In June, Ashurst announced its partnership with British yachtsman James Harayda, a rising star in ocean racing, and the Gentoo Sailing team in connection with James' 2024 Vendée Globe campaign.
We caught up with James and Ashurst partner, Cameron Smith, to find out more.
Cameron, you are a keen sailor. Tell us about how this partnership came about and what first ignited your passion for sailing?
Cameron: I've been sailing since I was about 8 and then graduated into keel boats when an ex-girlfriend's father asked me to come sailing with him. The most frustrating side to it is having to balance it against work commitments and family commitments however.
I saw James give a presentation to the Royal Ocean Racing Club a few months ago and decided to follow-up with him, as his commitment to his campaign was infectious and I could see how Ashurst could help him achieve his goals (much like we do with smaller clients).
James, what attracted you to a partnership with Ashurst – how did this come about?
James: As a company, Ashurst shares several similarities with regards to our approach to succeed, our ethos, and our vision. I’ve always felt strongly about who we choose to partner with, and believe that the strongest partnerships are those that share common ground. The ability for us to work with members of the Ashurst team on such an exciting project is fantastic and I’m thrilled to have Ashurst onboard for it. Ashurst is a top law firm with a global presence – competing as a young team in a global sport knowing that I have strong commercial expertise on my side is certainly a competitive advantage.
What attracted you to the sport of sailing in the first place?
James: At a young age, the feeling of empowerment and responsibility as soon as I left the beach on a small sailing dinghy was really exciting for me. I guess it’s a little like when you finally get your driving license!
Another side of sailing that got me hooked, was the adventure and ability to explore new places and see things that you cannot see or experience on land. I grew up in Singapore, which is a busy and congested island, so sailing to me was an escape and a sense of freedom.
Finally, learning a completely new skill, which is technical and tactical made it something I couldn’t resist. The more I trained, the luckier I got, and this drove me to work hard.
James, you have become a two-time British Double Handed National Champion and are going to be the youngest competitor in the Vendée Globe Race in 2024, how you are preparing in the lead up to this race and what are you are most excited about?
James: The preparation for a race like the Vendée Globe is incredibly important and detailed, and equally varied. Not only do I need to focus on becoming the most talented sailor I can be, but I will also be working tirelessly on the physical and mental preparation. In addition, the preparation and optimisation of the boat is an equally crucial ingredient to a successful and competitive circumnavigation. The other important aspect to consider is that once I cross the start line next November, I truly am by myself. So I need to learn how to repair and maintain almost everything onboard, including hydraulics, composites, and electronic systems. It’s a very different mindset to the one I had to adopt when we were training for the Olympics. In many ways, the preparation is much tougher because the focus is wider, yet the need to perform is the same.
What has been a particular highlight for you in your career to date?
James: This is a tricky question to answer! I’ve had a lot of highs (not to mention some very low lows)!
I think it has to be the Route du Rhum race last year. We had an Everest of a mountain to overcome before the start. To then experience so many difficult and challenging moments during the race and come away with a result we didn’t think was possible was an amazing feeling for myself, and a big nod to the entire team and our partners.
How do you "switch-off" during races? Is there any "down time"?
James: Everything that happens when I’m racing is done with intent and a purpose. Therefore, I wouldn’t say there’s any “down time”. I often try to “switch off” for five or ten minutes by listening to some music or sending a couple messages to friends and family. It helps rest my brain, contextualises fears, and enables me to regain the focus needed to keep a boat like Gentoo sailing at 100%.
Gentoo Sailing Team has ambitious sustainability program aims, what does this involve in practice?
James: Our environmental projects are really important to us as a team. It’s something I’m particularly passionate about on a personal level, and therefore, important for me to use Gentoo Sailing Team as a platform for positive change.
We are working on a range of projects currently, which include local work such as oyster restoration in the Solent with the Blue Marine Foundation, through to energy generation, and the development and testing of new materials or recycled materials that can be applied across other industries. We want to prove to the world that being sustainable does not need to come at the cost to the environment.
Together with Gentoo, Ashurst is striving to Outpace Change, innovate and be leaders in our fields – what does this mean to you?
Cameron: There are parallels between what Gentoo are striving to achieve and what we need to do to survive as a firm – staying ahead of the competition and one step ahead of developments in the market place.
James: For us, our end goal is quite simple, we want to complete the 2024 Vendée Globe and win the race in 2028. If you want to be successful in a race like this, you need to outpace change, and outpace the change of your rivals who are all trying to do the same thing. We live and compete in a world driven by innovation – from the development of the athlete, to creating the fastest and most reliable IMOCA 60 in the world. Both these elements need to be at the cutting edge in order to deliver the results we strive for.
We have also broken the team down into four key components where we aim to lead our field; the performance of our IMOCA programme, commercial/sponsorship acumen, having the most impactful environmental projects, and providing the next generation of sailors a springboard into the industry.
How can Ashurst alumni become involved in your campaign or follow your progress?
James: We’re really excited to be working with such an impressive organisation, packed with incredibly talented individuals. Together, we are on an exciting journey that we hope to share with and engage everyone in. A good start to this engagement would be to keep an eye on some of the upcoming content we will be sharing with Ashurst, and more generally, our progress that can be followed through the Gentoo Sailing Team social channels.
Follow the progress of James and the Gentoo team
Gentoo Sailing Team LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/gentoo-sailing-team/
Gentoo website: https://www.gentoosailingteam.co.uk/