Peter This week on our travel podcast between Jimmy Carroll who, with his business partner Geordie Mackay-Lewis, turns your wildest and most extreme travel dreams into hands-on reality, superyacht voyages to the end of the earth, intrepid journeys into deserts, jungles, polar regions and the depths of the ocean. You choose and these guys plan it for you. No matter whether you’re a couple or a family, a bunch of friends or a corporate group, their aspirational company Pelorus makes it all come true. Such events, of course, don’t come free of charge. But if you’ve got the funds – and you’ll need quite a lot of them – they’ll set about transforming your wildest travel daydream into a real life experience. Jimmy, welcome on the show.
Jimmy Thank you very much. Great to be with you.
Peter However did this all come about?
Jimmy The question that we’re asked a lot, and I think it really is born in our previous careers for both Geordie and I, and that was that we were both in the British army and served in reconnaissance regiments. We actually met in the foothills of the Hindukush in Afghanistan, so there’s a travel story in the beginning anyway. And then we went off and did various different roles in the Army. Geordie did two tours of Afghanistan and I did two, but I also managed to squeeze in a tour of Iraq as well. And then we decided actually it was time to leave and we’d have our fun and experienced a lot more than we probably bargained for.
And Geordie went off and founded a electronics company across seven different countries in Europe and was constantly on the move – and his passion for travel was starting to play out in that. He then decided to move into the travel arena, looking at very high-end yacht expeditions.
I took a slightly different course. I became events and sponsorship manager and team manager for the largest ever medical research expedition to Mt Everest, which was called Xtreme Everest 2. That was looking at intensive care research so it was absolutely fascinating, and we shipped 14 tons of equipment out to Nepal, built three laboratories: one in Kathmandu, one in a little place called Namche Bazaar, which you first go up to when you start trekking up to Everest, and the final laboratory, and essentially the operating theatre, was at Everest base camp itself. And it’s incredible, really seeing sherpas carrying five times their weight on their back, yaks bringing tents and liquid nitrogen up to base camp, and living up there for three months, which is actually the longest period that anyone really lives there. And we were that well before any of the climates that season.
One of my fondest memories was actually spending the first six days on Everest base camp and being the only people there. And it’s incredible; it’s just utterly silent. I say that because everyone says ‘Surely it’s quite an empty place,’ Actually during the climbing season there’s 1 500 people or so living at a base camp and base camp is on the glacier…so it moves. Every year it’s in a slightly different location. Whilst you’re there for three months, it’s moving. You wake up one morning realising that there’s a metre-and-a-half crevasse underneath your tent and having to re-pitch is an enlightening moment. So that was a fantastic experience.
And then I moved into a very different world and worked for one of the world’s largest brands, sporting brands, and that was to be the global tour manager for Manchester United Football Club, involving the commercial deals behind the international tours and then the actual delivery of the tour. And again, an incredible different experience, taking 137 people on it, 27 of which were footballers, and then all the ancillary attachments such as Manchester United television sponsorship and all of that. And we took them all around the States and we went to Los Angeles, Denver, Washington DC, Detroit and Miami. Fascinating to see a global brand like that.
And then just to finally really give it the eclectic mix, I decided I wanted to move back to London and I was very lucky to be headhunted for a role in Barnes right on the river – a stunning location for the office. And that was as the head of marketing for a design studio called Winch Design. They are the designers of the world’s most luxurious superyachts and private planes, and also architectural projects. And this was really my foray into super yacht world. And actually, whilst in that role, there was big change in this superyacht industry, and that was people wanting to experience far more than what the Mediterranean and Caribbean had to offer and really start to embrace the explorer concept. And so Explorer yachts have been on the rise for a number of years now. But I was speaking with Global Superyacht Forum about the rise of explorer yachts and certainly from a design perspective on what you could do with an Explorer yacht.
And I was being heckled from the audience, that’s rather tall, dark-haired gentleman at the back, who I can’t see because of the bright lights in my face, then came up to me at the end of the talk – and it was Geordie, who’d just led a yacht expedition to Svalbard. And we got chatting and we hadn’t seen each other for five years since leaving the army. Really, that was probably where Pelorus first kicked off, and we decided actually that there was a couple of opportunities within travel.
The first one being in land-based travel and at Pelorus we call that private adventures, and every focus should be around the experiences you want to have. And ultimately, the last thing we think about is where you may sleep at night, because if needs be, we’ll build a mobile camp and it could be to five-star luxury in the middle of nowhere in order to facilitate the best experience, which would be in that location. And we’ll operate all over the world and in the same context as the yacht market – didn’t have a huge amount of competition – for the more rarified client who wanted to explore. And so we set up two businesses and that was Pelorus Private Adventures and Pelorus Yachts – yacht expeditions – built on the military planning model.
