe to say that I fell in love with the IMOCA class and the type of boats very, very quickly. Just the speed that they sail at, how complex they are to sail, the types of individuals racing them, and some of the challenges involved with sailing them and also with just the nature of the races that the teams are competing in, such as the Vendee Globe. I just fell in love with and found fascinating. And it was a little bit like a magnet to me. So I decided that I wanted to compete in this Vendee Globe race, which is a solo nonstop and unassisted race around the world. It takes place every four years. So it follows the Olympic cycle. And it's not just, well, at least for me, it's not just about the competitive element, it's also about the human endeavour and the adventure side as well that I find amazing.
It takes us as sailors to some of the most remote, rugged parts and some of the most unexplored parts of the planet where for much of the race, the closest people to me are actually going to be in the International Space Station. So shortly after, I put together a campaign with Gentoo Sailing Team still to focus on the IMOCA Globe Series and this Vendee Globe Race. And now we're just over a year in and I've realised that it's harder work than I could have ever imagined, but incredibly rewarding and the racing is extremely exciting. And I'm also really pleased with how we've progressed as a team and also some of the partnerships that we've managed to create, including this one with Ashurst. And when we started this sort of journey towards the Vendee Globe, it seemed like a long time away. However, now I'm sat here just over a year until the start of the Vendee, very much looking down the barrel of it and yeah, it's incredibly exciting. So that's a little snapshot about my sailing and where we are now.
Excellent. Sounds fascinating. And there are a couple things in there that we're lucky enough to have you for a number of podcasts. So this is the first of a few, but interesting points around resilience and adaptation and dealing with overcoming obstacles in there that we'll explore in some other episodes with you. Here today, we were going to focus on, of course, sustainability, given who you are and who I am. So your biggest resource is the ocean obviously. And as you say, you're going to be in a place where you're not going to be near a lot of other people, but you are going to be in the middle of one of our biggest ecosystems. And frankly, not a very well understood one probably given the size of it on our planet and its importance. When you think about sustainability as a sailor, what is it that comes to mind for you?
So, I've always been intrigued by the ocean and aware of its importance and fragility. And I think for me that's probably stemmed from just the amount of time that I've spent on the water or by the water and to be able to see it change over time. And also the differences in between the different oceans that I sail in as well, which I find fascinating and I'm very fortunate to be able to call it my racetrack. For me, I think sustainability, it's obviously a huge subject, which I think can often to people can be a little bit intimidating because it is so big. But for me, sustainability is really comes down to the long-term protection of our planet as a whole. It's definition of course is to maintain our natural resources and have a ecological balance, which I actually think is often I guess probably not the best way to describe it anymore because I think we find ourselves in a position today where we actually need to reclaim back what we've lost.
And so something like the word reparation would probably be a better term to use for the subject now. But personally I think it's two things. I think of the technology aspect, so the development of new materials, technologies, innovations that can all be used to strengthen the environment and work towards a better future. But also the more visible side and the side that I think most people see, which is the picture that I would have in my mind of a thriving ocean. So it's stable in its ability to regulate the climate, it's able to generate the oxygen we need, and it's a body of water that's free of plastic pollution and teaming with wildlife. And I think on the side of that it's properly managed and looked after by us as well. And I think that in my eyes is what sustainability is.
Yeah, interesting. It is that regenerative aspect. We're not at balance and that's where people need to get back to. A lot of people focus on trying to understand where we are and how we get back to balance. I understand that you are indeed doing two jobs on your around the world trip. Not only are you going to be skippering and staying alive through rather complicated situations I'm sure, but also you're going to be taking water samples during your trip. Can you just give us a little background? How did that come about? What do you hope to see from the research that you're going to be contributing into?
Yeah, sure. So, that's a really exciting project for me personally. And so what we've done is we've partnered up with a local university near where we're based, down near Portsmouth. And with effectively the objective to collect data that either hasn't been collected before generally or at least hasn't been collected before in the areas that we will be sailing. And I think an interesting fact that I love is that we know less about our oceans than the face of the moon, which is staggering because we in general spend so much time in it, at it, or on it. So our role as a team in this data collection is to provide the scientists with a greater understanding of what's happening to our waters and give them the fundamentals to decide what action we really need to take to combat the adverse impacts of humans.
So, we're doing various things. As well as taking water samples, we're also trying to complete the world's first sound scan of the seas and it'll be hopefully a non-stop one around the world. And this will give us a better understanding of how noise pollution is affecting the wildlife and migration patterns. And then also when it comes to the actual sampling of water, that's mostly focused around the DNA and be able to give us a better understanding of the wildlife found in different areas of our ocean. And also over the period of years to be able to determine how that's changing and what our actions are on land and on the water is impacting that change as well.
