Into the Storm

Lessons in Teamwork from the Treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race

 Into the Storm

Author: Dennis N.T. Perkins
Pub Date: November 2012
Print Edition: $24.95
Print ISBN: 9780814431986
Page Count: 288
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814431603

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My Hobart

Author Dennis Perkins Reflects on His Adventure In Ocean Racing—and His Hands-On-Deck Learning Experience in Teamwork

“I am not an accomplished ocean racer,” Dennis Perkins, bestselling author, executive coach, and leadership consultant admits. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy, but had little to do with the Navy—and nothing to do with sailing—following graduation. After retiring from the Marine Corps and settling into civilian life in Connecticut, he sailed for pleasure, mostly on Long Island Sound, and eventually bought his own boat. But Perkins never considered competing in an offshore ocean race—until he came across the story of one team who sailed straight into a deadly storm to win the “Everest” of offshore ocean races, Australia’s celebrated Sydney to Hobart Race.

For his new book, INTO THE STORM: Lessons in Teamwork from the Treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race (AMACOM) Dennis Perkins became fully immersed in his research. Going beyond interviews, he got to know and sail with the exceptional crew of the AFR Midnight Rambler: Overall Race Winner of “the Hobart” in 1998—a year when victory was overshadowed a ferocious “weather bomb” that took the lives of six sailors.

While sailing on the Midnight Rambler, Perkins was struck by the seamless interaction among crew members. The Ramblers worked together, calmly and quietly, as if in a zone of effortless coordination. Absorbing this, Perkins decided he needed to experience the Hobart for himself. “To write a book that would do justice to the Midnight Rambler story, I had to understand the race,” Perkins reflects. To understand the Sydney to Hobart Race, he also needed to gain a better understanding of the Australian culture. In addition, Perkins wanted to do the Hobart because, as he confesses, “the race sounded like a really big adventure.”

After some searching and networking, Perkins found a spot on a 60-foot racing boat, where, as the skipper, Peter Goldsworthy, made clear, he would be expected to pull his weight. To get in physical shape for the Hobart’s endurance test, he committed to a disciplined training regimen. In his spare time, he researched and invested in gear and technology he thought would improve his chances of survival—including a hydrostatic life jacket that would deploy even if he went overboard, unconscious. Finally, to prepare for potentially harsh weather, Perkins, accompanied by his daughter, sailed his own boat during the cold Connecticut winter.

“When I arrived in Sydney and met the other crew members on my boat,” recalls Perkins, “I realized just how much of a rookie I was.” Perkins, a former Marine infantry officer who now advises senior business leaders, found himself in unfamiliar roles: team member, with no formal authority, and the novice of the bunch. “It was not a comfortable position for me,” he acknowledges, “and I had lots of opportunities to practice one of my dictums: Cultivate poised incompetence.” Swallowing his pride, Perkins vowed to work hard, follow orders, and learn as much as he could about ocean racing and the critical importance of teamwork.

And learn he did. Perkins learned about the painstaking preparation that goes into an event like the Sydney to Hobart Race. He learned about the austerity of a racing boat and about fundamental safety measures. (“For example,” Perkins notes, “never put your hand somewhere that a finger could be ripped off by a huge sail attached to an 85-foot mast.”) He learned why it was crucial to assign the right job to the right person and to “fix the problem, not the blame.” He learned how ocean racing teams operate under conditions not unlike combat: high stress, little or no sleep, and real danger. He learned about the value of “mateship,” optimism, and resilience. He also learned that everybody on the boat seemed to have a nickname. There was Goldy, the skipper, as well as Scotty, Fairweather, Beeks, and Frenchy, who was of course, British. In the course of the race, Perkins became Perk—“at least,” he says, “to Jungle, so named for his ability to climb a rope like it was a tropical vine.”

By the time his boat reached the finish line, Perkins had survived both tedious tasks, like sitting on the side of the boat as ballast (a position often derisively referred to as rail meat), and heart-pounding moments, like plowing into massive waves. And he had excelled as a student of ocean racing and of teamwork in rough, unpredictable waters. Through observation, interviews, and his personal experience, Perkins identified ten specific strategies that successful ocean racing teams use that can help other teams in challenging environments. What’s more, he began to understand how ocean racers thought about the world and learned to enjoy Cascade Lager.

When his adventure was over, Perkins walked into the Shipwright’s Arms Pub in Hobart, Tasmania, and bought a round of drinks for the crew who had inspired it all: his mates on the AFR Midnight Rambler. “I couldn’t claim to be an ocean racer,” Perkins reflects, “but I felt ready to write a book.”

Adapted from INTO THE STORM: Lessons in Teamwork from the Treacherous Sydney to Hobart Ocean Race by Dennis N.T. Perkins with Jillian B. Murphy (AMACOM)

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