Reflections on Life & Leadership from the Sea: Chasing Adventures One at a Time
The conversation started on the patio over coffee. I said...we should buy a boat! I thought this was a great idea and he would be all for it since it has been a lifelong dream of his. After a very lengthy conversation, we decided that a boat wasn’t in our near future. My husband, however, had some ideas brewing based on this conversation. Little did I know that he was making plans. Big Plans.
Long story short, he signed me up for a 4-day Intro to Sailing Course....and then signed us up for a subsequent 7 day Live Aboard Experience (Basic Keelboat, Basic Cruising and Bareboat Cruising combined) in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The ultimate goals were to teach me how to sail, learn safety maneuvers and then see if we could handle boating life...living together on a boat.
In hindsight, I feel like I have earned a Bachelor’s, Masters and Doctoral degree in sailing. As a Gallup Strengths Coach, I wanted to reflect on this meaningful experience as lessons in leadership and how I leaned into my (our) Strengths because there were so many valuable lessons. Truthfully, I am just happy to have gained all these experiences and walked off the boat a better sailor. Here are a few of my takeaways from this.
Life and Leadership Reflection #1 - Be open-minded to learning new skills
“You can. You should. And if you are brave enough to start, you will.” —Stephen King
Learning a new skill can be challenging at any point in life but sailing was a whole new world and language to me. As a good and sometimes patient student, I did my best to try and retain what I was learning at a very rapid pace. My intro class ended up being just me and an instructor in a J80 for 3 intensive days. I learned so much. Days were long but so eventful in terms of what I learned. I learned all the basics of sailing while enjoying marine life. I practiced knot tying at night with whatever was handy and I was constantly assessing wind direction in nautical terms. I didn’t want to disappoint my instructor, so I diligently ran concepts in my mind all night. I am surprised I slept at all. On day 3, they let my husband Jerry come along with me. That was the day that dolphins swam alongside my boat. All of the stress of being a novice sailor that I was feeling melted away. I realized that once I let go of my self-doubt, relaxed a bit and listened for words of wisdom from my instructor, I was actually learning. What I didn’t know was just how I was about to be tossed right into the proverbial fire with the next course.
Life and Leadership Reflection #2 - Remain flexible and adaptable
After a couple of days relaxing on land, the real adventure was about to begin. We were supposed to be on a 42 ft. boat with another couple and an instructor. The goal was to learn all the logistics of how to crew and manage all aspects of boat operations. However, our original boat had an issue with a part that was stuck in Denmark. Our instructor, Paul, met us at the marina the day before we were to depart to share that they had a plan B. A boat owner in the marina had agreed to let us use his boat. We would be his “shakedown” crew as he hadn’t been on the boat out in 6 months. It was a Tayana 55. A beautiful 55ft. a yacht belonging to a man named Al. He planned on coming on the trip as well. I was a little overwhelmed by the enormity of this boat....but ready to learn. What I came to learn was this was not a typical situation, but I didn’t know anything else...so perhaps ignorance was bliss this time.
Life and Leadership Reflection #3 - Effective teams draw on individual talents
“A Boat Doesn't Go Forward If Each One Is Rowing Their Own Way”
We met the other couple the day we departed...Brenda and Rob from Alberta, Canada. There were both engineers with the Canadian railway system. It was clear that everyone brought something unique to this team and we were going to have a great time. We had very little time to bond before setting sail. Whether by design or not, this was going to be the crew for the next week. We could only hope for the best in tight quarters. After 7 days on the water, we got to know each other really well.
The days were long but we established a routine early on. Each day started with coffee (that I French pressed for everyone) and planning our routes based on weather and places to see. Instructor Paul had a sketched-out itinerary, but we made a few tweaks along the way. We had book lessons each morning as we waited for the wind and usually by 11. Then we were out for at least 4 - 6 hours of sailing a day.
We each took turns at the helm, steering the boat under sail and motor. I have furled sails, hoisted the main, dropped and raised anchors, tied knots, and done whatever needed to be done. What I learned was that a well-functioning team on a boat requires that everyone is involved in the operation. There is nothing you cannot do or learn to do.
Communication was key to our success. We worked with each other and assisted each other in whatever task needed to get done. If you were given a task and needed help, ask for it. With safety at the forefront, there was no room for ego. There was a sense of trust, respect and cooperation with every little detail and decision of the day. If only relationships on land were this solid I kept thinking to myself.
Life & Leadership Reflection #4 - Take time to reflect
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” —Ernest Hemingway
My favorite time of day was anchoring for the night. That is when we could relax, go for a swim, snorkel, kayak and just enjoy ourselves (and have an adult beverage). Somehow, I appointed myself as the boat chef. I felt my personal talents could be used here and make up for my novice sailing skills. I had such fun with all the boat provisions. It was like hosting my version of the show Chopped. I was able to meal plan for 6 people - 3 meals a day for 7 days with ingredients I found in the chiller. Cooking in a tiny galley is no small feat! It kept me busy during the quieter times at sail. No one complained and they did the dishes afterward.
What I found on the boat was a lot of time for reflection. Time to think about all that I had observed during the day. The conversations, the decisions, the dynamics of the team. The water crashing alongside the boat was calming but it allowed my brain space to reflect on it all. It was a time of letting go. It was the most peaceful, powerful and mindful time of day.
Life & Leadership Reflection #5 - Be present and appreciative
“In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.” —Lewis Carroll
Each place we moored or anchored along the coast had a beauty all its own. The sunsets were stunning. We only stopped on land once mid-week for provisions in a tiny town that spanned the length of the beach. We took the dingy over to the tiny village. That was it. We spent all our time on the boat. No TV. No internet. No idea what was happening in the world. It was nice just to sit and chat. Fresh air and sunshine are good for the soul. It also makes for an early night. We were usually in bed by 9:30 each night.
The best part of sailing was the beautiful waters that were home to the whales. During the week, I know that we spotted at least 25! We saw dolphins, turtles, fish, and so much more. We joked that we had a lot of photos of water because sightings happened so quickly. We did a brief snorkel in two places, including Los Arcos. It was like mini excursions when we could fit them into the schedule. Truthfully, the water generator on board wasn’t working so we all stopped showering on board by day 3 to conserve water...therefore I looked forward to my saltwater bath each day. At some point, no one cared. We were just enjoying the moments.
We made memories and friends. There are stories from onboard, but you will have to ask. We were introduced to a whole new way of life and loved it. I’ve always had a special relationship with the water but this was just different and perfect. To end the trip, on our last hour heading back to the marina we saw some boats clustered. Two whales spent about 40 minutes curiously playing. It was a stunning and spectacular moment and the perfect send-off.
In the end...you start to question “what’s really important?” Being disconnected for a week helps one prioritize and reevaluate those things that all of a sudden don’t seem so important. I look forward to my return to the seas. The lessons sometimes are the obvious ones. When they happen you feel a little caught off guard. If you allow yourself to be mindful, the experience of the seas can be profound and life-changing.
Dr. Vicky Goodin is a Certified Gallup Strengths Coach. These days you can find her chasing adventures on land and sea with her partner in life and love, Jerry. Her Top 5 Clifton Strengths are Positivity®️ * Strategic®️ * Arranger®️ * Communication®️ and WOO®️.