And we changed that and we bastardised that into a travel planning model. But that’s the foundations of how we work now. And we ask a series of questions of each client in each project, which then allows us to leave no stone unturned and drill down into every element, to really understand how the client lives their lifestyle, what they want to achieve from their experiences, how they want to go about it. And then the best way in which we can make the experiences happen for them in each location that we go to. And I think the final part to it really was after launching those two parts of business, we’re having so much interest from our clients who have corporate entities and their own businesses.
And they were asking: ‘Gosh, what can you do for us in terms on a corporate side?’ So we launched the Pelorus agency and that really is an B to B channel. And we look at corporate experiences for incentive and retentive travel, but also do a lot of work with luxury brands as well. So we’re doing product development and product launch. We launched a new watch for a luxury watch brand last year. And also brand lifestyle experiences – so taking brands’ most loved clients away on experiences for them within the brand.
Felice So can you tell us about a typical trip, for instance you mentioned to us one to Morocco?
Jimmy Yeah, absolutely. So that was actually corporate side. The first one that we did the context about that was that actually the corporate wanted to break away from going to a hotel ballroom or conference rooms and doing the once a yearly meetings and then in a very bland, sterile environment. And so we started to talk to them about what what do they stand for, what makes them tick, who they are, actually what they want to achieve from it. And we started to build in and realised that actually, if we could build certain elements of challenges into it, change the environment that they’re going to be seated in, when they do the more corporate get-togethers, and show them a new environment – that be the best way to go about it. So we went out to Morocco, we looked to various different areas close to Marrakesh – the Agafay Desert – and then also the Atlas Mountains as well. Two very different environments. actually we created this journey for them, which every part of the movement of the trip was a different experience, so that we got them straight out of Marrakesh airport into the Atlas Mountains. As soon as they got there, they were doing a walk and a hike through parts of the mountains, stretching their legs out, getting that fresh air in their lungs.
They were something thrown into this completely different environment, which I think slightly shocked them a little bit, but also really enlightened their senses. And then they came back in and had an amazing lunch and get-together. And that was their first entry. And then we built on that every day. So the next morning they got up and they had a mountain bike ride, but they didn’t go back to the property that we staying in because they were met by some dune buggies that picked them up at the end of the mountain bike ride – dune buggies which they drove to the Agafay Desert. And then those amazing lunches overlooking this incredible vista.
And we started to point out these different areas that they were going to see, miles off in the distance. And then they go back into buggies, drove off a little bit more and then got onto camels for the final approach into this desert camp that we’d set up for them. That was going to be the home for two nights, of which all of was a surprise to them. And then the next day, they got into Predator dune buggies, which are muscled-up great big beasts and they did a challenge – they had to drive each other and race through the desert. And we had a jump competition who could get the most airtime. And then in the evening, we fell back into this camp and we had an astronomer come down who gave them an amazing lesson, gazing into the stars. And then they had a bit of a corporate session built into that.
And the final day started really early and they were up at 4.30 in the morning, driven out by 4x4s. And they were all hazy-eyed, some strong coffee was delivered. And we dropped them off at this hot-air balloon site that we’d picked. And they got up in a hot-air balloon for a breakfast in the balloon for sunrise. Actually it was incredible; I’d done a number of hot-air balloon rides and this is probably one of my favourites. There was a cloud base and I have never had one with a cloud base before. The spectacle of a hot-air balloon is incredible as you rise up through and it’s the most serene and peaceful travel I think there is. But actually, having cloud that you hit the ceiling of, go through the cloud, then it gets quite chilly. And then you pop out the other side and you feel like you are on just a completely different planet. You are up above the clouds looking over and it’s just magical. There’s no one else there…you’re just floating, the ground is thousands of feet away but you can’t see it. And it’s just pure beauty and tranquillity up there. And then the clouds started to shift and you could see Marrakesh off in the distance, and then giving this perception of the Atlas Mountains from above. And so I think that’s a really important part.
At Pelorus we try to look at everything asymmetrically so that subsurface either be it on land or sea, on the surface and then in the air. And so they’d already been on the surface: They’d been walking, hiking, mountain biking, driving the buggies, They’d seen it all from the ground…and then to put them in the air and just float serenely above it was just something else. And then to finish the journey off, as we landed, we had a fleet of motorbike sidecars waiting for them and they all got picked up. And we took this long drive, two hours back into Marrakesh in an out of order surrounding villages and little towns in motorbike sidecars. It was brilliant, so many giggles, beaming smiles…it was fantastic. And then into the madness of Marrakesh and out. So a fascinating journey.
