Restau­ra­teur Chris­tian Talpo joined the tough­est sail­ing race in the world in 2000 de­spite hav­ing never stepped foot on a sail­ing boat prior the voy­age. The bold yachts­man ex­plains why he loves be­ing in the open ocean.

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Contents - STORY JOANNA LAM

Restau­ra­teur Chris­tian Talpo joined the tough­est sail­ing race in the world with zero sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ence


We all have mo­ments in life, where we feel so thor­oughly driven by an in­spir­ing story that we de­cide to em­bark on our own ad­ven­ture. While most of us would pro­cras­ti­nate and al­low our goals to erode as we age, Chris­tian Talpo, co-founder of Pi­rata Group, took the leap.

In 2000, Talpo, then a keen ama­teur yachts­man, took the plunge and signed up for the Global Chal­lenge, the tough­est sail­ing race in the world, with zero sail­ing ex­pe­ri­ence un­der his belt. “I learned about the race on a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle that fea­tured images of yachts crash­ing through the waves and I thought to my­self “That looks like fun, I want to be part of it,” laughs Talpo.

It was that defin­ing mo­ment that drove the Ital­ian restau­ra­teur to em­bark on the voy­age of his life – a 30,000 miles yacht race in which the fleet cir­cum­nav­i­gate the globe “the wrong way”, East to West against pre­vail­ing winds and cur­rents. “I clearly re­mem­ber that mo­ment. In fact, I still have that news­pa­per clip­ping some­where.” Soon af­ter­wards, Talpo emailed the race head­quar­ters and he was ad­mit­ted fol­low­ing a se­ries of in­ter­views. “I told the race head­quar­ters that it was im­por­tant for a rac­ing yacht to have some­one on board who could tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween a Chi­anti and a Caber­net Sau­vi­gnon. I thought this was quite funny ac­tu­ally,” re­calls Talpo.

In fact, Talpo was one of the few can­di­dates out of over 180 ap­pli­cants world­wide who passed his in­ter­view with Sir Chay Blyth and com­pleted the train­ing pro­gramme. Prior the race, the fi­nal­ists each spent a week with one of the UK’S top man­age­ment train­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions learn­ing how to lead, mo­ti­vate, gain com­mit­ment, de­liver in­spir­ing pre­sen­ta­tions and deal with con­flict.

Con­fused as to why an ama­teur sailor like him­self was ad­mit­ted with­out a proper trial, Talpo soon found out the race was a far cry from a re­lax­ing cruise with cock­tails in his hand. “The train­ing for the race was mur­der­ous. It was very de­mand­ing and un­com­fort­able. To en­sure we would be wet, cold and mis­er­able, we sailed with ba­sic gear in Jan­uary,” re­calls Talpo. “If you weren’t a tough in­di­vid­ual you couldn’t make it through. In fact, of all ap­pli­cants ac­cepted in the train­ing, only one in four made it all the way around the world – that’s an in­sane dropout rate.”

De­spite hav­ing never stepped foot on a sail­ing boat prior the race, he quickly grew to love the sport. Like many sailors, Talpo is drawn to tran­quil nat­u­ral won­ders dur­ing his sail­ing ven­ture; but what truly en­thralls the out­door en­thu­si­ast is the un­matched ruthless beauty of­fered by the storms. “How storms are a savage, pure and con­densed ex­tract of life. Apart from the storms, noth­ing other than per­haps war makes you con­front the kind of per­son you re­ally are,” high­lights Talpo.

Storms are part of life at sea. Win­ning a fight against the sea re­quires a com­bi­na­tion of a well­main­tained fleet, a trained and ex­pe­ri­ence crew, a dose of good luck, and most im­por­tantly, a lot of guts. Af­ter all, it is through bat­tling against bru­tal cli­mates that our in­ner­most qual­i­ties re­veal. “It can be daunt­ing and scary to face who you re­ally are. With no rooms to hide, you ought to go up on the deck in the midst of a hor­ren­dous storm even when some of your com­pan­ions are de­feated by their fears,” says Talpo.

The race, which turned out to not only be a chal­leng­ing phys­i­cal train­ing, was bet­ter to be de­scribed as “A bat­tle of the mind”, as ex­plained by Talpo. “By far your mind can give up long be­fore your body does. Like a mus­cle, the mind needs train­ing and dis­ci­pline, and it can be very re­ward­ing when it helps you to do things that other peo­ple could only dream of.”

This was ev­i­dent in a par­tic­u­lar nerve-wrack­ing in­ci­dent dur­ing Talpo’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in his sec­ond

round the world yacht race in 2004, in which his best friend was washed over­board by the tow­er­ing walls of wa­ter in the midst of a tremen­dous storm. The friend, a big Ir­ish man who weighed at least 150kg at the time due to the ad­di­tional weight from the gear and wa­ter, was drown­ing as he was be­ing trawled un­der wa­ter. “De­spite his weight, my crewmem­ber and I got him back on deck in a flash. With­out a doubt, adren­a­line and fear give you a su­per­hu­man strength," high­lights Talpo. "I will never for­get his des­per­ate eyes while un­der­wa­ter, which screamed “Save me man!”. I have dreamt of that mo­ment a cou­ple times since that day,” re­calls Talpo.

While the race is a tes­ta­ment to Talpo’s re­silience un­der ex­treme cir­cum­stances, the lessons learnt on the fleet were in­dis­putably trans­fer­able to work­places. In fact, there are a few busi­ness man­age­ment books that are de­rived from case stud­ies of the round-the­world yacht race.

“With sail­ing I learnt a lot about ef­fec­tive man­age­ment. There is noth­ing like be­ing out in the ocean for 50 days on a 21-me­ter-long-yacht with 18 other crewmem­bers. The ex­pe­ri­ence cer­tainly teaches you a thing or two about man­ag­ing any sit­u­a­tion, from a cri­sis to pure bore­dom,” points out Talpo. “Adding to that is stress, tired­ness, hard­ship and re­mem­ber­ing you are out there rac­ing, not just sur­viv­ing. It is chal­leng­ing to say the least.”

“When I say tough I don’t just re­fer to phys­i­cal side. Of course fit­ness has a large part to play in it, but above all you need to be a very de­ter­mined and driven in­di­vid­ual to sur­vive in the open ocean,” points out Talpo. “I have seen 40kg girls out­do­ing big strappy fel­las. Be­fore get­ting to know them, you would never imag­ine how some of these ladies go­ing up on deck fight­ing storms in freez­ing nights and leav­ing the rest of us quiv­er­ing in bunks. I would never judge a book by its cover ever again.”

With his restau­rant em­pire grow­ing steadily in the city, Talpo has traded his ad­ven­tur­ous nau­ti­cal pas­time with restau­rant vis­its. “I still sail from time to time, it’s like see­ing a lost lover in the crowd. But at times I think its best that I don’t sail – I don’t know where these legs will take me,” laughs Talpo.

ABOVE Bar­clay’s Ad­ven­turer in ac­tion dur­ing the 2004-5 edi­tion of the Global Chal­lenge Race.

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