I had the opportunity to try my hand at sailing the other day – as a complete novice. It was one of the very few (1-2 a year) corporate entertainment days that I allow myself to attend. The pull for this one was the notion of sailing with some of the British Olympic squad as they compete for their places to represent GB in 2012. I was, and remain, intrigued at how people dedicate themselves to a goal in a way that very few of us ever appear to do.

One of my observations over the course of the day was during some of the racing that occurred. We were all given the same equipment, so the only real difference was down to the individuals within each team and their captain (a sailor). As a complete novice to the sport I was aware of a high degree of jostling for position and the need to set a course with as few changes as possible. We gained advantage with what appeared to be minor adjustments, or rather minor “better thans”; perhaps the speed at which we tacked, or the marginal gains found in the speed we worked as a team.

I would concede that we had an advantage in a more experienced captain who was able to make better use of what to a novice appeared to be the same conditions, but were in fact vastly different – how he used the water and wind channels to better advantage. Our small RS Elite class boat is a pretty safe craft (I’m told – unsinkable and I have also learned that they were specifically designed for the waters we sailed) yet there was still the exhilaration of what seemed like the knife-edge of danger as the boat cut through the water at angle that gets as close to throwing you out of the boat as I would care to.

I have to admit that I also enjoy the thrill of winning and being able to win several races and the overall competition was certainly satisfying for a man whose frame is no longer suited to winning at most sports, save darts and perhaps snooker. This was amply demonstrated in the morning session trying out a 49er Olympic class dinghy… more like supercharged windsurfer….clinging for dear life to a wire that defied the laws of physics but eventually lost to the laws of reality as I was rather unceremoniously dumped for a swim!

I continue to mull over my observations of a day well spent. The metaphors are not lost on me for guiding clients through the art of investing, staying the course and gaining significant advantage from the small details.

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