Jimmy We did. Never before had we had a brief like it, and I’m not sure we will again. This was four girls who had known each other for years from school and growing up, and they were starting to get to the age where one of them was married, two more were getting married and possibly children were going to be coming along soon. And so they wanted to test their friendship, really go back to where it all started. So we got thinking, and said: ‘Okay, we’ll take a brief from them.’ And that was great, and we understood quite a lot from them. But we actually then got in touch with all of their partners, their husbands and boyfriends, fiancés. So really started to ask these different people who their partners were. So I’ll ask them about their childhood, ask for pictures of them growing up, and we’ve got all of this incredible information on them. And then we built it into a series of riddles and clues.
And then we worked with some amazing people in Namibia – then over two, three days we put together this treasure hunt, and at each different stage there’d be a different riddle or clue that they would have to work out. And so they actually went and had a fantastic experience with the Himba tribeswomen and really embraced everything that the Himba tribe have to offer, and got involved in the body painting and all of that. And we managed through an interlocutor to get some phenomenal access to them, far more than you would naturally get, and to spend a prolonged period of time.
But the final part of this session with the tribeswomen, the main lady would then sing this riddle to the girls and they then had to work her work out the journey was where they went to next. And so as they left the camp, they were walking down the road and I won’t run through every single part, but you’ll get a very good idea. There was an Oryx skull on the dusty track they were walking along, and in the skull there’s some parchment paper, opened up the parchment paper and there was this clue – the next part. And essentially, they had to get to a radio mast. They had to climb it.
As they were climbing it this phone began to ring and there was a phone just up on the platform on the mast. We could see; we had spotters out watching. They answered the phone. And it was one of the one of the boyfriends back in London, in the city on a break, and we’d keyed him up about when they were getting there, and he had to phone at the exact right moment and they answered the phone and said hello. He said: ‘Well done, you’ve got this far,’ and they said: ‘I think we recognise this voice.’ And he didn’t give anything away. He said: ‘In the distance, you’ll see at about 750 meters, there’s a little village. That’s your next spot. You’ll have to make your way there and watch out for any dangers en route.’
I don’t think we’ll get anther other client saying: ‘We want to challenge our friendship,’ as the initial brief. It’s really a quite tremendous opening statement.
Jimmy We did yes, absolutely. And actually that’s been really popular and we’ve had a number of other inquiries very recently about these boys’ trips. And this is eight guys who had known each other for quite a while, and every three years or so they try to do a big trip, and they really wanted to go and see the best of Israel and Jordan. They were quite gung-ho – one or two of them had been in the army. There were some fragile elements to it as well. Actually, one of them really hated heights. And so different bits of this we managed to piece together, and we used a couple of helicopters to fly them around, but the whole thing was unknown to them. So they didn’t know any part of the trip which was going to happen. And each day they got an envelope about what was going to unfold.
And so they got in the helicopters and we flew out into the desert and we worked with Israeli Special Forces and we put them into this Special Forces training compound and put them through a whole series of military tests, firing weapons and you name it, lots of loud bangs and explosions going off.
And that really kicked off the start of this adventure. Then they left and they ended up having to go out into the desert and do some incredible climbing, which started to challenge a few of them on the heights element of it. But also they had to navigate themselves through parts of it. And our guides were with us, but they’re not giving anything away.
And then we flew them down to the border crossing. Originally, they thought they were probably going in the other direction towards Syria, but they were actually going up towards Jordan and then across into Jordan they went, and we had this amazing desert camp set up for them. And then an element of camels and the natural kind of tracking, and then some 4×4 action as well, before heading back in the cities for an amazing party at the end. I think the biggest part was …again we used a hot-air balloon there as well…and that certainly pushed the fears of heights.
But the best part of it was they just didn’t know any element of it throughout. They only found out that they were flying to Israel as they got to the airport. We sorted everything for them before. And so when you have the surprise element, maybe there’s a bit of anxiety, but we talked them through it and that’s when we host them and guide them and that abates any fares. It certainly adds an element of doubt into their minds of what’s going on.
Felice Do clients tell you their budget before organising the whole thing? Or does it work the other way round?
