This post and the ones to follow, are from my journal chronicling my last off shore sail, from Bermuda to Newport. My good friend Jay got me into the sport of short-handed (a crew of one or two) off-shore sailing. After my first race I was hooked! I raced in the New England Solo/Twin, a single-handed race from Newport, around Block Island, around Maratha’s Vineyard, and back to Newport; and the Bermuda 1-2 which is single-handed from Newport to Bermuda and two-handed from Bermuda back to Newport.
There are few activities that put you in the moment like open ocean sailing alone.
It had been four or five years since a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease turned my life sideways. My symptoms were now for all to see. My “off” states were on the rise. Let me explain…
Parkinson’s Disease Off States
The initial symptoms of Parkinson’s disease—resting tremor, muscle stiffness, slowness of movement—are quite effectively treated with a drug called levodopa, which the brain coverts to dopamine, and a class of drugs called dopamine agonists, which activate dopamine receptors in the absence of dopamine. They are usually the first line of defense against PD, and are very good at improving and controlling these symptoms for several years.
Over time, however, patients start to develop motor fluctuations, the result of variations in the individual’s response to levodopa. Motor fluctuations oscillate between “off” times, a state of decreased mobility, and “on” times, or periods when the medication is working and symptoms are controlled. It is estimated that 40 percent of Parkinson’s patients will experience motor fluctuations within 4-6 years of onset increasing by 10 percent per year after that.
These fluctuations are not limited to the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. Also affected are the non-motor symptoms, such as sensory symptoms (e.g. pain, fatigue, and motor restlessness); autonomic symptoms (e.g. urinary incontinence and profuse sweats); and psychiatric disorders (e.g. depression, anxiety and psychosis). These symptoms are more disabling than motor changes in as many as one third of fluctuating patients.
So, my “off” states were on the rise and I was flat out. I had just launched BrainBug (v2.0), a full service digital marketing consultancy and I was balls-to-the-wall (such an odd phrase). I had consulting engagements in place with IBM, MetLife, Priceline and WebMD. On top of that I had just begun work on the technical and UE (user experience) design for Yahoo!’s paid search program. I was swamped.
So why, my wife Josa wondered, why the heck would I jeopardize these relationships—relationships that in some cases took years to cultivate? Why? Why risk it? These were great companies. Big companies with deep pockets! And they were not small engagements. There were deadlines looming and it was just me in our spare bedroom (Shhh. Don’t tell anyone! I may have over stated the size of BrainBug just a bit 😉 Why, in the middle of my most successful (IE: lucrative) year, would I drop everything l to go sailing?
The simple answer: I’m an idiot!
I’ve never been one given to consequence. My wife is a saint to have put up with me all these years. Looking back, I can see clearly now how much worry and stress I routinely placed on her plate every time I’d open my mouth and announce some new venture or adventure. Admittedly, some of my decisions have been questionable. I may be an idiot but, I am an idiot who realizes that sailing is second to none…uh, well second only to music, and maybe mountain climbing… No, sailing is it! Music is it too…
What I’m trying to say is I’m addicted to feeling alive! It was four or five years since my diagnosis and I was really slowing down. Parkinson’s disease was winning and my sailing days where numbered. Especially the blue water, off-shore, shorthanded, shake you by the lapels, driving rain and howling wind type of I’m alive sailing!
So, when my good friend Jay called and asked if I had one more passage in me, I jumped at the opportunity.
I now had to inform my clients. If you’ve ever worked with large companies you know that they can get lost in a world where what they do or make, is the most important thing ever. Each deadline is taken very seriously, as if they were surgeons and it was life-or-death. I understand the power of this delusion, so I have two simple rules when it comes to account management:
- Communicate often and honestly, even if there is nothing to report. Email doesn’t count. Let them here your voice.
- Under promise and over deliver. It’s far easier to take your lumps up front. When the client says I need it if four weeks and you say it will take five, they might kick a bit. But when you deliver in three and a half weeks you’re golden.
Do this and you’ll be in their good graces.
I called each client and despite some concern the overall reaction was “Go for it!”
And I did.
So, on June 3, 2003 I flew to Bermuda. We were to set sail the following day. Jay and I on his Doug Peterson Metal Mast 36′. I will never forget this passage.