Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review: Plotting the Course- Life Lessons From the Sport of Sailing

*Disclosure: I received the book mentioned in this post at no cost in order to do this review. All opinions are my own.

was recently sent a copy of Plotting the Course- Life Lessons From the Sport of Sailing by Rick Arneson for review. Here’s the description from the author’s website:
Sailing is more than simply a sport for many people the world over; it’s also a way of life. There are valuable lessons inherent in the sport of sailboat racing that have enriched the lives of sailors for generations. In Plotting the Course, readers are given a glimpse into the vast and diverse world of competitive sailing and shown valuable tools that the sport can provide for finding success in the ways we live and work. 
The foundation of Plotting the Course is the cyclical nature of life’s experiences in parallel with those of a sailing campaign. The challenges that a sailor faces in mounting a competitive effort tend to mirror those that anyone would find in a worthy endeavor onshore, from the early planning stages to the moment of performance and on to the learning phase that follows each challenge and precedes the next. Each of these phases is explored using examples from the world of sailing and provides takeaways that apply for use in life on shore; in business, relationships, or everyday situations.
The competitive worlds of sailing and business have much in common, and the lessons of each translate well to the other. In Plotting the Course, readers will see comparisons between the experiences of top sailors and those of businesses like Walmart, McDonald’s, Nintendo, Apple, and Lockheed Martin to name a few, as well as business leaders like Jack Welch, Richard Branson, and John D. Rockefeller. Lessons on topics such as leadership and decision making stretch beyond the world of business and into the political realm, with looks at the lives and careers of American presidents and other political leaders.
The lessons included within Plotting the Course are not only universal, but timeless as well. Readers will find parallels between the strategic decisions of Hannibal of Carthage and Queen Elizabeth I and those of a sailor navigating rough waters or facing a more powerful opponent. Other examples include illustrations of what WWI aircraft design and London’s cholera epidemic in the 19th century have in common with a sailor’s search for more speed. As these pages show, there is much to be learned from the lessons of history for sailor and non-sailor alike. 
Plotting the Course is about much more than sailing; it’s about seeing challenging situations in a new light to get to the heart of a problem and illuminate a solution. It’s about holding on to the lessons we learn over time and using them to drive us forward. It’s about dreaming big, dealing with uncertainty, struggling through loss and adversity, building on success, facing opposition, living and working well with others, and through it all, pursuing happiness.
I was also privileged to receive a Q&A post from the author:
When did you first sail? My first time ever on a boat, I was just a week old. My family brought me out on our boat for the 4th of July. The first time I ever sailed on my own, though, was when I was about six years old and starting sailing lessons in the summer. I learned in Sabots, little 8-foot pram dinghies that are very popular in Southern California with both kids and adults.  
What was it that hooked you as a sailor? It’s hard to point to one aspect of the sport that really won me over. I think that once I started to learn more about what goes into winning sailboat races, I really began to appreciate the nature of the sport. The fact that it’s a combination of the sailor’s mental game, physical fitness, and boatspeed that adds up to the outcome of the race made it more intriguing for me because it levels the playing field. You don’t have to be of a certain height or build to be a good sailor, and you don’t have to be a genius or have the newest boat to win races. It’s a balanced combination of those factors that makes the difference, so lots of different people can compete. I just found it to be a more interesting sport that way. Bottom-line, though, I stuck with it for all these years because I haven’t stopped having fun with it.  
When did you know you wanted to be a writer? It’s actually been a gradual transition for me. I used to write for fun as a little kid, just playing on my grandmother’s typewriter and making up my own stories. I didn’t realize that I had any talent for it until around middle school and high school, through the encouragement of my teachers. I put together regatta reports all through high school and college for my club’s and college sailing team’s newsletters, and then began submitting feature articles to sailing publications once I started coaching sailing full time. While in business school, many group projects required the submission of a comprehensive paper, and I was often asked by my teammates to be the one to compile and edit our findings to make the paper come together coherently. After grad school, I wrote a lot of marketing plans and ad copy in my work, but I also joined the editorial board of the US Snipe Sailor magazine, and that kept writing fun for me. I actually didn’t set out to be a writer at first. I just did a lot of writing over the years and it eventually led to me putting together a book. 
 What is the most important human factor in sailing? There are a number of important ones that come to mind, but I’d say patience is a universal requirement for sailors. For racing sailors, opportunities come along once in a while in the form of windshifts that make certain tactical moves tempting because they might offer an immediate gain. The challenge is recognizing which opportunities to pursue, because chasing one windshift often means giving up another. If you impulsively react to every shift without considering the bigger picture, you can end up losing distance instead of gaining. We can’t make the wind do what we want—what we can do is anticipate and plan for what is the next most likely outcome. If it doesn’t work out the way we expected, we need to be patient enough to keep focused and rework our strategy accordingly. Whether racing or not though, patience is a virtue that any sailor needs to cultivate.  