Jimmy Well, the budget question is always is always a tricky one. Some clients do, absolutely. Other clients, we have to talk to them and build them through it so actually it’s rather easy. We offer them a kind of varying scale, and so we try and always ask client for a budget. You know, a rough region of where they’re going so we don’t get it completely wrong. But obviously, if you’re using lots of assets like helicopters, that does burn up a lot of money, but helicopter time can save you an awful lot of time on the ground.
And so what we can propose is that if you use a 4×4, the journey may take four hours or five hours by 4×4, because of the terrain. However, in a helicopter it could be a 30-minute flight. And when people can see that, they can then understand where their money is being spent and actually how best to spend it. It’s always a tough question, budgets. And I think you’ve got to work with the clientele and that’s all about the relationship. And when they get that, they understand the trust and the levels of where money is being spent. And we give a line-by-line breakdown. Then they can really see where they’re getting their return on investment. And actually, we call it ‘the experiential return on investment.’
I speak to a handful of clients and I ask them a question: ‘Who looks after the most important things in your life? Who looks after your finances?’ They have private bankers or wealth managers. ‘Who looks after your health?’ They may have healthcare. ‘And what about property – who manages property for you and all of these elements?’ I said who looks after your well-being and your downtime?’ And no one that I speak to could give us an answer, so I said: ‘That’s what we do. We will look to get you an experiential return on investment.’ These experiences that we’re building, it’s actually creating memories for life. You’re maybe learning new skills; you’re creating or enhancing friendships and bonds with family members or friends or even completely different people – especially if it’s a corporate setting. And therefore, that element of life should be looked after so importantly, because actually we all work so hard and the most precious thing to us is time that we can spend with friends and family and experiencing new adventures.
Felice Do you or Geordie accompany every trip? What’s your job when you’re there?
Jimmy So we host, on average, about 30% of our trips ourselves. Everyone else that we work with, we vet and we do a lot of due diligence on. So we’d never send the client to someone that we don’t trust, wouldn’t go with ourselves, when we’re not hosting on the trip. So when we do host them, certainly the bigger trips with lots of logistical movements, it makes sense to host them – just so we’re on the ground and we’ve got that steadying hand. I think we’re very lucky, from our military backgrounds, that we’re mountain leaders, we’re qualified divers and various other skillsets that really enhance the hosting package.
Also we’re doing a lot of photography and drone work and filming. And so a lot of the trips we’re creating amazing photo albums for long films. I just got back from India and we created a five-minute film for the clients that I hosted through India. We can always adapt and change the program and that’s the biggest thing about hosting. The client doesn’t have to think of anything, because we’re on hand and we’re looking at the weather each day. If the weather slightly inclement, actually we can tweak and adjust the program. Actually, even if the clients have decided they’ve seen enough wildlife on the trip and they’d like to slightly adjust what the program says, we can work with amazing people on the ground in each location, or with a yacht captain and the crew, to change the program and the itinerary. I think that’s an incredible benefit of hosting.
And also on a selfish side, we have some great relationships with our clients – they become friends on the trips that you host, because you are living the experiences with them and you’re taking them down into amazing rivers and streams in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, and floating down rapids and things like that. So you do create a bond with them, and that’s why I think we’re very lucky that we have a lot of repeat clients.
Peter And then I think you did a birthday trip to Rajasthan?
Jimmy We did, and that was that was the Indian trip I just got back from. Actually for that trip it was for a 60th birthday present by the lady’s son. And we worked with her son throughout to plan a trip. The beauty about my trip is that the client would never thought of going to India at all. And so it was a very new environment for them, and I hosted that trip because that gave an added sense of security to them.
It was three ladies; I had actually flown to Australia twice and talked them through a few elements of what we’re going to experience. But a lot of it was to be surprise-led throughout, and through the interview process with her son in the design stages we really learnt about his mother, how she had this love for horse-riding when she was a child growing up on farms and in the Outback. A real sense of adventure, but also this incredibly successful businesswoman really wanted to connect with where she went and have an understanding of the local culture and traditions, but also a spiritual connection.
And so we went to Rajasthan and we created this amazing horse-riding expedition. I was a eight-day trip and we where horse riding four days, and obviously because we’re in the middle of Rajasthan, away from the cities and towns – we built a mobile camp – and working with the Indians on that was just incredible because the level of service that they offer is just phenomenal. And I doubt anywhere in the world could beat it. And this camp that we set up in the base of these amazing mountains, and we rode in and rode out on the horses. And then we had this spiritual guru come and join us and stayed with us in the camp. He would tap into the clients and start to really find out who they were and unlock their spiritual awareness.
