Plotting The Course Blog

May 10th, 2017

JFK: Tied to the Ocean

JFKsailing 001 (2)May 29, 2017 marks the 100th birthday of President John F. Kennedy. Millions of Americans may find themselves at this time reflecting on the life of a man whose legacy still shines brightly in our national consciousness. Regardless of politics or party, sailors everywhere share a special connection to President Kennedy. Other presidents have sailed recreationally, of course—Franklin D. Roosevelt, for one—but Jack Kennedy had a lifelong passion for the sport.

Kennedy grew up sailing with his family on the waters off Cape Cod, and in the competitive spirit that he and his siblings shared, took to racing with great enthusiasm. For his 15th birthday, Jack was given the 26-foot Wianno Senior sloop Victura, which he would own for the rest of his life and on which he taught his future wife Jackie how to sail during their courtship. Jack and his older brother Joe also owned Star boats as teenagers, named Flash and Flash II. Sailing Flash II in 1936, Jack and Joe won the Nantucket Sound Star Class Championship, and won the last race of the 1937 Star Atlantic Coast Championship by over four minutes. Jack and Joe would continue sailing as teammates at Harvard, and won the McMillan Cup at Annapolis in 1938. Despite his racing success, Jack’s ability as a skipper was once challenged by competitor Jock Kiley, who claimed that Flash II deserved the credit for all its wins more than its skipper. Jack’s response was to suggest swapping boats with Kiley in an informal race to settle the matter. After falling behind at first, Jack caught a couple of windshifts to put him back in the lead by the finish, thus quieting any doubts about his skills.

As president, Kennedy’s appreciation for fast boats showed in his acquisition of the presidential yacht, the Marconi yawl Manitou, which had previously sailed to a record-setting win of the Chicago-Mackinac Race in 1938. When the 1962 America’s Cup commenced in Newport, Rhode Island, he came to watch the racing, and delivered some thoughtful remarks at a dinner beforehand:  “I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it is because in addition to the fact that the sea changes and the light changes, and ships change, it is because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea—whether it is to sail or to watch it—we are going back from whence we came.” Kennedy often sprinkled sailing metaphors into his speeches, and it’s clear that this sport that he loved was never too far from his mind, from the nautical décor of the oval office to a sketch of a sailboat he drew on hotel stationery the last night of his life.

Since sailors tend to bond easily through the sport, as a sailor it is easy to have a great appreciation of President Kennedy quite separate from his life in public office. It seems fitting to close with a quote from the man himself, which holds up well to this day as a small testament to his vision and his passion, and which makes one wonder to what degree his love of the sea and of sailing shaped his worldview: “Neither wind nor tide is always with us. Our course on a dark and stormy sea cannot always be clear. But we have set sail—and the horizon, however cloudy, is also full of hope.”


Rick Arneson, M.B.A., is the author of Plotting the Course and is a lifelong competitive sailor.

September 15th, 2014

Self-Reliance: A Practical Approach

Self-reliance is a value that sailors generally come to appreciate through experience. After all, the ability to handle difficult situations on one’s own can make a critical difference when nature throws a curveball. And yet, I can say that I’ve had to find a balance point in my approach to sailing and to life on land between do-it-yourself cures and reliance on professionals in order to come to the most effective solution to a new problem.

Speaking as a guy as well as a sailor, I like being able to tackle a problem without having to ask for help. We men have been parodied to death for our reluctance to call an electrician or ask for directions. But, as TV and movies have had much fun illustrating, there comes a time when we have to face facts and admit that attempting to fix complicated problems ourselves when we have no capacity to do so simply drags the process out and creates more issues along the way.

Years ago, I decided that I would do my own bottom-fairing job on my Snipe. I read up on the subject, consulted with a few experts, and enthusiastically dove in. However, I lacked professional-grade equipment or experience, so I had to make do with some downgraded techniques. I also made some rookie mistakes along the way and had to start a few steps over. What could have been a one-week project for a pro wound up taking me almost a month. When I finally finished the process, the boat looked exactly the same. All that time and effort, plus more money than I’d initially planned to spend, delivered no discernible benefit at the end.

