‘It was thanks to the Gosport ferry that I fell in love with the sea...’

ON THE WATER Peter Cardy, the new chief executive of the Sail Training Association, sailing in the Solent
ON THE WATER Peter Cardy, the new chief executive of the Sail Training Association, sailing in the Solent
Kieran fears watching too many episodes of Only Fools and Horses has turned Louie cockney                           (BBC)

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As a boy, Peter Cardy was transfixed by the Gosport ferry. It gave him a love for the sea, now he tells Chris Owen about his return to his roots to run the Tall Ships Race

Take the highest mast of a tall ship, lay it flat and it might just reach from Peter Cardy’s office to his inspiration – the Gosport ferry.

ON THE WATER Peter Cardy (left) sailing in the Solent

ON THE WATER Peter Cardy (left) sailing in the Solent

Even on a dull and wet winter’s day the window beside his desk offers one of the best views in the area, across Portsmouth Harbour.

It is a view dominated by the Spinnaker Tower, but in the foreground the green-hulled cross-harbour ferries ply to and fro.

And it was these vessels which more than 60 years ago gave Peter a thrill – a sense of excitement at what the sea could offer, a feeling which lasts to this day.

In the past couple of weeks Peter Cardy has come home – to Gosport and the sea – as the new chief executive of Sail Training International, the not-for-profit organisation which runs the annual Tall Ships Race.

He is still settling in and dividing his time between his old and new jobs.

He is commuting from London where he is putting to bed his old job as chief executive of the charity Aquaterra, which runs leisure centres, gyms and pools for local authorities.

But he plans to move back to the town of his birth as soon as possible as his love of all things maritime has brought his life full circle.

‘When I was a toddler the big adventure was going across to Portsmouth on the ferry.

‘Then as a boy I always wanted to be the ferry boat man – the one who threw the big ropes. It was thanks to the Gosport ferry that I fell in love with the sea.’

Peter, 64, grew up in a terraced house in Avenue Road, Gosport, went to Newtown and Leesland primary schools followed by Price’s Grammar School, Fareham. His new job is his ninth as a chief executive, roles which included being the boss of the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency in Southampton.

His father, an engineer, worked for Vickers in the dockyard at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, before getting a job in Portsmouth dockyard, moving to Gosport and commuting across the harbour on the ferry.

‘I remember he used to come home with such exciting tales of what had been going on on the ferry.’

Peter said he sailed for the first time from Haslar Creek as a nine-year-old and loved it.

‘When I was 11, just after I’d started at grammar school, I developed a hip problem and was off school for a long time. All that time I read book after book about the sea.

‘I was a pretty timid child so I joined the Sea Scouts thinking that would be a good way of getting some sailing.

‘Then, when I was 15 I took part in a Tall Ships Race, on the Royal Artillery yacht.

‘We sailed from here to Torbay, on to Ushant [off Brittany] and then back up the Channel to Rotterdam.

‘I found it frightening and exciting in equal measure. You never forget the first time you’re out of sight of land, your first storm, your first dawn and first sunset at sea.’

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.’

And that is the reason Peter has returned to his roots to continue the Tall Ships Race ethos for new generations of young sailors.

There were sailing aspects to his previous jobs running the Motor Neurone Disease Society, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Macmillan Cancer Relief.

But now his sole aim is to bring sailing opportunities to young people who might never have thought of going to see in a traditional sailing ship.

‘It doesn’t matter if it’s a young person from Gosport who’s grown up by the sea or someone from landlocked Birmingham, the results are usually the same.

‘On board you learn to work as a team, do things for other people, look out for your team-mates and find out just how deep your own reserves go.

‘Climbing up masts on a rough sea might worry parents, but safety is paramount on all our ships and we have a very good safety record. ’

With record numbers of young people out of work and searching for something meaningful in life Peter strongly believes that his organisation and the Tall Ships Race are more relevant now than ever.

‘We are not talking about smart yachting for rich kids,’ he said.

‘Its seems particularly appropriate in this economic climate when so many people are jobless and hopeless.

‘This scheme has an increasing relevance and shows young people they are not worthless.’