I, Adam, have sailed on tall ships from the UK, Holland, Portugal and Norway in many parts of the world as a humble novice crew to first officer, bosun and RYA YachtMaster Instructor. I have been involved in promoting tall ships first as a committee member of the Sail Training Association and for the last 27 years for Classic Sailing.
I’m still learning and hope that the views I express here can help Tenacious back to active sailing for people of all abilities.
The Customer Experience.
Sailing as a voyage crew on both Lord Nelson and Tenacious was a step back in time. I’m not talking about the nostalgia of tall ship sailing, I’m talking about the organisation of the voyage crew, volunteers and professional ships crew, all of which I have experienced.
There is some history involved in this and it stems from the early formation of tall ships sailing in the UK. Remember the Tall Ships Races started in the UK and grew to be a truly international organisation that now holds races in all the Oceans of the World.
In those early days the ships crew were organised very much along naval lines, many of the Captains, to this day, have naval backgrounds and very excellent officers they are. The military style was thorough but always from the perspective of a command view point. The customer, or paying crew members viewpoint was not taken into account.
Both the STA, (Tall Ships Youth Trust) and the JST inherited this style of ship’s crew deployment. Yet a few nautical miles away in Holland a very different perspective emerged. In the UK we are aware of the great tall ships they operate, Europa, Oosterschelde, Morgentster, Twister and many more. What most UK people don’t know is that if you go to the IJsselemmer (Ziedersea) you will see hundreds of traditional sailing barges, one company alone has a fleet of 28 Dutch Barges. That they are still there is because every summer they take thousands of people sailing and to make this viable they have to have enough paying guests to keep the fleet afloat financially. From this they have always understood the need to satisfy the guests onboard.
So when you sail on an ocean going Dutch Tall Ship as an adult you will get a fantastic sailing experience, with the emphasis on sailing. Their success is because everything you do as a paying guest is based around the pleasure of sailing, your participation is encouraged and training given where necessary. What you don’t realise is that everything to do with your comfort, well being and food is run on the lines of a successful hotel. It is so well managed you hardly notice it happening all around you. Every night all floors, walls and ceilings are cleaned top to toe. During the day your cabins are cleaned and the toilet facilities are kept in immaculate condition.
Contrast and compare with the Tenacious and Lord Nelson
The emphasis on sailing was reduced because many of the volunteer crew took over lots of the interesting roles on deck. Unfortunately there was insufficient training given to them for them to realise without enough paying crew they would not have a ship to sail on.
The paying crew have to clean the heads, help with food preparation, washing up and the ship’s hygiene. Where’s the fun in that? What is it to do with sailing? How does it help the disabled?
The Elephant in the room
Or is it?
Many people have thought that sailing with disabled people was a turn off, I personally feel that was not the problem. It is very easy to make clear just how rewarding it was to sail with the JST from a social perspective. Watching a person get out of a wheelchair and pull themselves up to the crows nest through the power of their arms is a very humbling and empowering experience. There are literally thousands of examples of this and similar stories.
Sailing with disabled people was not the problem.
The fundamental flaw was lack of customer perspective on the way to organise the ship and this lead to a low repeat booking rate and in comparison to similar ships a poor reputation for the customer experience.
If Tenacious or the Lord Nelson are to sail again they have to concentrate on giving every paying customer a brilliant sailing experience, volunteer crew should stand back and assist with training and not by taking over the action. The volunteer crew should be used to fill the role of hotel staff and count themselves lucky to be onboard.
There were of course other problems relating to finance and scale of operation. I might have some answers for that shortly, watch this space.
See a New Facebook page that Tenacious supporters have set up https://www.facebook.com/Tenacious.LookingAhead
Adam Purser 23rd Jan 2024
Update 8th February 2024 – Tenacious – Heads You Win!