I’ve learned plenty from do-it-yourself projects, but we often can’t afford the time and hassle that complicated repairs entail in order to have a learning experience. My bottom-fairing job was an experience that shifted my philosophy towards a more practical approach. On one hand, it’s perfectly sensible to fix the simple things ourselves, and a person with time, resources, and guidance could gain some valuable experience through a more complex repair job, but there comes a time for everyone when we need a quick and efficient solution to a complex problem that requires the help of a professional.

snipewhocrash2More recently at the Snipe Western Hemisphere & Orient Championship, my boat took a nasty collision from astern that punctured the hull. When I got back to the dock, I got some great tips on how to fix it myself, but a good look at the damage convinced me that this was outside my expertise for boatwork and that I’d need to bring in a pro. At such times, it’s great to know people in the business. It just so happened that a fellow competitor (and expert in fiberglass repair) at this regatta was on hand and willing to patch up my boat. In a few hours, he had a solid and permanent solution in place that allowed me to get back on the water the next day without concern over leaks or structural integrity.

Recognizing my limitations as well as my skills when it comes to solving such problems either on the water or around the house has saved me a lot of time and effort over the years. In the big picture, it’s also saved some money by getting things done right the first time. I’m always happy to handle the more straightforward situations myself, but there’s a reason we have professional electricians, plumbers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, mechanics, and so on; they provide services in their areas of expertise so we can stay focused on our own areas of expertise.

Now, when something big breaks and needs a quick repair (be it watercraft or water heater), I make sure that I’m honest with myself as to whether the fix is going to be too complex for me alone. Self-reliance is important to pursue in our lives, but sometimes for the sake of practicality, finding the right person for the job is where our contribution to the solution ends.


Rick Arneson, M.B.A., is the author of Plotting the Course and a competitive sailor with over three decades of sailing experience.




July 2nd, 2014

The Sport with a Thousand Faces

Occasionally debate rises among sailors over what the appropriate term for our sport should be. While “yachting” has been a traditional, all-inclusive term for generations, “sailing” has come into much more prominent usage in the modern era, largely in order to distinguish particular formats of the sport. Out of appreciation for the sport’s heritage, I personally don’t mind the term “yachting” when it comes to sailboat racing in general. Even so, I never say that I am going “yachting”, because it does sound too formal for the athletic and competitive activity that sailing as I know it actually is. As the sailing classes in competition today are both visually and structurally a far cry from the classic yachts of yesteryear, “sailing” has emerged over “yachting” as the more popular term for sailboat racing in many, but not all, cases. While “yachting” and “sailing” can be synonymous terms in some formats of the sport, they can be separate and distinct in others.

“Boating” is another term that is applied from time to time, but I’ve always found this to be too broad and generic a term for the kind of sailing that I do. I’ve winced a little when non-sailor friends asked, “You’re into boating, aren’t you?” The answer is yes, but not exactly. Boating could apply to just about any craft bobbing about on the water, while I race sailboats competitively. Calling a competitive sailor a boater is like calling a race car driver a motorist; it just doesn’t quite fill in the picture. I therefore took it upon myself to come up with my own definitions of these three terms to clarify what they mean and how they relate to each other.

boating_vennI put together this Venn diagram as a visual aid, but it is not to scale in terms of the size of each group, nor does it necessarily represent any official definition of the sport; it’s simply one sailor’s perspective on where different incarnations stand. The blue circle represents the world of boating; this consists of most recreational watercraft, including sailboats, motor boats, fishing boats, rowboats, and so on. The red circle represents the world of yachting, consisting of both power and sailing yachts, all of a certain size (in my opinion, 40 feet or longer). The green circle is the world of sailing; this means any wind-powered vessel of any size.

Area A in the yachting circle is inhabited by power yachts, often luxuriously appointed and occasionally massive in size. Area B, where yachting and sailing intersect, is where larger sailing yachts reside; cruising sailboats, ocean racers and America’s Cup yachts would fit this category. Area C is where I have done much of my racing in smaller sailboats; within boating and sailing, but outside of yachting. This group could include boats like the one-design classes that compete in the Olympics or pram dinghies sailed by juniors. Area D is a unique zone where sailing is taking place, but not on a conventional boat; for example, landsailing and iceboating, or board sports such as windsurfing and kiteboarding.

