Blue Marine Foundation is thrilled to announce that James Harayda, the skipper of Gentoo Sailing Team, has been appointed as our newest Ambassador to help raise awareness of ocean conservation.
“I’m really excited to be taking on this role as an ambassador for Blue Marine Foundation. The global projects that the team are working on are crucial to the health of our ocean and planet. Much of their work does not only impact coastal areas, but also the most remote parts of the ocean, which I am fortunate enough to see and call my racetrack.” – James Harayda.
At 25, James is the youngest skipper competing in the IMOCA class, the highest-level of ocean racing. Now in his second season of racing in the international offshore sailing circuit, he already has an impressive track record. He’s competed in many of the world’s largest offshore races and is a two-time British National Champion. He’s now set his sights on the Vendée Globe in 2024 – a solo, non-stop, and unassisted race around the world.
Rebecca Daniel, Marketing and Communications Lead at Blue Marine recently sat down with James for an interview.
Rebecca Daniel: “Hey James, thanks for joining us. And firstly, I just wanted to say we’re all so thrilled to have you as Blue Marine’s newest Ambassador!”
James Harayda: “Thank you. I’m super excited to be joining Blue Marine as an ambassador. You guys are working on some really important projects that I feel particularly close to, and also issues that I get to experience in the middle of the ocean as well. So for me, it’s really exciting to be here and be part of what you guys are working on.”
Rebecca Daniel: “You’ve had a really impressive sailing career so far. When did you first start sailing?”
James Harayda: “I actually grew up in Singapore, where the water is the same temperature as your bathtub. So it’s a little bit easier to fall in love with, well… any water sport there, but particularly sailing. I started sailing on small little plastic boats when I was about 10 or 11 years old. And then progressed to bigger and bigger boats. When I was about 16, I started doing more competitive yacht racing – most of these races were fully crewed. I took part in some of the classic blue water, offshore races, like the Sydney to Hobart, Fastnet Race, Caribbean 600 and the Middle Sea Race. And then moved into the double handed class, which is where I found my niche in the sport. I then teamed up with Dee Caffari with the aim of winning a gold medal for Great Britain in the Paris Olympics. We had a successful few years, winning two British National Championships and representing GBR in the European Championships. After the IOC removed our discipline of sailing from the Olympics, I transitioned into solo sailing – so by myself.”
Rebecca Daniel: “Well congratulations for all of those wins! Do you think growing up in Singapore and sailing from such an early age is where your passion for the ocean came from?”
James Harayda: “Yeah I think so. I spent most of my weekends sailing amongst the mangroves and around the small islands near Singapore. I was always fascinated by the ocean. Sailing was such a draw for me not just because of the racing and competitive element, but also nature and adventure.”
Rebecca Daniel: “Well, sailing through mangrove forests sounds absolutely magical – one to add to the bucket list for everyone. The next big goal for you and your team is the Vendée Globe in 2024. For those that maybe don’t know what that is, could you tell us what the race is, what it entails and why it’s different from other sailing races?”
James Harayda: “The Vendée Globe is a solo (so by myself), nonstop and completely unassisted race around the world. It takes place every four years, and there are about 40 boats that will enter the next the race. The race itself is renowned for being one of the toughest sporting challenges. It isn’t just a yacht race, there’s so much more to it, which is what I am so passionate about – the whole element of the human endeavour. It’s truly where adventure, the environment, sport and technology all come together at a crossroad. I think it’s a really special race, and one part that makes it so special is how few people have done it. There’s been more people that have gone into space than have sailed solo, nonstop around the world. And it was only actually quite recently when the first person completed it – in the 1960s. So it’s still quite untrodden territory, if you will. And for me, that makes it a really fascinating race to be part of. Also, for most of the race, the closest people to me will actually be in the international space station. So I’ll be able to wave to them a few times a day as they go past my head.”
Rebecca Daniel: “That’s such a crazy notion, the fact that the closest people to you will be in space. Could you explain the route and how long the race might take?”
James Harayda: “So it’s a 24,000 nautical mile course, starting from a small fishing town in France called Les Sables-d’Olonne, which really comes to life every four years. The next race starts in early November 2024. And the course is pretty simple in the sense that you leave France, turn left, and head down the Atlantic across the equator. When you hit South Africa, you turn left again. And then you spend basically two months in the Southern Ocean, which is a very special and untouched part of our planet. It’s about as remote and rugged as you can get, and a place where nature is in control. It’s also an important ocean for the global environment. When you hit Cape Horn, a famous landmark for sailors, you make another left turn, and you head back up the Atlantic. And that’s a really big moment in the race, because you go from being completely isolated, passing very close to point Nemo (which is the most remote point on Earth), back into the Atlantic which is more familiar ground. And then you race back up north, passing the equator for the second time and return to Les Sables-d’Olonne.
The race can vary in duration. It can take anywhere from 75 to 100+ days, depending on the speed of the boat and the ability of the sailor on board. And it’s also dependent on how smooth the race goes, and whether you have any big breakages on the way. Even though you’re not allowed to stop on land, sometimes you might need to pull in behind an island for a couple of days to make repairs to the boat. It all depends on how ‘smooth sailing’ it all goes, excusing the pun.”
