September 25, 2017
    After the Masthead: Be happy now.

    Sailing and the parallel to association management

    By Gary Rubin | 02/18/2016

    It was good to be in St. Martin, out of the snow and cold in the north. If we still lived in Washington DC, we’d have enjoyed the snowstorm adventure – until it came time to drive.  

    We spent a lot of time in St. Martin, and while it was a good place to be when the storm hit the U.S. Northeast, it was a challenging place to get to by sail from the Virgin Islands. You may recall from my previous columns that our first landfall after our trip across the Atlantic from the U.S. was Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands are great places to visit either by boat or for a land vacation. The Virgin Islands comprise the British and American islands, numbering more than 60. Many are little more than the arid tops of mountains rising out of the sea.  Most are British, and the rest, such as St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas, are American. All are terrific.  

    Getting from the Virgins to St. Martin is a bit difficult because it is a trip of about 90 miles due east – straight into the wind and sea. After traveling thousands of miles at sea, you might think that a trip of just 90 miles would be easy for us. These days, many people associate the time to travel a certain distance with the time required to get there by car. In a car, a trip of 90 miles takes about two hours, unless you live in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington, Atlanta, or other cities where there are more cars than road to fit them. For us, in ideal conditions, 90 nautical miles takes about 14 hours to travel.

    Because I don’t like arriving into an unfamiliar harbor at night, we had to depart at night, to be sure that we arrived in St. Martin in daylight. I like arriving in daylight because the charts here are often inaccurate. Being able to see the water as we approach land helps us to avoid shoals, rocks that are just above and below the water, and reefs, and thus helps us keep our water home floating. There are also other hazards closer to land such as unlit anchored boats and buoys. The trade winds here also blow very consistently, and sometimes very hard from the east with little variation. So to make the trip more confortable, waiting for a break in the usual weather pattern that drops the speed or direction of the trade winds will make for a better overnight passage. 

    There is a lot of planning that goes into much of our travel. Fortunately we found a good weather window that allowed us to make it to St. Martin in plenty of time to meet friends who were flying into St. Martin a couple of weeks later. We even had time for a side trip to St. Barths and a very small island called Ile Fourche. On Ile Fourche we spent more than five hours cleaning off several months of accumulated scummy, slimy, green sea growth under the boat using scuba. While this job was miserable, when I finished my reward was a terrific swim with a sea turtle.  It seemed unafraid, perhaps because it was feeding under the boat while I was cleaning, and became used to seeing me. Here is a video I took of my new sea-pal.  

    St. Barths is a preferred destination of the rich and famous.   From what we saw, it’s reputation for very expensive restaurants and shops is well deserved.  We stayed only a few days before returning to St Martin, budget somewhat intact. 

    St. Martin, is an unusual island.  Half is Dutch, and the other is French. Among the island’s many distinctions, it is the world’s smallest island divided between two nations. For a visitor, it has the benefits of two distinct cultures that coexist on one tiny speck in the Atlantic. The Dutch side had many marine services rivaling the U.S. yachting centers of Annapolis, Md., and Newport, R.I., with one exception – the focus here is on serving megayachts. These boats are HUGE. Small ones are about 100 feet, and the really big ones approach 400 feet.

    At a café on the French side, where the food is much better than on the Dutch side, we met four crewmembers of a yacht named the Lauren L, one of the largest privately owned yachts in the world. They told us that the yacht had a total full-time crew of 40, who are there to serve the needs, whims and desires of up to 40 super-rich and super lucky guests in 20 staterooms. Interested in chartering it for a week of vacation with some of your friends and family? Cough up $775,000 for the basics – pus more for tips, fuel, food and beverages. I assume that if one was to charter a yacht of this quality, hamburgers and beer are not served. With the addition of things that are not included in that price such as tips/food/ beverages/fuel, one can easily add at least 25 percent to the cost of the charter. Anyone have a spare million? All the cabins include computers that can access a huge library of music and movies, thus, two of the four crew members we met worked full time on the IT systems. I can only imagine the technology that requires this level of technology staffing.

    As with all yacht crews, they are very secretive about who owns the yacht. Apparently a standard part of a yacht crew’s employment agreement is a nondisclosure clause. Typically we can find ownership information easily online.  We could not find ownership info for the Lauren L, so our imaginations filled in the necessary details – a corrupt dictator from a developing nation, using the yacht as a place to launder money? Maybe, but probably not. 

    One of the best parts of the St. Martin for Torie and me was the food on the French side. It was like being in a small seaside city in France, and it is because it is a French territory. After months in the Caribbean with little culinary diversity apart from endless amounts of fried snapper, conch and burgers, the restaurants there were fantastic. They were both budget and waistline busters. The Dutch side was culturally unremarkable, but important for us because of its numerous business catering to the yachts berthed there. Even though our boat is a speck compared to these monsters, we use many of the same parts, and having access to them and service people enabled me to get caught up on repairs and preventative maintenance.

    I have never seen so many huge boats in one place. There had to be more than 50 of them there. Outside the harbor we saw Rising Sun, owned by David Geffen, who bought it secondhand from Larry Ellison. It is the 13th-largest yacht in the world. We also saw the Eclipse, owned by Roman Abramovich, a Russian businessperson and politician. But by far one of the most interesting was Steve Jobs’ yacht Venus. He took a very active role in designing it, and as you might expect, it was quite different looking from the other yachts with massive expanses of white hull, polished stainless steel and glass.  It looked like a floating Apple Store.  Accompanying this article is a picture of Torie and I in our dingy, dwarfed by the bow of this beauty. Unfortunately Jobs died before it was completed.

    Life is so short…I remember years ago, while I was chief media and business development officer at the Society of Human Resource Development, I was working on a deal with the noted business author and executive coach Marshall Goldsmith.  He is a truly fascinating personality and generous person. We were together in my office when Apple announced its new product – the iPad. It was an electric moment for both of us because we knew that the world of media and communications would never be the same. I could write an entire article about Marshall and our interaction, but one of the most poignant comments he made while we talked about his philosophies was simply, “Be happy now.” A simple thought that is so powerful. Most everyone thinks that our new life sailing in the tropics is glorious every moment and we often hear comments that we are “living the dream.” I know that we are. We are truly grateful. That said, I have found that it is often easy to adapt to whatever circumstances I find myself in, but I can let the same old stresses I experienced at work creep in. Rather than month-to-month performance goals, staffing issues, forming and executing strategies, and so on dragging me down, now it is the condition of the boat, weather, provisioning and my nagging need to feel productive that can produce anxiety. The drivers are different, but the feeling is the same. Perhaps we are merely sucked down by different issues. When I get into this state of mind, I think of Marshall’s words – “be happy now.” I continue to believe that as I evolve as a person, no matter how long Torie and I sail, or someday return to the working world, remembering to always be grateful, embracing all that is good, is a lofty but attainable goal for all of us.

    Our next island will be Antigua. We are looking forward to seeing new things and meeting new people.   If you are interested in following our path, here is a link to our satellite tracker.

    Rubin is a former association executive who gave it all up to sail around the world with his wife, Torie. This column chronicles their journey, as he relates his experiences to association management. You can reach him at garyrubinemail@gmail.com.


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