161: Katie Pettibone, part 1: Americas Cups, 81-foot waves, and protecting the oceans (transcript)

March 28, 2019 by Dani Mihaleva
in Podcast

Katie Pettibone

Katie continues the line of world class sailing champions I’ve had the honor of interviewing for this podcast who’ve translated their athletic success to leadership in their sport, business and beyond. What’s success in Katie’s case? How about competing in three America’s Cups including being the youngest member of the first ever all female boat, two around the world races as well as the famed Sydney Hobart and Worrell 1000 extreme catamaran races. Watch the videos of these things. They’re incredible. She’s also a lawyer and president of the Rising Tide Leadership Institute. She just got back from an Olympic racing regatta in Miami which followed placing second in the Sydney Hobart race about a month ago and that Sydney Hobart race Ocean Respect Racing sponsored her boat to reduce pollution not just increase efficiency or recycle more but to reduce pollution overall. We talk about seeing plastic in the remote ocean as well as in much greater density closer to shore, especially America’s shores. It’s really sobering to hear but I think very important. So let’s listen to Katie.


Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I am here with Katie Pettibone. Katie, how are you?

Katie: I’m very well. And yourself?

Joshua: I’m very good. Wishing I’d hit record like a couple of minutes earlier because we’ve been joking around and laughing so much and I hate to keep that from the listeners. I’ve been trying to think of how to begin this because our last conversation I loved and that led to conversations with other people that I loved. And then I feel like I could start from the past and talk about things like America’s Cups and several America’s Cups and all women’s America’s Cups. Or I could talk about the present and I guess the recent past was you just raced in the Sydney Hobart race in something that’s near and dear to my heart not just sailing but also whom you sailed for which is environmental. We would have recorded a bit earlier but you were just doing some Olympic class sailing in, I believe, Miami.

Katie: Yep, yep.

Joshua: Now I’m going to leave all those for teasers for everyone else because I think anyone would want to hear all of those things and then I’ve just been looking through some major web pages and feeds and things and I see a bunch of pictures of you with motorcycles and they look pretty cool.

Katie: Thank you. Yeah.

Joshua: So is that like a side hobby or is it like… What’s with the motorcycles? I mean they look pretty cool.

Katie: Yeah. No, it’s a side hobby. I wouldn’t consider myself a decent rider to do. I didn’t really grow up riding dirt bikes or things like that but my dad had a motorcycle and I was a child and I rode on the back and loved it. And then I had in my 20s one or two boyfriends, ex or well, one was ex-military special forces and another was [unintelligible] and they had bikes. I loved it. And I thought to myself, “I don’t need a man to have a bike. I can get a bike myself.” And so I went about taking on motorcycle courses and I loved it and got some really good advice about what are good bikes for women and found myself with owning a Ducati which I love. And that’s kind of a side thing that I have that makes me really appreciate time, machine and the environment, the fresh air and also going fast.

Joshua: So it’s interesting because I think of sailing as fundamentally… I guess you can solo sail but I feel like especially the racing it tends to be very team. It’s a vehicle that uses a team and motorcycles… Is it now, when you ride, is a guy hanging on to you in the back because it usually feels like it’s the other way around?

Katie: No, no. It’s just me.

Joshua: Is it a solo? It feels like it’s fundamentally different than sailing in that way the solo versus the team activity.

Katie: Well, you know it’s funny for my racing you know the motorcycle actually and it’s ironic, it’s actually very similar because it’s attention to detail, it’s anticipation, being very aware of your surroundings and I’m processing a lot of sensory inputs you know what’s happening. Ideally, I like riding with a group because I do like the social dynamic and that’s one of things I like about teams but the bike itself and all the things about it are very much like sailing. And I will say ironically when I did the last Olympic campaign for the 2016 quad for Rio I found that the motorcycle was actually helpful in my training because the boat I was sailing was a high performance catamaran which [unintelligible] and the thing about these boats is that they accelerate and decelerate very quickly and so the same is true for the motorcycle and so the body got used to those kinds of G forces or lack thereof and just reacting quickly and it actually was helpful for my sailing.

Joshua: Do you like taking vehicles to their limit? I feel like sailing like I see sometimes these spectacular crashes of million dollar boats that people just take it to the limits. Are you doing something like that?

Katie: I don’t like taking them to the limit. I like knowing the vehicle whether it’s the bike or a car or my sailboats, I like knowing their characteristics and being able to pull out the performance of them and knowing exactly you know how they’re going to behave and what’s going on with the dynamics of it. I hate crashes. Crashes are no fun. But I’ve had them and you’ve got to know how to get out of them and certainly in sailing you know that sailing in the Southern Ocean where you know huge waves and no one’s going to rescue and there’s no boat standing by to help you if things go south you figure it out pretty quick.

Joshua: And is that… [unintelligible] Volvo?

Katie: Yep, yep.

Joshua: Because when I see the videos of that it’s unbelievable. And it’s like a house size waves. And can you tell us a story? Did you crash on there?

Katie: Sure. Yeah. Now I remember there’s… Which Volvo? Which one was that? I’ve done the Whitbread Round the World 97-98 and then that was the last year that was actually called the Whitbread Around the world race. Volvo had bought the property and then it became the Volvo Ocean Race. So the core was that was that the Whitbread… No, maybe you know what? Maybe it was a Volvo. We’re sailing down there and massive waves. We had a spinnaker up and [unintelligible] control, it was seriously fun but also it’s like I likened it to riding a tiger.

