What sailing from Vermont to the Bahamas taught me about life, business and myself

It seems like a dream now, but when I was 22, I sailed a boat from Vermont to the Bahamas.

me, at the helm

Rachel at the helm of Aviso

Right after marrying, my then 23-year old husband Jeremy convinced me to co-pilot a 31-foot sailboat with him on an epic journey. With nearly no training or experience, we headed south on Lake Champlain in the fall of 1990 bound for the Intracoastal Waterway.

For guidance, we had only our Walter Cronkite ICW books, one introductory course in Power Squadron navigation, a huge pile of nautical charts, Chapman’s Piloting, occasional advice from other (more seasoned!) sailors we encountered along the way and our own common sense.

We experienced tidal waters and commercial barges for the first time as we approached New York City. We made it to Washington DC–where we were scheduled to take the GRE in October–with just 8 hours to spare. We rode out a 2-day storm at anchor in St. Augustine. We arrived in Nassau for the first time on 10+ foot waves. In Miami, we visited an emergency room by boat, amazed to discover that they supplied a dock for just this purpose. We were surrounded one day by a pod of perhaps 100 dolphins, with not a single other boat or spit of land in sight. On our return from the Abacos to Miami, we were passed by a foreign barge so closely in the pitch black night that I could hear someone’s shoes moving on their deck. Talk about eerie…

On the beach

Just another day at the beach: Digger our fiberglass dinghy

We spent a total of 8 months on board, with no cell phones, GPS, internet, outboard motor or autopilot. We showered very occasionally. We played a lot of Scrabble and went to bed early. In April we left our beloved Aviso to be sold at a Jacksonville marina, buying a Toyota van on our way north, then west, to pursue graduate school at the University of Victoria.

You might wonder why this story is showing up on my business blog.

As you might imagine, those experiences have had reverberating impacts over the years, not only in my marriage and my personal development but also in my role as a business owner.

laundry drying on Aviso

Drying our laundry on Aviso

Here are just a few of the lessons I gained during that time:

1. My labels are artificial limits.

I can do anything. I can be whoever I want to be. I had always thought I was “bookish” and “indoorsy” until then, but I stepped easily into the role of someone “outdoorsy” and adventurous.” I flourished when I stepped outside of my apparent limits.

2. I’m a good partner.

I show up, each and every day. I stay the course when the going gets tough. I stay at the helm while my partner rests. I offer encouragement when his positivity occasionally falters.

3. When I’m afraid, I step into the fear.

When I’m out of my depth, I take action. When the wind is blowing and our destination isn’t in sight, I’m really good at continuing to steer the boat.

4. I can thrive with very little material “stuff.”

Regular showers, a varied menu, a full wardrobe: None of this was essential to our survival and I realized quickly that none of it contributed appreciably to our enjoyment of life. I’m more motivated by passion and romance and growth than I am by possessions, money and external validation.

5. I’m resilient and persistent. I can push past failure. 

We hit a rock at our maximum sailing speed our first official day out. A month later, we had to be towed into Manasquan Inlet due to unexpected weather and an engine failure. Both were terrifying and embarrassing. In each case, I felt intimidated by the prospect of heading out into open water again, but I never, not even once, thought about quitting.

6. I can travel really, really far by progressing just a little distance every day.

The average daily distance we could achieve with our little sailboat was approx. 20 miles. Somehow, 20 miles at a time, we arrived in the Bahamas just as 1991 arrived.

I’m sure you can appreciate how these lessons have applied to my life as a business owner over the last 15 years.


Pacific Crest Trail map

Map of The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

Joel SwansonIf you’re looking to hear more stories like the one I just shared, join me for Lunch and Learn next week. Joel Swanson (Owner of Mile One and EOS/Traction Implementer) will be sharing the business leadership lessons he gained while hiking The Pacific Crest Trail.  

03/20/19 noon to 2 pm Register here

Whether you’re interested in business, leadership, hiking, The Pacific Crest Trail, travel, or just lunch with some colleagues, please join us! It might be just the boost your business (and outlook!) need right now.


The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2658 miles all the way from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington.

In April of 2009, Traction/ EOS Implementer Joel Swanson took a break from the consulting world and set out north from the Mexico border. Five (5) months and six (6) pairs of shoes later, he arrived in Canada an exhausted, triumphant, changed person.

Joel at the Mile 1 marker

Joel on Day 1: standing next to the Mile 1 marker of the PCT

Being a natural learner and thinker, Joel’s business mind did not take a break during this hike even though his career did. He learned many lessons on the trail that apply as directly to the business world as they did to a grueling five-month hike, and he will be the first to admit that his current success as a Professional EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) Implementer is directly tied to how he learned and grew during that adventure.

Attendees of this presentation will learn how many of the challenges Joel faced translate to business, and will leave inspired to embrace the challenges and risks they encounter both personally and professionally.

Mile One mark


BTW, we recently collaborated with Joel to rename and rebrand his business. Inspired by his experiences hiking the PCT, Joel’s business is now called “Mile One.” Join us on Wednesday to hear more about why this brand offers such a strong and natural foundation for his business.

 

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