Why do you feel the components of sailing are such a great metaphor for being successful in business? Both arenas require a lot of the same things from people who want to succeed at either. They both require a lot of advance planning and organization, the ability to work with others, the ability to handle competition and make good decisions quickly, and the ability to gather and use information for constant improvement, just to name a few.  
What is more challenging, sailing or writing? I’d say sailing is more challenging for me, probably because of the competitive aspect. With sailing, I am not only trying to do my best, but I’m under constant pressure from all the other boats trying to get in front of me. I had to put in a lot of work in the beginning to become competitive in sailing, and as the competition constantly improves, I continually have to keep up. With writing on the other hand, I had more of a natural knack for it, even from childhood. I’ve always liked writing because even though there is structure involved, there’s a lot of creative freedom. I love them both, but they’re very different by themselves. It’s great for me to be able to combine the two.  
What is your greatest experience as a sailor? There are so many great ones, but I’d say the most personally significant is the first time I ever won a first place trophy as a youth. It was just a little club series, and I think there were probably only about five or six boats competing, but it meant the world to me at the time because it was my first tangible reward for all the time and effort I’d been putting in to getting to be a better sailor. I still have that trophy, of course, and it’s a nice souvenir of a special turning point in my sailing career.  
Who do you see as the core audience for Plotting the Course? Through the writing process, I had to consider whether to write it just for sailors or for a wider audience, and I felt that the material had so much to offer whether the reader was a sailor or not. So, I tried to put it together so that a newcomer to the sport could follow along without getting too swamped with sailing jargon, while experienced sailors could enjoy it without having the sailing examples get watered down. I think sailors will have a special, built-in connection to the material already, but the book speaks to all those who are reaching for the next rung on the ladder—those who are always seeking new tools to help them grow and improve in their lives and careers.  
What do you hope readers will take from your book? The central premise of the book is that the things we are passionate about can offer more than just the enjoyment they provide in and of themselves. Our passions can also serve as frameworks for the way we live and work. In my case, because of my relationship with the sport of sailing, I was able to draw out many of the lessons for success that I’d learned on the water and apply them to other areas of life, business among others, in order to bring that comfort zone with me into other areas. When I was first studying business, making analogies between business principles and sailing helped me in my classes, and I found that bringing those principles back into my sailing also helped me on the water. Because I had that passion for sailing, I was able to make the world of business more familiar and accessible as I learned about it by making connections between the two. Whether it’s through sailing or another subject you can relate to deeply, look to your passion to find inspiration in other areas, and you may find some familiar principles applying to your situation in a fresh and enlightening way.  
What is next for you as a sailor and a writer? I’ve got a busy year of racing ahead. My sailing focus is on campaigning towards a couple of international Snipe regattas, including the Western Hemisphere & Orient Championship and the trials for the Pan American Games. I’ll also be doing some match racing events, and sailing Lasers when I can. I’m pretty certain that I’ll be starting work on another book before the year is out, but I’m considering a couple of different ideas, so I want to sort out which idea to pursue first and come back to the others down the line.  
Where can people go if they want to learn more about you and your book? I’ve got a website up,, which also includes some resources for people who would like to learn a little more about the sport of sailing.  
My Thoughts:

As previously stated, I am not a swimmer. At all. As such, I am also not a sailor. The very little I know of the sport has been gleaned from such books as Cheaper By The Dozen. Therefore, I was either the ideal person to read this book (since it claims to be aimed at beginners as well as experts) or the worst person possible. To be honest, I found the book a little hard to follow. I did enjoy the brief glimpses into the historical facets of the sport, but I felt they were a little few and far between. The technical jargon was a little too prevalent for my taste. However, once I was able to get past that, I found the author has a very entertaining voice and lots of good life lessons to share.

I think that this is an excellent book for people who already have some history with sailing or who just want a few new ideas on how to better succeed in life. However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it if you’re as novice as I am when it comes to sailing. The metaphors come too often using too many technical terms to really be of help for those of us in this category. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to review this, and am intrigued to see what else the author has offer further down the road.

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