In conversation with Guy Rigby

Posted on 14 March 2022

In our latest Mishcon Academy digital session, Managing Associate Catherine Rolfe spoke with Entrepreneur Guy Rigby about his world record-breaking unassisted 3,000-mile rowing challenge from La Gomera in the Canaries to Antigua in the West Indies.

Alongside his friend, David Murray, Guy aimed to raise awareness of the benefits of entrepreneurship, while focusing on the development of social entrepreneurs and raising funds for UnLtd, a charity that finds, funds, and supports them.

If you would like to donate, head over to Guy's fundraiser fundraiser page.

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions. 
Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Welcome everyone and thank you for joining this Mishcon Academy session, part of a series of online events, videos and podcasts looking at the biggest issues facing business and individuals today.  I am Catherine Rolfe and I’ll be hosting today’s event.  I am pleased to welcome Guy Rigby, a friend of the firm, who recently became a record breaker as half of the oldest pair to row across the Atlantic unsupported.  He’s always had an eye to the development of social entrepreneurship and in 2019 he and his friend, David Murray, teamed up to begin training for the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge in aid of Unlimited, the charity that finds funds and supports social entrepreneurs.  53 days and some 3000 miles after setting off from the Canary Islands in Lily, their entrepreneur ship that we can see on the screen behind us, Guy and David arrived safely in Antigua in early February this year.  First of all, I think the question a lot of people would be asking is, what gave you this mad idea to enter a race to row across the Atlantic?

Guy Rigby

So, back in 2019 I decided that you know I was getting on a bit, I’d just turned 66 and having pushed paper around all my life, I’d always wanted to do something real and I was inspired actually by a friend of mine in Devon, a chap called Richard Murray, being a sailor and loving the sea, I thought maybe I could do something like row an ocean.  So, that’s how that end of it came out and the other aspect of it was that having had a reasonable career, I thought I should give something back.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

So, I think you said it was in 2019 that you started looking into this and that it wasn’t that long after that you signed up.  Can you give us a bit of information about why it was such a long period?

Guy Rigby

So, 2019 I made the decision to do it, in the summer actually, and so I then drew up a list of dead certs, all the people I knew that would do it with me.  Amazingly, they all ran a hundred miles in the opposite direction.  So, I was left really struggling to find a crew and the amazing part of the story is that Richard, my fisherman friend, died in 2017 of pancreatic cancer and for some reason in September 2019 I was chatting to his son – by now my stock question at the end of any conversation with anyone was, ooh by the way, would you like to row the Atlantic with me?  And to my amazement, he said yes.  It was less than two years from deciding to do it, to actually doing the race and believe it or not, there is an enormous amount to do because you’ve got to go on RYA courses, you’ve got to buy a boat, you’ve got to equip it, you’ve got to do minimum amounts of training, you’ve got to raise money, sponsorship, donations, build websites, get your marketing sorted out, just like starting a business to be honest. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Did you?  I think you row already, don’t you?  But had you had any experience sort of sea, outdoor, that type of rowing and had David as well?

Guy Rigby

I mean, I’ve always mucked about in boats on the water and so you row little dinghies and things.  David had never rowed at the time that I asked him if he’d like to row across the Atlantic with me so he had to learn from scratch.  But a lot of people enter this challenge without ever having stepped in a boat, to be honest, let alone learning to row. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Yeah.  I would assume that a big part of the challenge would have been dealing with the mental challenges of not seeing anyone other than David for so long.  Would you say it was more of a physical or mental challenge overall do you think?

Guy Rigby

It’s both.  I mean, it’s a huge mental challenge and it’s a huge physical challenge.  You don’t kind of think about the end because that would be too depressing, especially after you’ve just set off, so all you kind of thought about, mentally, was two hours rowing, eat, sleep, two hours rowing, five miles, eat, sleep and carry on like that.  We had some really lovely weather as we cruised down the African coast actually and woke up to amazing sunrises and things like that so that kind of kept us occupied and interested.  We did struggle as we got nearer to Antigua, about ten days out we hit these horrendous currents which stopped us dead in our tracks so, even with two of us rowing, we were still doing like one mile an hour.  Physically, I thought that I would get fitter and fitter.  That didn’t prove to be the case, you get weaker and weaker.  You lose weight.  I lost 10 kilogrammes over the course the row, 22 pounds.  That did surprise me.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

A lot of people suffer from the sleep deprivation, sort of hallucinations, you know, real issues, only getting a couple of hours of sleep a day.  How did you find that element of the race?

