Where Are They Now: Simon Patterson
In this interview series, we speak to former Reliance delivery captains, who’ve since moved on, about what they do now and how working as a delivery captain informed their life today. This month Jennifer spoke to Simon Patterson, CEO of the MSP Technologies, Multi Source Power, a hybrid energy storage company, who initially worked as a Reliance delivery skipper from 1997-1999. They chatted about self-sufficiency, boat building and finding creative solutions, accompanied by a couple of barnyard cameos.
Reliance: Thank you for agreeing to chat with me today. What we wanted to talk about really is your current work and how working as a delivery skipper informed and led to where you are now.
Simon: Well in essence, I am now the CEO of MSP Technologies, otherwise known as Multi Source Power. And we are very much in the large-scale energy storage game. So, we build big batteries that help store rooftop solar, grid services, and help the national grid stay balanced. And very strangely it is a direct result of my marine history.
To summarise it quickly, in essence I studied technical theatre at university – which was all about building things. I then decided that that wasn’t really for me and decided to go get my Yachtmaster and somehow managed to get a job with Reliance – ended up doing about 30-40 Transatlantics, a couple of Pacifics, and a few Indians, etc, etc.
I had an absolutely marvellous time. Ended up moving from that [yacht delivery] to engineering, then got into being a bosun and an engineer on the big classics. I sailed boats like Thendara and all sorts of other lovely big 100 foot plus classics. It was great! I did that for a few years, then I went back to the UK and became a boat builder. Set up a company called Patterson Boatworks with my brother, and we ran a relatively successful boatbuilding business for 5,6,7 years.
Then one day, a chap came in, [he] said, ‘I want an electric boat, but I want to go really fast’ – this was way before lithium was a thing – and that took me to Taiwan where I managed to find this brand-new technology in the form of lithium and a long time ago, we managed to build the Elektra, a very fast electric boat, that became quite famous. That electric boat sort of got me on the path of
meeting lots of new and exciting factory people. Then eventually we sort of drifted away from the marine industry, and now, as a direct result of everything floaty boaty, I’m the CEO of a battery storage company. But yeah, that’s kind of my plotted history.
Well, that’s just an incredible history in and of itself. But I suppose what we are mostly interested in is how working for Reliance influenced your journey – I know you said that it got you into the marine industry, which subsequently got you into boatbuilding and engineering. But do you see any of the everyday work and skills needed in boat delivery reverberating in your work today?
Well, there are sort of two sides, in my humble opinion. Sorry if you can hear noises in the background, I’m being followed around by a turkey – I’m also a farmer, I happen to live on a farm, so in the mornings I’m a farmer, and then in the afternoon I’m the CEO of an engineering company.
I love that.
I encountered two different types of skipper when I was working for Reliance. There were the older guys who, you know, they were doing it almost because – this is the wrong word – but retired into it. And then there were the younger guys, like me, who were looking for a route into sailing. But there was just something about the lifestyle that actually really suited me – I really enjoyed it. I really liked being at sea. It just…it just felt right, you know? But at the same time, it gave me
- a) a huge amount of rapidly accrued miles
- b) a huge amount of rapidly accrued experience
Then I suppose at the same time, [it gave me] enough confidence, because I’d been in enough strange places, enough strange situations, seen enough…enough oddities and that stood me in really good stead for future life. I could pretty much [do] anything in [any] strange country, any strange port. But that’s all stuff that you sort of had to learn to do as a direct result of working for Reliance. There were lots of…it was a very interesting career. I mean I worked for Nick [Reliance] for nearly four years. But see, I was the flip side, I was using Reliance as a steppingstone to go forward. Whereas I suppose there are other who are happily, fully there just doing their thing in later life. I sometimes think about it, I think ‘oh wouldn’t it be nice, maybe I’ll just phone Nick and jump across the Atlantic?’
Maybe you can become one of those skippers who ‘retires’ into it – come back full circle.
[Laughs] Yeah but I’ve got a farm now. I’ve got too many cows to take care of, can’t take them across the Atlantic.
You said that you loved this nomadic travelling lifestyle, but then you have sort of moved completely away from that, or rather you’re very of grounded in the land now.
Yeah – well I mean I know quite a lot of sailing farmers actually, weirdly.
Yeah…I don’t know…I think there is an element of self-determination you know? Farming is sort of a bit similar. We’re kind of on our own. And sailing as a captain is a bit the same – complete master of your own destiny.
But then there are so many other things as well. You learn about financial management, you learn about food, you learn about…you know…just everything. But then there was this time that you would have this complete clarity because you don’t have a mobile phone, you don’t have internet access and that’s kind of lovely in this day and age.
So, it’s that immediacy in both sailing and farming – you can very directly see the results of your actions and you have to take responsibility for them I suppose.
Yeah, I think there was a great amount of that. There was this very rapid element of responsibility that is quite unusual. I was twenty-two, I think. And somebody just gave me this responsibility and sent me across the Atlantic [starts laughing]. Which always seems a bit amazing to me.
