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Battling Mother Nature for a Cause: The BTS/HCEDA Clipper Race Adventure

While sailing may be a popular pastime with some, it’s most likely the kind of sailing that involves relaxation, blue skies, friendly waves, and a memorable day on the water with friends.

For BTS CEO David Tohn, and HCEDA CEO Larry Twele, an upcoming sailing trip involves leaning off the side of a 70-foot racing yacht at 4 in the morning in gale force winds and rain in temperatures just above freezing. It’s no picnic. And it’s the complete opposite of “relaxing.” But it is an adventure. And it’s about to happen.

David Tohn
Larry Twele

David Tohn, along with Howard County Economic Development Authority CEO, Larry Twele, are joining the one-of-a-kind Clipper Race Around the World this month. The race, established in 1996, is a 40,000 nautical mile race around the world on 11 identical 70-foot ocean racing yachts. HCEDA’s Larry Twele and BTS Software’s David Tohn will be completing a 4,000-mile leg of the race between December 22nd, 2019 and January 12th, 2020 across the south of Australia and Tasmania. The race, originally established by Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, the first man to solo circumnavigate the world nonstop, features sailboats crewed entirely by amateurs, 40% of whom have never previously sailed.

While most of us will be cleaning up wrapping paper or recovering from an epic New Year’s celebration, Tohn and Twele will be on the other side of the planet, battling mother nature in a way that few ever have the chance to do. We interviewed them both to find out some more about the race and why anyone would tackle such a challenge in the first place.

Why did you decide to join the race?

(Twele) For me, it was a chance to do something in line with my passion for sailing in a way I never had before. I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the opportunity. I wanted to be able to look back and say, ‘I did that.’

David, how did you get involved?

(Tohn) When I heard of Larry’s involvement I was drawn to the hard target of the race. It puts a marker on the calendar and becomes a motivating factor to self-improve. As an added benefit, it is as much a leadership and management drill for our BTS team to highlight our power-down culture as it is about being gone for a few weeks on the open seas.

Is the race as intense as it looks?

(Twele) Well, as David and I are both new to the Clipper Race, we’re about to find out! Yet from the trainings, talking with others who have crewed in previous races, and from the reporting on the race so far, everyone is in for some predictable unpredictability. Part of the allure of the race is that you never know what the conditions will do. You can only trust in your team, your training, and your equipment to get you through. There’s no safety net and you can’t pull over to let someone off. It’s for real.

What is something people are surprised to learn about the race?

(Tohn) Most people are surprised to see the demographics of who is actually on the boats. It literally is people in there 60s and 70s who may or may not be in exceptional shape. It’s not a boat full of super men and super women. It’s people your grandparents or your middle-aged father out there sailing around the world. 40% of people doing this have never sailed before starting the training. You don’t have to be a lifelong sailor to do this… and most aren’t.

What are you most looking forward to (and most dreading?)

(Twele) I’m most looking forward to simply making it through. In terms of dreading I’m just hoping to avoid really nasty weather. 30-foot waves and 50 knot winds are a distinct possibility so being completely honest, I’d be fine with 10-foot waves and 20 knot winds. At the end of the race I want to look back at the accomplishment and remember this as a “big moment” of my life.

(Tohn) For me I think the challenge itself as it will present itself each day is both a mix of excitement and dread. Being cold and wet all the time and being at a 45-degree angle for what will feel like forever… that’s a mix of expectations. Practically speaking I just don’t want to be the “that guy” that screws up a critical maneuver or causes some major problem or challenge.

Any other thoughts on the race in light of your role as CEO?

(Tohn) The entire leadership team needs to come together to do this (and they have). We have to make sure work/life balance is happening org-wide, both for the benefit of our staff but also as a strategy. From organization design and leadership structure, this means creating a “if you get hit by a bus” strategy. You could also call it “Leading through laziness.” It means finding competent people that care more than you do and then getting out of their way. My time investment in the clipper race is a forcing function in a growth period and a challenge for our entire team to own the vision and run with it… with or without me.

(Twele) Committing to a race like this involves significant time, training, money, and headspace. But once I made the commitment, everything was set in motion like getting in shape, the trainings, fundraising, communications, making sure things are steady here at the organization, etc. Luckily, it’s a quieter time of the year as activities wind down around the holidays so getting away made more and more sense. The real question people ask me about why I am doing this? My answer is… I‘ve always had a passion for sailing and also because it’s there. Why do you climb a mountain? Because it’s there. I wanted to do something bold doing something I love.

Quick Facts
  • Total race miles: 40,000
  • Total teams in race: 11
  • Countries represented for all crew: 43
  • Total crew: 700
  • Oldest crew member: 74
  • Youngest crew member: 18
  • Twele/Tohn team name: Dare to Lead
  • Dare to Lead total crew: 58
  • Twele/Tohn team miles for Leg 4: 4,000
  • Total days at sea for Leg 4: 19-21
  • Charity benefactor: UNICEF

Information about the race including videos, interactive maps, and leaderboards, can be found on the race’s main website:

Team Dare to Lead also has a Facebook page for their team’s activities, updates, and adventures:


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