Peter Cardy has recently been appointed as CEO of Sail Training International, the charity that organises The Tall Ships Races. Peter has also been a Watchleader with JST for many years.
Can you tell us about your background in sailing and working with people with disabilities?
I have worked with people with disabilities right from my very first job which was helping to make adult education accessible to disabled people at a time when it was a new concept. In the 1980s I worked for the Motor Neurone Disease Association; then from 1994 – 2001, I ran the Multiple Sclerosis Society. While I was there I inherited an offshore sailing project for people with MS. The condition generates a huge variety of disabilities and the project involved an annual relay around the UK on production boats with little adaptation – the choice of the people with MS. Even people with quite severe disabilities coped well on the small boats, but I started to hear about JST because the ships offered more flexible and versatile opportunities for disabled people to sail in vessels better able to accommodate their needs. However I didn’t get involved with JST at first, I just continued sailing with the annual MS relay. When eventually I did sail with JST, I became a Watchleader very quickly and have now done around 10 voyages.
How did you make the transition into the professional maritime world and become CEO of the UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency?
I have always sailed since I was a small child and have lots of amateur boating experience. But before the MCA I was CEO of Macmillan Cancer Support and surprisingly there many similarities between the two organisations – such as huge numbers of volunteers. Also I have been a CEO from the start of my career- of nine different organisations - and similar people management skills have been needed in each one.
When you were at the MCA, you started to support sail training vessels such as the JST ships. Why was that?
I have always been interested in sail training. When I was 15 I took part in a Tall Ships Race which I found frightening and exciting in equal measure. That voyage was life-changing. My parents said I went off on that race as a timid and retiring little boy, but came back full of self-confidence and self-assurance. I’ve now been to sea hundreds of times but you never forget the first time you’re out of sight of land, your first storm, your first dawn and first sunset at sea and I have retained a deep interest in sail training and its history. When I worked for the MCA, I realised that sail training was nearly invisible on the MCA radar screen. My feeling was that it could offer a lot to the maritime industry and needed more recognition with better regulation and support. At that point I started sailing with the JST. I was interested in the JST vessels because Tenacious is the only UK sail training vessel being over 500gross tonnage and therefore had to be treated as an international convention vessel subject to SOLAS regulations – and I supported the JST’s commitment to safety and decision to treat both their vessels in this way (even though Lord Nelson is not technically large enough) so they can be recognised internationally as run safely to a certain standard.
What do you like about being a Watchleader with JST?
I like the idea that of the value that the Watchleaders add to the voyage by helping everybody to get the maximum out of the experience. They play a full part in making sure that disabled people are integrated and treated genuinely as equals, as well as making sure that the ship to runs to timetables, and everybody is in the right place at right time.
According to your experience, how well do you think the JST handles disability?
I think that both the JST ships are brilliantly designed to accommodate disability, really well thought out even to very subtle details. What marks out the JST approach as a whole is their concern for safety, seamanship and care without being over the top. The Permanent Crew’s care for the Voyage Crew is completely palpable, they treat them as people who are not just there to pull on ropes but are the people for whom the voyage exists. The Permanent Crew are outstanding and rare people to be able and prepared to sail big and demanding ships while at the same time completely integrating even the most disabled crew members.
Do you have a vision for your new role as CEO of Sail Training International?
STI is already a very successful organisation and I don’t have a plan for big changes. I want to help to develop it as it is and to do useful and appropriate things to support sail training operators and organisations worldwide. Keeping The Tall Ships Races going is key to my role, as well as developing new races and events around the races. Also key to my role is helping operators and skippers to learn from each other – through conferences and safety seminars and best practice discussions. I also intend to work with national maritime administrations and regulators to ensure that sail training vessels are recognised as such. And finally I want to help bring sailing opportunities to young people, and people of all ages, who might never have thought of going to sea in a sailing ship...or might just have dreamed of it, as I did all those years ago.
Best wishes for your new job Peter, from all at JST.