Guy Rigby

Probably sleep deprivation was my biggest challenge.  I didn’t actually realise it at the time.  Certainly, for the first half of the journey I would wake up in, you know, after an hour and a half, my alarm would wake me up and I’d think what, who am I, where am I, what’s this door, where are, I’m in this little hull, what is it, who’s on the other side of that door?  But you soon get over that and you know we just cracked on.  But the other biggest fear was seasickness and we never suffered from it.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

But I hear you had some slightly hairier moments and I think, I’m not sure quite convey quite the size but you can see that it was even on a sunny day, you know pretty choppy.  Did you have any kind of particularly hairy moment with you know the size of the waves and surf?

Guy Rigby

We did.  I mean that wasn’t choppy, that was quite calm.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

That was a flat day, right.

Guy Rigby

That’s quite a calm day, yes.  We probably had some 30 foot waves.  I mean, those are probably 6 foot, 7 foot, so you can imagine the difference.  The most exciting moment, actually, and it was fun, suddenly I got hit, massive explosion on the back of the boat and water, tonnes and tonnes of water just shot past and shot over my head, dropped about one bucket load in the boat and the rest was gone, right, and all I saw was the speedometer go from like 2½ knots to 9.2 knots but I fully expected to see the whole back of the boat, you know, with no flagpole, no windvane or anything but amazingly it was all still there, we just punched a hole in this enormous rogue wave. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Gosh.  I imagine sometimes not being able to see kind of what was coming…

Guy Rigby

Thank God. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

…was a bit better. 

Guy Rigby

Thank God that I didn’t see that one.  If I’d seen that one coming, I’d have probably had a heart attack. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

One other question which I’m going to ask before I forget because when I was having a look at this before you arrived, I was thinking that’s a not a very big space for being away for nearly a couple of months, where abouts is it you guys sleep, keep your stuff?

Guy Rigby

So we rotate through the stern cabin.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Right. 

Guy Rigby

All the stuff is in the front cabin so, that’s unusable.  The regime was to leave it like a hotel room so, effectively, we both felt like we had our own room.  He’d come out, all his stuff would be put away, I’d go in, get all my stuff out, go to sleep, wake up 15 minutes before my shift, put it all away, he’d go in and I used to make jokes about the bacon sandwich being on the left as you go in and…

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

But when you did get in at the end of it and I think we have a photo of your arrival.

Guy Rigby

Yeah.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

That must have been… Tell us what that was like, it must have been a great feeling.

Guy Rigby

Wow.  The whole emotional thing about arriving was incredible, especially since it had been so long coming because of these currents that we’d hit when we were about two or three miles out, a dive boat picked up all its divers, came over and cheered and then the coastguard came out with its lights on and cheering and clapping and then the race boat for the Talisker Atlantic Challenge came out, started taking pictures, including that one, we arrived on the dock and there were like 250 people to welcome us.  It was the most incredible feeling and we took, we took about a week off the previous oldest pair, in terms of time.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Nice.  Well done.

Guy Rigby

So, that was a nice thing to do as well being the oldest pair obviously.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

It’s a huge thing, as I say it’s so impressive and I think we’ve got a photo of you, both of you, from after…

Guy Rigby

Before and after.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Before and after you went away, I mean, you can, yeah, it’s, it’s quite the look after and of course it was all in aid of an ulterior purpose and motive and that was raising awareness and funds for Unlimited.  I think the total funding that you achieved is over £750,000, which is fantastic.  So, Unlimited, the charity that finds funds, supports social entrepreneurs, what is that you particularly like about Unlimited as an organisation.

Guy Rigby

So, I’ve spent my life working with entrepreneurs, I understand the benefits they bring to society and communities as a whole and I thought well if there’s a way of raising money that would support people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to start businesses to employ people and create those benefits in those communities, that would be wonderful and so I looked at various things like the Prince’s Trust but I thought wouldn’t it be lovely if I could find a charity that didn’t have that kind of profile, so someone that was a little less known and give them the publicity and so I came across Unlimited, they find, fund and support social entrepreneurs, I think they backed over 600 in the last financial year, more than 50% are women, which in terms of investment these days is huge because women take a far smaller share in investment, over 50% are either ethnic minorities or disabled, so again it’s a statistic that you know blows the normal stats out of the water and I thought wouldn’t this be great.  So, I approached them and said look, the deal is, if we partner on this and you promote it and we promote it and we’ll see what we can do and that’s how it’s worked really and so, it’s been a team, yeah, and they’ve been great to work with.  We worked really hard at doing blogs and race hubs and websites and social media.  We took on a wonderful guy called Barry who did our social media while we were on the race.  He kept everyone hugely engaged with what ‘the boys’ were up to, as he called us. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

The boys.  Yeah.