The final part of the horse-riding in the camp, we then had a Puja ceremony in one of the local villages in the temple. Actually four or five villages from all around flocked in to come to the ceremony with us, and because the guru’s so well-known. It took the client through this meditative state and then into the ceremony and actually everyone started weeping with emotion and tears rolling down their faces. An incredible sight. The energy in this temple was just phenomenal.
Days before, we’ve been riding through essentially desert landscapes and then through crop fields and what have you… India for me, it’s just there’s so much to go and see. And when you show someone a country which they never imagined of going to before, and we challenged them by taking them and they came out the other side gushing that they want to go back, they embrace the culture even more and see other parts of India – it was phenomenal. And then, only a couple of weeks ago, I sent in an edited film and they all reunited back in Australia because lockdown had eased – and they sat together and watched this five-minute film of the entire trip. And I received some amazing emails from them and WhatsApp messages, and I could just sense the emotion again, coming back out through that.
Peter What’s been the biggest, the most memorable trip of all for you?
Jimmy I think the biggest trip… India was certainly up there because of the love and emotion coming through….But the biggest trip and probably most memorable was to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands using a brilliant yacht called SuRi. When you charter SuRi, there’s a challenge that you cannot use all the toys and assets that are on board. And she’s a true explorer yacht has been all around the world and done Antarctica and multiple other places. And so we managed charter her for our client in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
We took them on this experience, which they never wanted to stop. Every day had to be action-packed, a family of five we took away and they also had a tutor for the children. It was a 10-day trip and every day was action-packed. And so we had them diving, we had been body boarding, playing with the sea bobs, snorkelling, and then going inland to have a conservation trek on this amazing island called Tetepare in the Solomon Islands, learning all the old methods of how they lived off the land, how they had medicine from all the plants, and then the conservation element coming through with turtle tagging, having them with the locals. You go along and you see the turtles in the water in these flat bottomed boats and you dive in on top of the turtle. You bring it up into the boat and then you tag it and then release it back into the water. And the clients are doing this hands-on, not just viewing it, but actually getting involved.
And rainforest tracks…we had to see this amazing old tribal village, which had only been found about three or four weeks before we got there…never been seen before. We tracked for an hour and a half through the jungle up into this highland area. And you could see how these old tribes dating back hundreds of years, thousands, built up essentially ramifications and essentially fought in the jungle, and little bits of stone work which they would have used for cooking and cutting with. And that was incredible because no one else had ever seen it before, apart from these rangers that we’re working with.
And then on to diving, once they became more competent we then did a coral planting program with them. And I think this is really important, actually, that a lot of clients are looking for purposeful, meaningful travel. We build that into every element now, an element of conservation into to our trips. We were very lucky to do the coral planting.
Also, we bought about 50 pairs of spectacles and we gave them to the local hospital. And that was incredible actually, because giving people the opportunity – young children – to see properly because they haven’t had spectacles before, that was fantastic. But also adults who had had good vision and then it had deteriorated and giving them the opportunity to actually see again…faces just lighting up and great big smiles. We previously had never thought about taking spectacles along as a gift to give people. But actually working with amazing people in the Solomon Islands, they said this is a really good initiative that they’re getting behind.
And every village we went to, the client wanted to try and give something back, even if that’s buying sweeties and confectionary items for children, or the spectacles, we always gave something to every community we went to. They found that really important, especially when you’re living on a great big yacht, a 68-meter superyacht. We had two helicopters, we brought in another helicopter to go on a New Year’s Day trip up into the highlands, to find incredible sinkholes and waterfalls, and land next to these fascinating features, and swim in and around them was just brilliant.
Felice And how can people find out more about what you do, and book a trip?
Jimmy So our website is a really strong area too: www.pelorusx.com – but most recently as well, people have been reading about us in Condé Nast Traveller. We took Condé Nast to the Solomon Islands last year – and that’s just come out online, but it’s also in print in the April edition, and then social media. And in the new world, we get a lot of clients through social media on Instagram. It’s an area of inspiration, and people go on and find some of the most amazing places in the world they can travel to, and they message through Instagram and then we start the conversation through that. So it is a fantastic platform to go to.
Peter Jimmy Carroll, thank you very much for appearing on the show. And we wish you the very best of luck with Pelorus in the future.
Jimmy Thank you so much for having me, Peter and Felice.
Felice That’s all for now. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please share this episode with at least one other person! Do also subscribe on Spotify, i-Tunes, Stitcher, or any of the many podcast providers – where you can give us a rating. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Stay safe and we’ll see you next week.
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