Rebecca Daniel: “Well, hopefully it’ll all be smooth sailing for you in 2024 – fingers crossed. And obviously we’ll be cheering you on along the way. In the lead up to that, you’ve got lots of races planned, and lots of training (I would imagine). Something that you’ve started with your sailing team, Gentoo, is a youth sailing program. Could you tell us about that, and what made you set it up?”
James Harayda: “The Gentoo Youth Development Program was set up just under two years ago now, so we’re in our second year running. This year, we’ve got 12 sailors aged between 16 and 23 – six young men and six young women . These individuals will benefit from a whole range of things, including coaching on and off the water. But the other important side of the program is to give them opportunities within the marine sector. This could be in the form of workshops – learning skills like sail making or rigging – or even the commercial side of the sport. And we’re helping secure internships with relevant companies as well. These could be with environmental organisations, Gentoo Sailing Team or some of our other partners. And the aim is to come away with a group from the next generation who are going to be really strong environmental advocates, or environmental ambassadors, and be long term members of our sailing community and wider maritime community. If we can develop some future Vendée Globe skippers, that would be a bonus! It’s really exciting, and something quite close to me – I really enjoy working on it and we’ve already had some amazing success stories come out of it. We hope to continue the program, and for it to get even stronger and bigger every year.”
Rebecca Daniel: “I think it’s always important to ‘hand it back’ as it were and inspire the next generation. We need lots of ocean advocates, of all ages, to help protect our blue planet. The youth program is something that we’re looking forward to learning about more through your Ambassador role with Blue Marine. As well as helping youth, you mentioned you’re very passionate about the ocean and sustainability. Could you tell us a few of your plans for Gentoo and how that’s all coming together?”
James Harayda: “The boat will be seen by millions of people over the next few years leading up to the Vendée Globe in 2024 and 2028. So over the next six years, I really want to use Gentoo as a positive platform not just to help promote some of the issues that our planet faces, but to develop impactful solutions and changes that will turn these issues around. We want to use Gentoo Sailing Team as a focal point to spread the message about the importance of the ocean, that it is one of the world’s largest carbon sinks and that we need to properly manage it. I think for a lot of people, the ocean seems like a very distant thing. But I’m in a very fortunate position where, whenever I go out and race, I can see the impact on the ocean of our activity on land. So I want to use Gentoo as a positive catalyst for change.
The other thing that we want to work on is new technologies and materials that can be applied throughout industries and everyday life. This includes power generation or the materials that are used in the construction of boats. Gentoo will be exposed to some of the most brutal and challenging environments found on our planet, so offers a perfect test-bed for many of these innovations. This is another really exciting part of the program for me, and to share this vision with the team’s partners is fantastic.
And finally, we’re trying to engage with local communities and schools – using Gentoo Sailing Team and myself as an education tool and a way to encourage the next generation to look after our ocean. We’re going to start working locally within the Portsmouth and Gosport area, which is where the team and the boat is based. But hopefully we will be expanding our community work globally as well. With a lot of our races, we end up in places like the Caribbean or US, for example. Sharing the message of ocean protection and bringing that message to local communities and schools is something we think is incredibly important. We’ve got a lot to do, but it’s exciting. And I’m really happy to be able to use Gentoo as a platform to do all this.”
Rebecca Daniel: “It sounds like you and your team have some fantastic plans in the works, that are going to grow and develop over the next couple of years. And we’ve also got another announcement up our sleeves, which people will see soon. What are you most excited about in your new role as Blue Marine’s Ambassador?”
James Harayda: “I’m excited about everything to be honest! But I think for me, it’s getting more involved with some of the projects that you guys are working on. I’ve already been down to the oyster biosecurity in the Solent and joined a cleanup of the River Thames on a paddleboard with Burgess Yachts (one of Blue Marine’s partners). It’s these types of hands-on projects that are really important and impactful, and I’m excited to get involved with. Also, being able to share the message of ocean conservation to our sailing community. There are so many projects Blue Marine has on the south coast of the UK. I think it’s great that I can help raise awareness of some of them – and be able to show that there is work happening, and that we need support to make them a success for everyone.”
Rebecca Daniel: “It was great to have you down in the Solent scrubbing oysters, and the team were really happy that you got to experience that, because it’s actually quite fun! We’ve got a lot of projects at Blue Marine that definitely need as much exposure as possible if we’re going to save the ocean. So it’s great to have your platform and your voice to add to that.”
Rebecca Daniel: “Do you have any final thoughts you want to share with people?”
James Harayda: “I think we covered a lot. But if anyone wants to learn a bit more about my new role, then please check out the recent announcements. And keep an eye out on Gentoo Sailing Team‘s channels (@gentoosailingteam) as we’re going to be making some exciting announcements very soon!”
Rebecca Daniel: “Exciting times. We’re looking forward to having you report from the open ocean on some of your races, which will be amazing! Really excited to see what you see out there and experience the remote, high seas that most people don’t get to visit.”
James Harayda: “And I’m excited to bring the ocean into people’s living rooms, without them getting cold and wet!”
Rebecca Daniel: “It was great to chat with you James.”
James Harayda: “Thanks very much for having me, Rebecca. See you very soon!”