The world of law is known to attract individuals with big ideas and eclectic pursuits. Christian Beck, founder of legaltech company LEAP, is certainly no exception. The unassuming Australian tech titan (that most people haven’t heard of), Christian Beck is a passionate entrepreneur who has built a global empire producing market-leading legal software.
A number of years ago Beck was bitten by the sailing bug. This led him to secure a small fleet of boats which his company uses for staff and client events, as well as establish an impressive team of sailors to participate in one of the world’s most challenging yacht races – the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
After finishing second three years running, Beck and his team achieved a truly extraordinary finish outsailing the world’s fastest maxi yacht, Andoo Comanche, to win this famously gruelling Boxing Day race by 51 seconds. Enduring extreme weather reminiscent of the 1998 edition of the race where six sailors tragically lost their lives, four tonnes heavier than their closest rival and with four novice sailors on board – Beck and his team fought tooth and nail to victory.
Amongst these tenacious (and frankly extremely brave) sailors was Wenee Yap. While beginning her career armed with a law degree, Wenee broke the mould to establish her very own legal startup, Survive Law, which the College of Law later purchased. After a number of entrepreneurial pursuits (a little like her current boss), as well as working with the College of Law as our ongoing legal writer, Wenee found her place with LEAP Legal Software.
When we heard that Wenee had won the LEAP employee lottery to sail the Sydney Hobart onboard Line Honours contender, LawConnect, we asked for the scoop. While you may have seen Wenee interviewed by nearly every Australian news outlet leading up to the big race - here is Wenee’s experience in her own words.
A law degree can prepare you for many pursuits, but the 77th Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, billed as one of the most dangerous ocean races in the world, is rarely one of them. Throw in four Corinthians (amateur sailors) who have barely sailed and never competed offshore before, and it seems an incredibly ill-advised idea.
Here is what I learned from a race that was billed by the Daily Telegraph as “one of the great sporting comebacks”.
Don't fear what you can’t control. Only focus on what you can
We knew the weather would be rough. Forecasts were changing every day, prompting weekend emails to stock up on prescription-only Ondansetron (chiefly used to treat chemo patients) for seasickness ASAP. Like much in life - how others perceive you, or romantic timing - rough weather is one of the many aspects of offshore ocean racing that is beyond your control.
Quite unlike the tactical sprint racing of the America’s Cup, the Sydney Hobart is considered by some the ‘Everest’ of ocean racing because it’s a marathon not a sprint and can involve every kind of hair-raising variable known to sailing.
Last year enjoyed ‘champagne sailing’ - perfect downwind conditions favourable for setting records. Those were also the kind of conditions that benefitted our chief rival, Comanche. So bad weather could be good for us; we just had to be willing to endure.
Our skipper, Christian Beck, gave the LawConnect team the option to skip the race and stay onshore in the days before the race. It was one of the many highly reasonable, intelligent and responsible ways he responded to the untold dangers awaiting us. (It’s a relief to discover the founder of one of the world’s most formidably successful legaltech ventures is very sane, very clever and very down to earth. After all, the past decade hasn’t left us with a great track record of powerful tycoons harbouring these traits.)
He also confirmed that we had a better chance of winning in these wind conditions, though it wouldn’t be easy... Sailing in a race that saw all our GoPros fry from wild weather, 180-degree wind shifts, and the highest of raging seas to win, meant willingly sailing into danger.
While this was all relatively ‘normal’ for the experienced sailors, it was a different story for us Corinthians.
After all, it was the opposite of optimal, a difficult race in ‘messy’ weather with constant low-pressure cells. This was the kind of worst-case scenario I’d morbidly studied ahead of our race that led to the 1998 Hobart race disaster. In one report, Roger ‘Clouds’ Badham OAM, our weatherman, warned of “gale force winds” and “cyclonic conditions” in Bass Strait.
No one sane goes sailing into these conditions. But I’ve never been accused of being all that sane.
The decision to embrace danger and avoid the known
Having started my career with a legal startup, Survive Law, which grew to Australia’s largest online community of law students at 75K+ Facebook fans and over half a million site visits, collaborations with Thomson Reuters and LexisNexis along with sponsorships from most of Australia’s major law firms, I was well aware it was the least sane way to start a promising career.
Sitting alongside my fellow First-Class Honours graduates in 2009, I noted they had all lined up very sound graduate jobs in fancy firms, coveted government grad programs or admirable non-profits. I had $4,000 funding for a wild idea I dreamed up in my fourth year of law school - a guide to surviving law written by law students for law students, interviewing top lawyers, partners, judges and academics. No one in my graduation row knew quite what to say when I mentioned my plans (or lack thereof)…
Fair enough really, it didn’t exactly make sense. Six years later, I’d made enough for a decent apartment deposit and learned a lot in the process. After selling Survive Law to the College of Law, I crowdfunded $40,000 to co-found Sydney’s first cat café – spaced-themed no less! Unfortunately, I later discovered I was quite allergic to cats.
Why pursue these varied paths? Because the alternative was ‘predictable’ and altogether ‘too known’ for me. So, I suppose that’s how I found myself two decades later as the least experienced crew member in the world’s most dangerous ocean race.
No job is beneath you. Do what’s helpful!
