Lessons from Antigua

“Men make history”

This story was originally written a few days after Chris’s arrival in Antigua on 10th of March 2017. At the time I was head of Brand and Development for Carrick Wealth, the title sponsors of Chris’s monumental Trans-Atlantic SUP Crossing. I was fortunate enough to be there when he arrived. 


Kieron McRae Consulting - Chris Bertish SUP Crossing


Where exactly does one start to describe the last few days? After all, I have just experienced and witnessed the end of the first ever Trans-Atlantic SUP crossing by Chris Bertish – most achievements pale by comparison!

The analogies are numerous. It is easy to talk about clichés and the theory of things such as planning, perseverance, courage, determination (to name just a few) and I could not even begin to describe what Chris has been through – that is most definitely his story to tell (book and movie coming soon), but hopefully my take on things will put some of it into context and give you a little more reality.

This story has multiple layers – as it unfolds there are lessons here that can be used in virtually every aspect of our daily lives, no matter what those might be.

As you would expect, people from all over the world made the trip to Antigua to be there to welcome Chris home, to help with preparations, handle some behind the scenes stuff, write about it, photograph it or just to be there. Each of their own accord and at their own expense, none expect any payment or are paid a salary – their exchange is that they are simply part of something that inspires them.

Lesson No1; Chris has an amazing ability to surround himself with extraordinary people who (if they ever had one) park their personal agendas. It is a form of teamwork that has no organization, no agreed rules or a leader. All have exceptional skills and are successful in their own rights.

The point is: purpose drives passion and participation. When we have a clear purpose and we know what we want to have at the end of it, then doing part of it becomes a lot easier and we don’t need to put any attention on who we are, where we come from and what we might have achieved in the past.

It’s not over until it’s over. Lesson No2.

The approach into English Harbour is not an easy one; there are steep rock faces, a heavy sea state and a very real possibility of getting shipwrecked 2kms from the end. After 93 days alone and with friends and family in boats all around him, Chris allowed himself a few moments to acknowledge everybody and then put his head down and focused on finishing.

To witness Chris riding the swells and the currents and maneuvering his craft with pinpoint accuracy (and seemingly perilously close to the rocks) was nothing short of remarkable. To watch him in full flight, at one with his craft and the sea, doing exactly what he had done for 93 days before without taking his mind off the end goal, is a lesson in focus.

Watch the sea…. paddle a bit… watch the sea…. paddle a bit…. surf down the front of the wave (sideways sometimes) watch the sea… paddle a bit…. adjust steering…. watch the sea….. paddle a bit (you get the picture)! And that is what he did for 93 days for 15 – 20 hours a day!

It would have been easy to get towed into port (as often happens in the Talisker Challenge which also ends in English Harbour), to relax and go onto auto pilot. But, it’s not over until it’s over, not until that craft nudges the quay and touches land for the first time in 93 days.

The now iconic photo taken of Chris holding a lit flare above his head as he paddled past the backdrop of Horatio’s Pillars and into the bay was perhaps the first time Chris allowed himself to let his guard down in 93 days – that is focus!

Lesson No3Challenges vs opportunities

In his book “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell speaks about the advantages of disadvantages – how sometimes it is the things that we regard as disadvantages or problems that can actually be used and turned around to our advantage. Seems counter intuitive but got me thinking….

Chris’ regular Captain’s Logs that he sent spoke of all manner of problems he encountered. Yes, he was well prepared, had planned meticulously and had backups of backups but, life is unpredictable and seldom goes the way you want it to go, and sometimes you realise that you got it wrong!

In a strange sort of way, dealing with his daily challenges gave him something different to do, other than just paddling all day every day. Confronting your problems helps focus you on a purpose and gives you a reason to keep going.

Deal with your problems now, otherwise they tend to compound and you end up with problems on top of problems.

Prioritise your problems and deal with them in the right order – critical, life threatening ones first.

The solution to the most critical problem sometimes means having to compromise something else downstream. Be prepared to push your limits and re-evaluate what you believe you can and can’t live with or without. It might even defy logic and be extremely uncomfortable, but if your life depended on it, what choice do you really have?

After the hype, Lesson No4

After the euphoria and emotion have died down and the “moment” is gone, then what? Sitting here in English Harbor surveying the super yachts, the crystal blue sea and the beauty of it all, it’s easy to think job done. But that is simply not the reality of life is it? We all feel that way when we’ve achieved a milestone, clinched a big deal or achieved something others said couldn’t be done. It’s good to celebrate your successes, to give yourself a pat on the back and to bathe in the glory of the adoring fans – it releases the “happy drug” endorphin and it makes us feel good.

But while you were away, the world moved on and a new set of realities await you either in your “inbox”, at your desk or in the expectations of others.

Here’s how you deal with it:

Surround yourself with the right people, be willing to be helped by them, allow them to be their best and unify them with a clear and common purpose.

Have a plan and keep working until you have the result you are looking for. No compromise, no half measure, no “good is good enough” attitude and approach. Leverage every opportunity you have – you might not even know it exists!

Don’t avoid your challenges and problems, embrace them. Maximise your resources, no matter how constrained they might seem to be. If they’re all you have, get your head around how to use them best. Complaining, making excuses and saying to yourself “if only or I wish” will not help you find the solutions you need.


Leave a Comment