It’s amazing speaking to yourself and others and seeing all the different paths people have forged from working in yacht delivery. Everyone is so different. You said that you saw two different types of skippers – people who’ve retired into it and people who are using it as a steppingstone – but there are also some rare people who’ve managed to make a long-lasting career out it.
I mean, I ended up in the superyacht game. But that wasn’t deliberate. I was kind of between jobs with you guys, I met a girl in Greece who happened to be a Kiwi, and so I ended up in New Zealand. I met some people whilst sailing in the Med and then I get a phone call from France saying we want you to work on this boat because we want to win the America’s Cup Jubilee. I said ok…that’s sounds interesting. My girlfriend said it’s me or the boat, and I chose the boat.
Tell me about the America’s Cup Jubilee.
It was the 100-year anniversary of the America’s Cup and they decided to have this big race in Cowes, invite the 100 best boats in the world. And the owner of this particular boat, Thendara, put together a crew and I was lucky enough to be invited to do it.
So, I was in New Zealand and then a couple of days later I was in Antibes – never really looked back.
So, the Jubilee was a real turning point in your career then? I’m not sure if it’s something unique to people who work on boats, or if it happens in other career paths [sectors], but there seems to be a lot of spontaneity and luck involved in people’s journeys.
Well, I think it can be a very clear route. There are lots of people who say I want to work on super yachts. And they, you know, become a deckhand, then they go through the courses, there is almost a sort of contrived route. Whereas becoming a sailor of a multitude of different vessels from cats [catamarans] to racing boats to bog standard charter vessels, etc., well, that really changes everything doesn’t it? Because you suddenly have this depth of experience and the ability to just…I just realised I’ve been undoing the wrong bolt while talking to you.
[Laughs] I do that. You’re talking to someone and you suddenly start fiddling with something and then next thing you know you’ve broken something.
Oh well…anyway, [break to speak to daughter about feeding her pigs]
Sorry about that.
No don’t worry. Have you ever considered getting back into sailing?
Well yeah…I’ve got this history in classics now, I keep looking at classic boats and thinking oooh I could do this, I could have that [laughs].
Yeah, can’t get away from the romance of it all.
It’s the purity of it that I like at sea…And you know there are some of the crazy places that we used to go.
Where was the craziest place you went or craziest thing you did as a delivery captain, as you say?
Craziest thing that I did was to sail into…I’ll never forget…I was sailing up to Miami…We were about four days away when the autopilot decided to die. And we cut a coke can up into tiny little strips and resoldered this board on this autopilot, resoldered it all.
But then on the way we were sailing up past Venezuela and we had a gas leak which meant me had no gas. So, we piloted this 47-foot cat into Venezuela by using a rough guide. I had a rough guide sort of booklet which gave us a drawing of the harbour and suggested various restaurants on the outside but didn’t really help with navigation. But we managed to get in there and get back out.
And then going to odd places like St. Helena, who gets to go there? You know stopping in absolutely insane beaches in the Bahamas, cleaning the boat down before dropping it off. And you meet some amazing people. A lot of the crew I sailed with back then I’m still in touch with now. It’s really interesting to watch how their careers have moved. I often wonder if it’s a direct result of what we did as sailors.
That’s why we do this series. So many delivery skippers go on to do amazing things, and such different things too. Everyone seems to get something different out of the experience.
Well, where I am now, it’s not a given, but if someone has sailing on their CV, I will generally look at them ten times more favourably because they always bring something a little bit more to the mix. Whether it just be a steadiness or breadth and depth of skills. Now that’s the nice thing about being on a boat. You’re on your little island, this is it you know? So, for me, I always gravitate towards CVs with sailing on it.
So, is there lots of people then in the kind of engineering, energy sort of sectors that have got sailing on their CV?
Ummm…well there are in my factory!
Energy storage is a relatively new and rapidly evolving industry, so there is quite a lot of head scratching – a lot of engineering and problem solving. You know how to solve x, y and z in the most sensible, safe and economic manner. The results of that actually are that, and especially in the way that we do stuff…because I have this marine and boatbuilding heritage, there could be a perceived ‘boatiness’ about what we do and build as energy storage systems.
Actually, the housings we build are designed and built like a boat, using composite materials, and foam cores. We utilise water cooling systems and take a lot of our design philosophy’s from the marine world.
Wow that’s really interesting! It’s a direct link back to your knowledge of boatbuilding and sailing. Just to end, do you have any advice or words of encouragement for those looking to work on deliveries, or even for those who never really considered it an option?
Well actually, I’ve just had one of my friends apply to Reliance and he is now sailing with you guys as crew – and loving it!
It’s a fantastic way to get away and across the world in a meaningful and exciting way, at a low cost; [you] meet people who will be friends for life and learn a lot about yourself along the way. I also believe it gives you a huge life skill: how to live and work with people, a skill that sets you in good stead for the workplace in any field.