There are so many different kinds of watercraft in existence today that it would be impractical to try to definitively classify every sort here. Not all yachtsmen are sailors, and not all sailors have boats. It isn’t always easy to designate the proper terminology for each aspect of a sport that continually evolves as technologies and personal preferences change over time. It’s almost certain that new terms will be introduced as new formats emerge. For now, though, maybe this little diagram can serve as a temporary tool to classify some of the most popular ways that people are enjoying themselves on the water. I’ll be somewhere in the green circle.

Rick Arneson, M.B.A., is the author of Plotting the Course and a competitive sailor with over three decades of sailing experience.

June 17th, 2014

The Meaning of Ambition

In writing Plotting the Course, I found myself employing a particular word time and again throughout the text: ambition. It is a word that I use to describe the quest for growth, improvement, and achievement through setting goals and taking action to make great things happen. And yet, it’s also a word heard all too often these days in a negative context, as if to imply greed or unscrupulousness. What I suspect has happened in some circles is that the word ambition is being confused with blind ambition. Blind ambition means obsessively pursuing a goal at any cost, blind to morality or consequence, while ambition itself is the driving force behind improvement and accomplishment.

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May 19th, 2014

Five Fun Sailing Facts

Are you a newcomer to sailing and interested in hearing more about the sport? Or maybe a seasoned sailing veteran looking for some tidbits to share at the next party when people ask about what you do? Whether you’ve heard each of these fun facts about sailing already or not, they’re worth sharing to demonstrate the depth and breadth of the sport of sailing: Read the rest of this entry »

May 5th, 2014

Back to School

I recently had the opportunity to attend a course of study at the University of Oxford, and have returned from the experience with a renewed appreciation for learning as a lifelong pursuit. Even though I completed my MBA a while back, I wanted to revisit the classroom to delve into the issues facing the global business environment today. I was thrilled to be accepted to the program, knowing what a unique and substantive experience I would be in for. The course covered a range of issues, giving us a lot of information to process in a short time, but it taught us so much about global enterprise and how interconnected international markets can be.

I found that the benefits of attending this course stretched beyond being better-informed on the subject matter itself. Here are some of those benefits that anyone could derive from getting back to school: Read the rest of this entry »

March 2nd, 2014

Safety First

Whenever Southern California experiences any kind of measurable rainfall, the roads become disaster areas with widespread auto accidents. More often than not, such accidents could be avoided by driving more conservatively, but time and again we see a driver putting the pedal to the metal as the rain begins to fall. As someone who’s crashed in the rain before, I’d like to share a sailing anecdote that illustrates the value of a little extra caution.

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February 11th, 2014

Sailing’s Relationship Lessons

One of the major skills that sailing requires of most of its contestants is teamwork. On boats large and small, the ability to work well with others towards a common goal is essential to success. The lessons learned for getting in sync with others on the water can often be useful on land, applied to the relationships that we carry on in our daily lives. These lessons need not be limited only to relationships of the romantic variety; they can apply to anyone we work and live with, between family members, spouses, friends, coworkers, or a number of other interpersonal dynamics.

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January 21st, 2014

History Repeats

I recently read an interesting new book by Mark Gabrielson titled Deer Isle’s Undefeated America’s Cup Crews, and was struck not only by its unique take on a couple of the notable Cup matches of the late nineteenth century, but also how some of the issues that arose over a century ago came up again in the match of 2013.

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January 8th, 2014

Resolution, not Dissolution

In a sport as cerebral as sailing, there’s a certain psychological self-awareness needed in order to stay motivated while on the racing circuit. The sailor needs to understand how each event—each piece of their campaign—fits into the larger picture to remember why they are going through the campaign in the first place. It often helps to remind ourselves why we work so hard at it, whether we’re pursuing a major championship down the line, or just enjoying each race as it comes. Without genuinely wanting to be at a regatta and feeling that they need to be there, a sailor who’s been on the road a little too long can find their motivation waning and performance suffering. Keeping motivation up is just as important off the water, whenever we set a challenging goal.

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