Nigel Stuart, superficially the very vision of a modern gentleman with his laser-cut hair and athletic physique, turns out to have a roguish, sparkling interior. As we sit in the office of the Spirit boatyard, he tells the potted version of his life story, and it’s a bit like one of those rockumentaries, only spent with Sunsail rather than, say, Motley Crue. He’s not what you expect, but then managing a smallish, prestige boatyard in the 21st century is always going to call for a lot more than just box-ticking and bean-counting.
Sailing for Nigel started sailing at around the age of six, with his father, who was in the forces and sailed out of Kiel Yacht Club in Germany in keelboats. A home-built Mirror dinghy followed in the early 80s, called Humber Bridge, in honour of the overrun in build time. It was while sailing the Mirror on holiday in Italy aged about 11, that Nigel sailed out of sight of his parents, who were no doubt besides themselves – but that was the start of the addiction, a gateway drug that led to a pretty serious windsurfing habit by the time the family had moved to Hong Kong in 1983, with Nigel then 13 years old. “We had a Nepalese driver, and I learned enough Nepalese to ask to be taken to the beach” he recalls. After quite a few more moves, Nigel ended up back in England to read engineering for his degree, then joined Sunsail’s operation in Turkey, near Bodrum, at the age of 21, to look after the yachts and outboards. A year later he was the UK head engineer in Turkey.
You have to go back a few decades to understand how big Sunsail was and the employment opportunities they could offer. There was a lot of work, but every day until lunchtime, it was sailing and windsurfing. “I learned dinghy coaching too, and they sent me everywhere. It was a holiday. Summers in the Med, winters in the Caribbean.” By 26, Nigel was running a 300-bedroom hotel “with zero training”.
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