Seán Anglim, CTO on Sailing

My name is Seán Anglim and I am the CTO of Noa, an audio-journalism company coined as the “Spotify of Journalism”. We take the content of our partnering publishers including The New York Times, Bloomberg and Financial Times and convert it to audio through our team of professional narrators. We then deliver these articles to our users through our mobile, web and smart speaker products.

I had always wanted to be part of a start-up where I could have more autonomy over my work, but of particular interest were consumer-facing start-ups where I could help to improve people’s lives. From my time as a sailing instructor, I found that I really enjoyed educating people and passing my knowledge onto others. This is exactly what we do at Noa – we allow those who don’t have the time to read a newspaper to engage with the best journalism in the world while they’re commuting or out for a walk and learn something in the process. Whether it be about Brexit or AI or the Housing Crisis, by the time your journey has complete, you will have learned something new!

 

I started sailing when I was 8 years old. My father bought me a (very) small dinghy called an “Optimist”, or “Oppi” for short. Oppis are cheap, one-man boats designed for kids up to the age of 15. They are extremely popular due to their low cost, and they produce some of the best racing in all of sailing. It’s quite common to have national events with a hundred boats on the start line – as you can imagine, it is very chaotic! (Imagine an F1 start with 100 cars on the front row). After I grew out of the Oppi, I started sailing the Laser, the same boat that is sailed by our Olympic silver medalist Annalise Murphy. It was an inspiration to see Annalise miss out on an Olympic medal in London 2012 by the narrowest of margins and then bounce back, train hard and 4 years later win silver in Rio. There’s a lesson there – if at first you don’t succeed…

I primarily sail the Laser, which is a one-man class as it offers the best racing competition one can find. However, it’s a lot of fun racing a 4 or 5-man keelboat. This is a very different type of sailing – everyone has a job, from manning the jib (front sail) to taking charge of tactics to helming (sailing term for driving). There’s a lot of shouting and you have to learn to trust in your team to their job, whereas with the Laser, you are in full control, but it means you have to be good at every aspect of racing – hence why the best sailors in the world come from the Laser. My favourite thing about sailing is the competitive nature of racing. Before a sailing race, I study the venue, its tidal patterns and I look at the wind and weather predictions for the day. Preparation is key to having a good race – for example, if you know that it will be windier on the left side of the course, you can go to that side, pick up the extra wind and get ahead of everyone. I’m an extremely competitive person, and there’s nothing like going into the last race of a multi-day event where only two of you are left standing. In this scenario, although there are many other boats in the race, it is essentially a 1 vs. 1 and in sailing you are allowed to mess each other up to try and get ahead. For example, you can place your sail between the other person’s sail and the wind, thus taking away the other person’s power. No matter who wins, it’s a lot of fun!

I’m lucky enough to still live near the sea so I have the option to go sailing pretty often, though it can be hard to find the time with the amount of work I have to do. I get to walk past the sea on the way to work, which always looks beautiful – especially on a windless day, where the water looks like a mirror and you can see a perfect reflection of all the boats in the harbour. Sailing around Ireland’s Eye and Lambay Island is incredible. Lambay is particularly beautiful and it’s incredible to see the wallabies up close.

I’ve never had any scary experiences, but tough moments certainly! Howth Yacht Club run a Laser “Frostbite” winter series and as the name suggests, you do not want to fall in! It’s challenging to get out of bed to drive to Howth on a Sunday morning in December where your boat is covered in ice – it can be so bad that you can barely rig (prepare) the boat let alone to sail it. It’s a great series though and some of the best Irish sailors take part. Also, I think I’ve become semi cold-blooded due to that series – I now sleep with the window open all year round!

I’ve been a member of Malahide Yacht Club since I started sailing at the age of 8. Every week, they hold local “club races” where all members come down and race. The racing was always taken seriously as that was our training before we went to events around the country. From the age of 16, I started instructing which was really rewarding. It was great to see really young kids starting off just like me and then watching them grow into racers over the years. It offers a nice break from my usual routine of programming and meetings. I see sailing as almost the complete opposite of my career in tech. Going sailing is a far cry from tearing my hair out over some software problem – there’s nothing like getting out onto the open sea where I can feel the wind across my face and marvel at the beauty of it all. It keeps my mind in check.

I think having a sport helps your social skills, which is really important in tech. You could be a wizard at creating complex and efficient algorithms, but unless you can explain what you’ve done, it’s useless. When looking for a new hire, someone with an interesting sport or hobby would certainly jump out at me as it’s probable that they are a very well-rounded person. As always, you need to train a lot but to get the most out of that training, you need to know why adjusting your sails or moving your body weight in a certain way affects the boat in a certain way. My advice to aspiring sailors would be to develop an understanding of how a sailboat works. Learn the physics of it. Read books. Sailing is both a physical and intellectual sport. You need to have an understanding to rise to the top.

  • Show Comments

  • John

    Very good insight into competitive Sailing – nice images.

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