So one of the areas that is a particular focus and an area of the ocean or the world that's relatively unexplored still is the Southern Ocean. And I'm going to be spending a huge amount of time down there in the Vendee Globe, and it's an area that very few ships go, even research vessels. There aren't many down there. There's a few naval ships down there, but we know so little about this. But the Southern Ocean is one of the most important bodies of water as it's one of the primary mixing zones between the major oceans and it's crucial to the circulation of water around our planet. So, it's going to be a really interesting area to study and to look at. And I have no doubt that some of the data that we'll collect will be hopefully revolutionise what we do next and how we manage that area of our planet.
No, definitely. And I think water is probably not something when people think about sustainability or ESG, people tend to go towards climate and that's an important place to be. But the whole point of having multiple letters in the acronym or to think about it from a sustainability broad perspective is that there's lots of aspects to it and water is a huge, huge component of what it means to create an environment and a system that works for us today, but will also work for people tomorrow. We spend a lot of time talking with our clients, working with our clients about challenges they're facing and how they're trying to reimagine what they're doing and how they're trying to gauge what they're doing now, but then think how do I change what I'm doing so that it does become resilient and sustainable for the future? And a lot of that's around essentially changing how we think about what we do as companies and as people.
When it comes to ocean stewardship, as you said, you've been with the sea now for most of your life. What do you think is key to re-imagining that ocean stewardship? Vast parts of the ocean are not owned by anyone and there's work around treaties recently with that, but as someone who lives in that space, what do you think?
I think it's so difficult. And you alluded to the fact that it's not managed by one particular country or government. So it does make it really tricky to protect. And I think it needs to start at government level because that's where a lot of these decisions are going to be made that can then trickle down into what even ships coming from various different countries, they're all going to be bound by the laws that they're registered in. And I think when it comes down even lower than that to actually organisations, I think that one of the most important parts is the strategy and the relevance of the work being carried out. I think with sustainability, a long-term strategy, it needs to be adopted. Unfortunately, our changes to the actions that we have, we don't see the benefits of them overnight necessarily. So we need to give it often several years before we can notice this impact.
And so what we ask ourselves at Gentoo is what do we want to have achieved in two years time or five years time? We do this by Vendee cycles I guess, so four years and eight years, but also trying to determine the measurement of success that we have or how do we track the progress or the benefits of our actions. So we're working with alternate energy generation solutions, the development of new materials or even recycled composites actually, which can take years to develop. But hopefully when they are ready, they could significantly impact the future of how we, for us not just build fast racing yachts but are also applicable into other industries, whether it's constructing buildings or cars, homes, anything. And I think beyond that as well, it's the relevance. So, this is where I think the most change will happen is when we can develop very relevant innovations and ones that can be adopted widely by others.
I think it's great if we're doing something really meaningful for Gentoo Sailing Team, but if we're trying to do this for the bettering of our planet, we need to do stuff that's going to be applicable to other people or other teams and other industries. So I think we need to feed what we are doing, and I'm going to use Gentoo as an example, but we need to feed what we are doing as a sailing team into companies, governments, and organisations in order for us and them to excel and prosper. And I think that's the golden ticket is when companies can see profitability from doing good. And for us it comes down to can we improve the performance of us as a sailing team while doing good and proving to the world that being sustainable does not need to come at the cost to the environment. And that's sort of our tagline that we're using to help show what we're trying to achieve.
And then I think after this it's the solutions that will be adopted because there's a game to be had. And it's the same within business. If you can find a profitable and a competitive advantage, I guess, by operating in a sustainable way, then it doesn't just benefit you, but it'll be adopted widely and end up benefiting the very thing that we're trying to save, which is our planet.
Or even ourselves on the planet. I think the planet will stick around. It's been through a number of different rounds of occupation. We're just one of them.
I hope so.
Hopefully we continue.
I think just one other point, I think what I'm so I guess... I'm going to pause there for a sec. I think one of the things that I'm fascinated about with Ashurst is what you guys are doing. And I know the work that yourself and your team is not just for the benefit of Ashurst. You alluded earlier that it's also about driving sustainable initiatives with your clients and the markets in which you operate. And I think it's clear that your footprint as Ashurst for positive change is a lot larger than just Ashurst itself. It also trickles into some of the other huge corporations that you work with. And it's encouraging for me to see the influence that you can have globally and share the ethos that we have as a team as well.
