Skip Novak – On Sailing Mentors and Mentoring

February 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

Skip Novak - Courtesy Pelagic Expeditions

Most sailors know Skip Novak as the intrepid skipper of the Pelagic Expedition boats – frequent visitor to the ice caps, and before that a Whitbread sailor leading to his books One Watch at a Time, and Fazizi – The Joint Venture (both of which I enjoyed greatly). Skip’s adventures with Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon are part of permanent sailing lore.

But Skip is also a father of two, a boy, 7 and a girl, almost 9, so he took the time to read and consider Saving Sailing.

Reflecting on it, he offered these two stories. I asked, and he agreed, that they might be shared here. The first takes us back to his childhood:

Your take on mentors brought up some memories. I grew up at the Chicago Yacht Club with a gang of kids (known as the Harbor Rats) who are all still great friends. Looking back at our childhood we had an amazing free reign compared to the paranoia that now seems to be all pervasive when raising children. As teenagers (from the age of 14) we lived on our parents boats during the summers, pretty much unsupervised, had boat cleaning and bottom cleaning ‘businesses’ prepping boats before the weekend races and generally were into all kinds of mischief. But we did have a few mentors in the background, so we were not alone as we thought. One of these was the marine superintendent of the club, a retired Naval petty officer who was a real character. He taught us all how to splice, fix outboards and handle all all sorts of boats (we rescued quite a few). He turned a blind eye to most of our shenanigans, but when we did something totally out of order (like having a middle of the night fire extinguisher fight between dinghies with the club’s extinguishers) he lowered the boom on us big time. In all those years I never remember wearing a lifejacket . . .

And, today, Skip reflects on his own family:

 I have two kids, a boy 7 and a girl almost 9, and we sail a Laser together in a lagoon connected to the sea north of Cape Town. It’s just a fun thing with no pressure, but they really enjoy it. As you know they are at the age where they could start the Optimist program, but I have my doubts, for all the reasons you point out – yet another activity in amongst so many others. The problem though, as I see it, in order to become a really competent sailor you have to get into a racing program at some point to develop the skills, but then how to sustain that (at least sailing, let alone racing) as an activity in later life. My goal at the moment is just to keep them on the water in various crafts including kayaks, surf boards, the Laser, (might get a Hobie), etc and see how we go. This in addition to some ocean sailing and adventure sailing on the Pelagic’s from time to time, might do the trick. I guess the advantage I have is I can still do all this stuff (just the right side of 60).

I’m struck by the reality that parenting and mentoring are things that we must make up on the spot. There are no guidebooks or maps. But if we were lucky as children to have had a parent or a mentor, then chances are, we’ll take it seriously when our time comes. Like Skip is.

-ndh (

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