Guy Rigby

The boys, yeah.  And, no, it’s marvellous so, yeah.  I think it’s just, you know, everything pulled together, I think also the fact that the charity was unusual appealed to my audience, which was the entrepreneur, so I was able to generate enough interest, or perhaps guilt, to get people to make donations.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Pushing your business where there’s also some good to be done is becoming something that people are starting to think about more.  I mean, what do you think makes a social entrepreneur?

Guy Rigby

A true, truly social entrepreneur business is one that has a social purpose so, businesses that have an element of people and planet alongside profit are generally those that look as if they’re being social.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Do you find that as a result sort of social entrepreneurs may be held to a higher standard?  Do you think there’s any difference in the way they’re seen or treated amongst customer bases or funders indeed?

Guy Rigby

I mean, there is a tendency to view a social entrepreneur as a, you know, charity so you’ve got to give it money and it’s, of course it’s not going to be sustainable and all that sort of thing so I think that’s the stigma, that’s the challenge but I think if you’ve got a decent business idea, there’s no reason why you can’t adapt it.  I mean, people are so inventive and you know innovative, they find ways round all these challenges to do good and there are some truly wonderful people out there doing this stuff so, it’s fantastic. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

And I mean I think we’ve discussed that a big part of this project, of the row, was you know the mental resilience side.  Are there any sort of particular lessons you might be taking forward to your, you know the mentoring of entrepreneurs that you have in your business going forward?

Guy Rigby

That’s an interesting question, I haven’t been asked that before.  I think you could eat, you can eat an elephant one bite at a time, I think that’s the advice.  My biggest thing with advising entrepreneurs is have they got the right product at the right time or the right service at the right time in the right place because otherwise they are going to push water uphill, they’re going to struggle to make a success of their business and it might be something that they’re incredibly passionate about but two or three years in when they still are struggling, they’re not going to be so passionate.  You’ve got to do, I mean try and do something incredible, try and do something that benefits society, with purpose but it must be sustainable and it has to be run along proper you know business lines with a business model that is actually capable of making money.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Is there, you know, a legacy to be kept going from this or is it onto the next…?

Guy Rigby

Well, I mean it’s an interesting point you make.  So, while I was away, an entrepreneur got in touch with me and said look, The Entrepreneur Ship must live on so, can I row her in 2022?  Unfortunately, we’d sold the boat by then but the answer is yes, of course you can because we’ll buy another boat.  That was all going fine until Russia invade Ukraine because this chap has 50 people in Russia and 50 people in Ukraine. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Right.

Guy Rigby

He just couldn’t, unfortunately decided that it’s just not a possibility.  I’m hoping that we will have a legacy and that The Entrepreneur Ship will continue to raise funds for charity.  We haven’t determined whether it has to be an entrepreneur charity or any other charity just yet but that would be amazing legacy from my point of view. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

What are, would you say was your best and worst memory of the row itself?

Guy Rigby

We were just about to have a BBC radio interview and literally, the guy came on and I was on the sat phone and all the alarms on the boat started going off, the autopilot went off, we were in big seas and the boat went sideways on, wave broke over us and I said we’ve got to leave you now, goodbye, that was the end of the interview before it began but of course at that point, you’re being tossed around and waves breaking over you and all that sort of stuff and that can be quite frightening until you get things back under control. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Yeah.  And then what was your favourite moment or moments?

Guy Rigby

Without a shadow of a doubt, coming into Antigua was special. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

The end of the row.

Guy Rigby

Special, yeah but no, we had some… when we were sort of cruising south down the coast of Africa, we weren’t near Africa, we were a few hundred miles off but we were going kind of parallel with it, the mornings, the sunrises were quite incredible because I would look over to where the sun was coming up to the East and it was like land, the clouds were very low so it was like an island and because the clouds were just off the water, the sun came through behind the cloud and looked like it was lighting up the golden beaches on the island.

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

I’m sure those are sights that most of us will never see as well so it must have been a great…

Guy Rigby

It was quite amazing, yeah. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

…great experience.

Guy Rigby

And I did, I did have a couple of really interesting night rows to Status Quo and their Riffs album. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Not regretting it at al the next day.

Guy Rigby

Not at all, it was fabulous. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

Well thank you so much for joining us, Guy.  As I mentioned earlier, we will be dropping the crowdfunding link into the chat.  Reminder to everyone that there is some match funding available on any donations that are made. 

Guy Rigby

Thank you. 

Catherine Rolfe, Managing Associate
Mishcon de Reya

And we look forward to seeing what both you and The Entrepreneur Ship might do in the future.

Guy Rigby

In the future, yeah.  And to everyone out there, go and do something incredible. 

 

 

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  To access advice for businesses that is regularly updated, please visit mishcon.com.


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