A business convention that begins with a lifeboat drill is certainly unusual. But during a recent series of conferences held on board MV Canberra, hundreds of Britain's top directors dutifully reported to their allotted muster stations and donned their lifejackets.
It was a sobering experience: the contrast with the rather more sanguine response to an aircraft's drill could not have been starker. But then, manning the lifeboats is fast becoming an everyday experience for the crews of Britain's business flagships.
Life on the Canberra is not just a jolly. When they sign on for three nights before the mast, delegates are expected to attend both the conferences and a number of pre-arranged one-to-one meetings with representatives from the 40-odd firms which are hosting the event. Forklift truck manufacturers, consultancies and the like shell out large sums of money to solicit captive senior management. At the end of the voyage they can count on having made some valuable contacts.
The occasional bottle of rum no doubt helps. Despite the recession, which has forced many a firm to trim its sails, the entertainment was lavish. Shipboard scuttlebutt on the size of the drinks bill for one recent convention was corroborated by Canberra's captain himself. He found a moment to tell Management Today of the run towards the upper reaches of the ship's wine list.
But a life on the ocean wave it was not. With rough weather forecast, the Canberra made for sheltered waters off Cherbourg in order to keep things on an even keel. Punters, after all, cannot work their passage while seasick. That's sailsmanship for you.