Clipper Race co-founders step back

After 26 years of building Clipper Ventures and successfully hosting 12 editions of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, Chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and CEO William Ward OBE are stepping back from the day to day running of the business.

Clipper Ventures will now be led by internally appointed managing directors, Chris Rushton and Laura Ayres, both of whom have extensive experience within the company.   

Clipper Ventures, which will see its 13th edition of the Clipper Race launch in 2023, also manages experiential sailing brand, Clipper Events, along with adventure expedition sailing company SKIRR Adventures, RYA sailing school – Hamble School of Yachting and Clipper China. 

Chris Rushton has over 20 years of experience in the maritime industry, owning and running the widely respected Hamble School of Yachting from the age of 21. Since the RYA sea school became part of Clipper Ventures in 2018, Chris has continued as its director, with additional responsibilities as director of training for Clipper Ventures and oversaw the launch of new adventure sailing brand, SKIRR Adventures. 

In her previous role as head of partnerships and events, Laura has overseen a multi-million-pound global sponsorship portfolio, with a reputation for showcasing brands and building international trade links between partners and host destinations. Laura also manages Clipper Events. This experiential sailing events brand recently relaunched with an innovative series of UK launches including the inaugural Knox-Johnston Cup held in September and an upcoming Fastnet Race campaign in 2023.   

William Ward OBE with Laura Ayres. Image: Barrington Coombs/PA Wire

William Ward will sit on the board as executive chairman and Sir Robin as non-executive director and president, with the operational and commercial aspects of the business overseen by Chris and Laura, and their respective teams.  As part of the long-term succession plan, the business has engaged with FRP Corporate Finance, to start a process that will enable the co-founders to reduce most of their shareholdings and find a new custodian to take ownership of the business. 

Sir Robin said: “For the last 26 years, William and I have been, and will continue to be inspired by the thousands of race crew who have taken part in the Clipper Race. By sailing across the world’s oceans, many with no sailing experience prior to their Clipper Race training, they achieve something truly remarkable, which was our goal right from the beginning.   

“Seeing the company grow from a biennial yacht race to a multi-faceted company that enables people from all walks of life to participate in sailing – whether an ocean racing experience, adventure to the Arctic or earning a world class sailing qualification, has been a privilege. Chris and Laura have been at the forefront of driving the business to this strong position in recent years, and we could not be more confident and prouder to pass them the helm going forward.”  

Clipper Events participants on Knox-Johnston Cup. Image: Shaun Roster

Newly appointed MD, Chris Rushton added: “Sir Robin is a pioneer in driving participation in sailing. That ethos will remain at the heart Clipper Ventures. The legacy he created together with William will provide more opportunity to discover our inspiring sport.  

“The growth of the business is strong, with a packed programme of sailing events next year, and of course the Clipper 2023-24 Race. Following the success of SKIRR Adventures’ inaugural high-latitude expedition, we are looking forward to seeing the next group of adventurers set sail to the Arctic Circle in summer 2023. Hamble School of Yachting continues to have a strong programme of RYA courses and the Clipper Events iconic race programme is well underway and we are currently gearing up for the next Rolex Fastnet Race Campaign. As one of the world’s classic offshore races, it is hugely exciting that Clipper Events will have its own class, enabling a wider group of sailors to take part and race in this legendary challenge.” 

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