Yeah, no, exactly. It really is, it's about raising that awareness for people and getting everyone thinking about it and thinking about what transformation needs to happen and really is that transformation. It's easy for people to go on in their every day, but when we can take things like the innovations that high performance teams like yourselves are working on, you take that innovation, you think about how do you game change what you're doing. You take that same mentality, you bring it into business and say, okay, how can I game change what I'm doing? If I were to start what I'm doing today, knowing what I know, would I do it differently? Is there a space in those conversations within companies? And I think we try to get people to think more broadly.
This is the open up the parameters of what you consider when you think about what you're doing on a transactional basis or an advisory basis and put that in that broader context so clients can then think for themselves, okay, well, let me take that lens on and expand where I'm considering from just everything that I thought yesterday mattered, but everything that will matter tomorrow, which is hard. People have to make space for that and you really do have to be dedicated to get to that outcome because you have a lot of other things going on in your life and organisation is made up of people. Which brings me to my next question, everybody always wants to know whenever I do these podcasts, what is your own personal commitment to net zero or sustainability in the next few years? I don't think you're going to be consuming a lot. You're going to be on a pretty contained area, but I think everybody would be fascinated to know what does that look like on a boat around the world by yourself?
Yeah. Well, I am really conscious of the waste that we have as a team. So even comes down to the most simple things, which we've all been taught long ago, which is no plastic water bottles and things like that. But I'm going to try and use, or am using Gentoo Sailing Team as a platform to help promote our commitment to sustainability and net zero. And so our aim as a team is to be net zero for the 2024 funding. So by the end of next year, we want to be net zero. And then that extends to 2028, which we hope to actually be negative. And so I want to play a role in the creation of new ideas and technologies, I think with a similar reference to the companies that we were discussing earlier and create these ideas and technologies that will be adopted and relevant for others.
Also, the other thing that's new this year is I've actually become an ambassador for the Blue Marine Foundation and hoping to use myself as a voice for positive change and support some of the amazing work that they're doing too. And this goes again from the most local projects, which is things like oyster restoration work in the Hamble River, which is near where I live, all the way up to educating pupils in schools about the importance of our oceans, the need for proper management, and also some of the exciting things that happen inside of our oceans, which will hopefully spur this generation to take more action and be intrigued by our waters. Because I also think that's a really strong building block is when it comes from education. I think so far we've done such a great job of educating people around the importance of our forests and wooded areas. But as you said earlier, the ocean is such a often forgotten about part of the world because it feels a little bit out of touch and a lot of what happens happens underwater where we can't see it as well.
Yeah. So last question for you. We've talked about a lot of different things. I think there are a lot of themes that have come up that hopefully will resonate with different people. We've talked about innovation. We talked briefly about goal setting and setting targets and setting interim targets, which I think is key to delivery. If you think something's 10 years away, it seems like you have a lot of time. I like to instead think of the number, we're 78 months from 2030. So to the extent that people are making 2030 commitments, that action needs to be happening now. But from your perspective, if you could get people listening to take one action or do one thing, what do you think? What would that be? And you can have more than one actually if you want.
I think it's probably to become involved in bigger projects. So yes, not using plastic shopping bags when you go to the supermarket and things like that. But I think more so even is to be involved with whether it's organisations like something like the Blue Marine Foundation or become involved in projects, whether they're governmental or within Ashurst or the organisation that you might work for. And in the end of the day, I think this is the level that we need to direct our focus to is the large corporations and governments that in the end of the day will drive a lot of the change that we need. And I believe that the market will then always follow. So yes, do your day-to-day things that do make a difference. If everyone does it, it adds up. But also become involved with bigger projects.
Fantastic. No, definitely engage and be a stakeholder. People respond to stakeholder pressure. It's been great talking to you today, James, and I really appreciate your time. I'm sure your schedule is packed with preparation and all sorts of other aspects of getting ready. We wish you and the whole team the best of luck on your global race. Clearly it is a team effort, so all the best for you. And we'll be looking out for updates along the way.
Yeah, and thank you so much for having me today. It was really interesting to have this conversation and I look forward to working together on some of these projects coming up.
And then to our listeners, thank you for listening to ESG Matters at Ashurst. To make sure you don't miss any of our future episodes, including additional episodes with James, subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And while you're there, you can listen to any of our previous episodes and please feel free to leave a rating or review. Thanks for listening and goodbye for now.