PASSION PLAY: A LIFE ON THE OCEAN WAVE
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.
Restaurateur Christian Talpo joined the toughest sailing race in the world with zero sailing experience
“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.”
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.