Life At Intouch: Sailboat Racing

James Harayda
January 23, 2020
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Life At Intouch is a blog series about the wonderful people that make successful.

The aim is to show what our team are passionate about outside of work. This week we have Business Development Associate James Harayda to talk through the 5 lessons that he’s learnt from sailboat racing that he brings to business.


When I was 9, my best friend took me sailing for the first time. Coming from a family with no sailing background, I had no expectations of what was to come. Being blissfully naive, the two of us went on our way in a small sailboat called a “Laser”. It’s safe to say that I was terrified and didn’t know a single thing about the sea, boats or wind – the three things that make up the fundamentals of the sport.

Over the next 13 years, the “bug” for sailing had developed into an aggressive addiction that I have learnt a lifetime of lessons from. Here are five lessons that I’ve learnt from this addiction to sailboat racing that I try to bring to the business world.

1)    The sun will rise again… but probably only 29,200 times

This is going to sound a little cliché but bear with me.

From my experience Yacht racing can be likened to being woken up at 3am, putting on wet clothes, walking outside and taking a 4-hour cold shower, every 4 hours for 19 days… However, once completed, I realized that I had developed more as a person in those 19 days than I had in the past year.

The point I’m trying to make is that although it might be a difficult time at work, as long as I’m learning and have the right attitude, it’ll improve, and so will I.

HOWEVER, it’s important to remember that the sun will only rise 29,200 times for most of us – so I won’t stand in a cold shower every 4 hours if it isn’t adding value!

The final approach toward Tasmania during the 2017 Rolex Sydney to Hobart race, onboard a TP52.

2)    Communication

It’s 3am, you’re tired, cold, wet, disorientated, and can’t see your own extremities. The only light you see is when your teammate gets hosed by a wave and for a split second, their figure is bright blue from the phosphorescence… or is that just the sleep deprivation kicking in? Anyway, you get the idea, it’s not what we call “champagne sailing”. To make matters worse, you’re trying to coordinate a team of 12 people spread over 50ft.

Pretty quickly I had to learn how to communicate effectively with others and in a manner that each individual can understand. From my small but growing experience, this seems to be mirrored closely in business. Admittedly I’ll probably be sat on a stable chair, in a comfortable office, with people who at most, are on the other end of a telephone. But this doesn’t excuse the fact that I’ve learnt communication is crucial to good decision making and the overall efficiency of a business.

The final day of my first ‘blue water classic’ offshore race, the 2014 Middle Sea Race onboard a Volvo 70.

3)    Polish Your Kettle

I first heard this saying while cleaning the inside of a boat. My eyes were stinging from the beads of sweat in them, the bleach was beginning to burn my hands, and I’ve had the thought of a post-work piña colada on my mind for what feels like an eternity. So, you can probably imagine “polish your kettle” was pretty far down on my list of things I wanted to hear. Little did I know; these three words would become the foundations of my pilgrimage to perfection.

I’ve found it can sometimes be tough as a 22-year-old to have a say in decisions within a business. Hierarchy and egos can often overpower or blur your ideas. Thankfully, I feel like I’ve begun to crack some of the code on how to be involved in decision making and relied upon to deliver projects. I can narrow this down to striving for perfection, being persistent, and having determination. I’ve learnt that if I prove to be doing these, it’ll be tough to be ignored. If this doesn’t work, then either my image of “perfection” is off or I’m in the wrong environment.

Training on Sydney Harbour in the weeks before the 2017 Rolex Sydney to Hobart race.

4)    There are ALWAYS enough hours in the day!

There are countless times in sailing where I’ve learnt the importance of time management, so this makes choosing an example tough, but sailing offshore in general will do. When a race lasts longer than 30 hours, everyone needs some degree of sleep in order to maintain a level of decision making and performance. The ‘go-to’ watch system for races that surpass this time is 4 hours “on watch” and 4 hours “off watch”. This tends to be pretty far from reality, in fact, your 4 hours “on” is spent on-deck, doing whatever you can to make the boat go as fast as possible. Your precious 4 hours “off” are used for what I call “personal admin”. This includes putting on or taking off your outer layers required for staying dry when on deck, cleaning and maintaining the boat, fueling yourself, and resting. If done well, you’ll be able to maintain a level of performance and comfort throughout the duration of a race. If done poorly, you’ll spend days being cold, wet, tired, seasick and bringing the rest of your team down with you.

The long story short is that if I manage my time well, I’ll be able to surpass what is asked of me at work, and still have time for the important things that make me human. I’ve learnt to prioritize, to have commitment and to get up!

The early bird catches the worm.
Enjoying some time before the start of the 2018 Round the Island Race onboard a Ker33.

5)    If the phone calls, pick it up!

The sport of sailing isn’t like football or tennis, there are no well-trodden paths to elite yacht racing. Regardless of how brilliant your Excel skills are or how well you can trim a sail, if my name isn’t etched into the mind of someone who can help, I’m going to have a harder time achieving a goal. The vast majority of my most loved experiences in sailing have come from picking up the phone to an unknown caller and saying “yes”.

I’ve learnt that connections are as important as talent and that you never know who will call you with an offer or idea – so I better take my chances.

With a network comes reputation and the importance of upholding one. I can be on the minds of many great people, but if not for the right reasons then it’s useless.

If you’re not five minutes early, you’re late.
Taken from up the mast in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean – the closest humans not onboard were in the Space Station.

I’ve found it very rewarding being able to apply some of the lessons I’ve learnt in sailing to everyday situations at work. I also find it rewarding to be sitting in a cozy office in Dublin writing about this, rather than being 19 days into wearing wet clothes and no sleep!

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