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In the Heart of the Sea; At the Helm—Business Lessons for Navigating Rough Waters

October 30, 2001
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Developing a mastery of sailing and speed under sail was once a way to make a living and also useful in getting through hazardous voyages. Today, the skills we sharpen on the racecourse are less likely to be needed for survival, but they can help us succeed in our shoreside lives.

These variations on a theme can be found in two sailing books recently published by Sailing World authors. The books, which I think you’ll find intriguing, are otherwise far apart on the spectrum of topics of interest to most performance sailors. One’s a book about putting racecourse lessons to good use in business; the other’s a survival story that, by the way, teaches you about dehydration, starvation, and other topics even tougher to stomach.

In the first book, Editor at Large Peter Isler teams up with business writer Peter Economy to write At The Helm-Business Lessons for Navigating Rough Waters. For our current business-oriented culture in which successful CEOs have replaced war heroes as our idols, this book is spot on.

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The authors offer seven business lessons derived from what you can learn while becoming a successful sailboat racer. What’s really fun about the book is that it’s based on interviews with many top racers who are also successful in business, including several Fortune 500 CEOs such as Roy Disney and George David. That the book is targeted at non-sailors, too, means it’s full of explanations of sailing terms and strategies, which are sometimes slow going for the savvy racer. Nonetheless, every few pages I found an idea that inspired me with a way to improve what I do as a business person or-just as often-an idea on how to sail faster around the racecourse.

Then there’s the New York Times best-seller In the Heart of The Sea, The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick, a Sunfish North American champ who worked as an editor for SW in the ‘80s. Philbrick’s most recent SW article was a chapter from Second Wind, a book that recounted his whimsical return to Sunfish racing a while back. He’s lived on Nantucket for more than a decade and has written other Nantucket history books, but none that so neatly combine the author’s enduring interest in sailing with the island’s history.

It’s a serious work that follows the voyage of the Nantucket whaleship Essex to its grave in the South Pacific in the early 19th century, and then recounts the crew’s 3,000-mile sail to the coast of Chile in small, open whale boats. Philbrick graphically details many aspects of the voyage including then-current whaling methodology, the crew’s social and racial dynamics, and the evolving art of celestial navigation. The narrative is gripping enough itself, since the crew is finally forced to subsist on each other, but Philbrick also introduces modern studies that offer a deeper understanding of the physical and psychological nature of the ordeal. It almost goes without saying that the sailing descriptions do a great job of taking you onboard to imagine the difficult sailing involved.

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Want more by SW authors? Once you’ve finished this issue of SW, you’d do well to add Stuart Walker’s The Sailor’s Wind and Gary Jobson’s An America’s Cup Treasury, The Lost Levick Photographs, 1893-1937 to your shopping list. One will help you predict the next shift up the beat and the other will immerse you in beautiful black-and-white photographs from more than 70 years ago. After that, we’ll have another issue of SW ready for you.

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