Set Sail, But Be Smart About It…

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for,”

The popular quote above is alternately attributed to William Shedd, James Shedd, and Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. The meaning is clear and inspiring, expressing the need to venture out and face the world, and give up (near) absolute safety for the sake of achievement and worthwhile experiences. “You need to be willing to face risks” is a typical encapsulation of the sentiment of the quote, and certainly has applicability on several levels. Accepting the “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” ethos as valuable and legitimate, let’s consider how the idea is often applied more broadly than any Admiral would support. Let’s examine some aspects of the idea behind this quote and consider the implications.

Take your ship out of port and onto the high seas…
If you have an oceangoing ship.
I recall an occasion when I was about 15, when my older brother and I took out 12 foot aluminum rowboat (with a 3-1/2 horsepower outboard motor) down to the ocean and out around the breakwater. We’d enjoyed many hours on lakes and ponds in that boat, but even 2 foot swells will pound a tiny rowboat pretty soundly.

Take your ship out of port and onto the high seas…
If you have a map and navigation equipment.
The ocean is vast, with rocks and shoals that won’t present themselves to the sailor. You’ve got to know where you are headed, how to get there, and what to avoid along the way. Add to that a way to know your position and you are on your way.

Take your ship out of port and onto the high seas…
If your ship is seaworthy.
My next door neighbor when I was growing up had a beautiful vintage 26 foot Chris Craft boat. He’d carefully refinish the wood hull regularly, maintain the engine and running gear, and keep all the onboard equipment looking and working great. He had a co-worker who wanted a boat, too, and bought an old salvaged boat to “fix up.” Trouble was, he didn’t know how to do the work as well as he thought. He didn’t understand that there was special plywood for marine applications. He’d used regular residential grade plywood to repair the hull, and it was coming apart within weeks of being in the water.

Take your ship out of port and onto the high seas…
With a good crew.
The first time I went sailing, I was the second person on a boat that took one person to handle. What I didn’t realize, though, was that there were many duties to perform, from securing and releasing lines, to dropping the center board and raising it back up, to getting out of the way of the boom when it swung around. Later, when I watched the big America’s Cup racing sailboats in action, I had a new appreciation for all the work (and teamwork) that was absolutely essential for successful sailing. And when a storm comes, the crew better know what to do without any guesswork.

Take your ship out of port and onto the high seas…
With good leadership.
Do you sail through the storm or around it? Do you tack aggressively towards the wind, or take a longer but less intense course? How often and where do you drop anchor along the way? Solid leadership gives you the best shot a successful journey.

So there you have a few examples of the story beyond the story about setting sail. We do need to leave harbor decisively, for sure. But we need to know how to give ourselves the best chance of getting to our destination rapidly and in one piece.

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