As one of four Corinthians lucky enough to win an employee lottery and join our world-class pro crew - we helped with anything we could. Sponge seawater off every nook below deck with already-soaked rags, as your yacht does its best to hurl you into the engine room? No problem!
Boil kettles at insane angles to make coffee, freeze dried meals (and even the odd miso soup). Can do! (Though I developed an irrational fear of the gas burner after Chris Nicholson, our tactician, warned us off it.)
Scale the broad deck of the boat as ocean water surged over the bow, climbing up to deliver said hot meals and coffee? This, I can do! Sleep on sails below deck to free the windward bunks for sailors who needed every minute of rest snatched from the storms they’ve fought for four hours just to keep us sailing? Give me a fresh bag of sails and I’ll find a way not to slide right off it!
Onboard, however, we fell into the well-earned hierarchy that made us such a winning crew. We followed Sailing Master Tony Mutter, Olympic and round-the-world ocean racer Tactician Chris Nicholson, as well as Boat Captain Ty Oxley, along with the other senior crew members leading every four-hour watch. After all, our crew featured Hobart veterans and former winners, Volvo Ocean racers and America's Cup sailors. As Corinthians we were effectively work experience interns charged with livestreaming the race to Australia and focusing on not getting in the way.
It doesn’t matter who you were before. All that matters is what you do today. Not a bad way to live really.
Boring is what you want. Melodrama is for reality TV
Christian Beck described LawConnect as not particularly interesting to watch, “boring, but that’s what you want!”
All too often our society admires individuals - enigmatic tech founders, leaders of nations, captains of industry, elite athletes and impressive artists. However, sailing, like many pursuits including business, is a team effort, and most of the team will never be in the spotlight.
Millennials like myself have grown up in the era of feel good participation, awards celebrating common milestones with the good intention of ensuring no one is excluded from the feeling of progress. This can lead you to expect to feel special.
Post-race, Christian ascribed our underdog victory to our crew. We had incredible talent onboard, but unlike some of our rivals, they weren’t a crew of individual superstars. They worked in sync, respected the hierarchy established by a meritocracy of sailing success, and embraced watch after watch, fixing broken ropes (sheets, halyards, brails, vangs, lines, warps, whips or jackstays - or the million ways ropes are identified on a boat held together by ropes) in the worst of weather.
Simbad Quiroga, in his first Hobart race, fixed rigging during the howling electrical storms and was briefly lifted into the air by a wave. Ever the pro he finished fixing the boat, then saved himself. It’s one of countless ways the sailors refrained from complaining and didn’t ask for a prize. They just did the job they came to do.
Learn to like yourself (most of the time)
What nobody tells you about sailing is just how alone you will feel and be. They also don’t tell you how wonderful this can feel. Hours spent hiking over the high windward side of the boat, or leeward in the dark, your boots facing nothing but ink-black water.
It’s a silence some have described as spiritual. After all, people pay to spend the blursdays - that mysterious period between Christmas and NYE - in silent retreats, meditating and forbidden to speak.
Alone on the open sea, under a full moon night, you can talk about the madness of post-Brexit politics or life after the pandemic. Or you can say nothing at all.
Most sailors don’t, reserving their communication for observations of wind and waves, what’s necessary. It’s a silence free of people who need to have something to say.
But it’s also a silence many fight to avoid, when all their noisiest internal monologue threatens to impose self-doubt, insecurities and imposter syndrome upon them. So, if you are going into any kind of silence, it’s important to like yourself. To some extent at least. As K.Flay would say… most of the time.
Never, ever, ever give up
LawConnect may have been a Line Honours contender, but it was an underdog in every way. In fact, our skipper Christian Beck, only gave us a 25% chance of claiming victory.
Why? We were four tonnes heavier, we had a tighter budget. Our rival Andoo Comanche was built for speed. As Tony Mutter put it, “If you want to aim and fire a bullet downwind, Comanche will beat us every time”.
While Comanche sailed exclusively with pro sailors, LawConnect needed to deal with four desk jockeys more comfortable with WFH life than exposure to the high seas.
As our navigator Chris Lewis (‘Lewy’) said, we played cat and mouse with Comanche all night, racing down the coast. Trailing by only 1.2 nautical miles as we passed Tasmania’s epic Organ Pipes at sunrise,
“We could still win,” Ty said. Much to their credit, Tony, Nico, Lewy, and Christian never gave up on this improbability.
In the distance, we spotted all we had longed for: light winds, a ‘glass out’. We were tracking faster than Comanche and they were in fact slowing down. We could catch them. And we did.
After one day, 19 hours, three minutes and 58 seconds, it all came down to what seemed to me to be an idle cruise in Hobart Harbour. Under glorious sunshine, we peered beneath the sails, trying to find Comanche’s red outline on the water. In the tense silence of our final hour, the most useful thing we could do was lie flat leeward and kick back and sunbathe – an innate Sydneysider skill! As 15,000 people packed the harbour to watch the tense final hour - the lead changed three times.
We stole their wind, and with one final jibe, we cut across the bow of Comanche, and slowly, ever so confidently, sailed into one of the least likely victories in Sydney Hobart history.
Company values are often vague and a bit lame, the kind of corporate-speak designed to replace religions with the worship of industry. But LEAP’s most famous value - first said by Winston Churchill, the one every employee remembers is simple: Never, ever, ever give up.
And we didn’t. We made it. Thanks to the tenacious LawConnect team.