I mean you’re hanging on because if you fall off, it’s going to be bad. And we’re going along, going along and I remember thinking in my head I wonder if we should get the spinnaker down and this is getting a little on the edge of you know Harry in control and then all of the sudden the steering cable broke and the boat just rounded up into this wonderful massive wipeout. And you know it’s on its side, head the wind and the spinnaker is streaming out like a massive flag just flapping and causing potentially great damage to the mast. It was all crazy. So I jumped down to the lured wheel and on those boats we specifically had designed the steering cables to be independent so that when you had a situation like this or let’s say somebody washes into one wheel and damaged the wheel you can still drive from the other wheel. So I jumped down and then the other wheel but the problem is you have flow over any of the appendages and you’re on your side. So I quickly figured out how to drive the boat you know in a way that it actually created flow over the appendages so that we could then turn back down these massive waves and get everything sorted out and under control again and fix the broken side. So yeah, that was exciting. That was definitely exciting.

Joshua: It sounds like everything’s falling apart and you’ve got your head about you in… I mean there’s this old phrase in leadership that anyone can captain the boat in calm waters. The real medal comes out when the waves are wide capped and the wind is howling and it sounds like that’s what happened.

Katie: Yep, yep, for sure. And you know I will say another story we had. You know we’re training and we’re doing this run across the Bay of Biscay which is to me the most treacherous waters. People think the Southern Ocean is and I think the Bay of Biscay is far worse. And sure enough of this massive storm came through and the biggest storm I to date have ever been in, waves that towered above our mast and our mast is eighty-six feet tall. And I remember you know you just handle it, you just deal… And honestly I also have it like how bad can it be. I mean we’re also closely in the dangerous part and the good part. So I always had in the back of my mind well we washed ashore and you know whatever I can always swim.

But you know I mean that’s kind of a simplistic view and probably not very depending on the rocks that you land on good or bad. But you know there were people in that boat that couldn’t deal. There was a person who wouldn’t come up on deck because basically their systems crashed down and they just couldn’t handle the situation and another guy as well who didn’t handle the situation. And is not a male or female thing. It’s definitely individualistic.

Joshua: And these are people that… You didn’t pick people kind of like hoping for the best. You pick people who you were confident… There’s a selection like you pick people that you were confident would make it. And yet among those people still when they’re actually in the situation sometimes people lose their cool.

Katie: Yep, yep. And you know honestly some of the people until you’re in that situation and I will say upon discussion after with the skipper. We were sailing mixed teams and I was with this phenomenally renowned British skipper who’d done six around the world races and totally salty and he said you know, “I’ve done all this racing and I’ve never experienced conditions like that.” because afterwards I said, “Yes, that wasn’t really that fun.” He said, “If you can handle that, you can handle anything.” I thought, “Well, ok then. I can do this around the world race then.”

Joshua: So let’s give a little context. I imagine most people… I’ve only sailed less than a year now and a lot of this stuff is new to me and so I imagine for others it’s yet more new. So I think a lot of people view sailing like an upper crust kind of pastime. It’s fun, not a life and death… I love how you like [unintelligible] mast and then waves above that. And then like that’s not enough and you’re like, “And you might hit rocks.” Yeah. That too.

Actually, I thought when I first heard about Olympic sailing I didn’t realize this. Sailing has been an Olympic sport since the very first modern Olympics. And one of the appeals to sailing for me is that you know for a little while in college I got into rollerblading and no one rollerblades anymore but sailing it’s been around since the dawn of history. I love that it’s been around forever. I mean all of human history. So what is sailing like for you. What is racing?

Katie: You know it’s funny racing to me is taking this wonderful sport that is so complex and you know I will also add there’s this kind of ongoing discussion within sailing as in the whole world about whether it’s a lifestyle or a sport. And the beauty of it is it’s both. And I think probably there are some things like equestrian and you would probably like in that too which is you can do it forever and you don’t have to race or compete or you know jump huge fences. But sailing for me is kind of just a passion. It’s just a lifestyle but it’s also a place where I get to express my competitive spirit and be active and you know take on a bunch of different complex problems and solve them. And in the meantime I’ve gotten to sail around the world and I’ve made incredible friends in every part nook and cranny all over this globe. And it’s just been a wonderful thing. So it’s hard to really kind of say what is this one part. The racing I do love because there are so many types of boats and they are very complicated and nuanced and I enjoy the intellectual problem as well as the physical challenge.

Joshua: When you said intellectual I thought… You’ve got the weather, you’ve got the currents, you’ve got the boat itself, then you’ve got all these other people. It’s like on multiple levels and dimensions of things going on all at once and then you’ve got the competition. Have I captured fair amount? I’m sure there’s more.

Katie: Yeah. Pretty much.

Joshua: What part have you… Are you drawn to… It seems like leadership and being a skipper seems like a big part of it?

Katie: I do love the team atmosphere. And I will say I love working with even whether it’s on a boat or in other contexts I love working with dynamic people who work together and come up with you know an ability to perform that’s above all single selves. And so you know because of all those complexities I love the team sport in sailing. I think the camaraderie is just fantastic. And so I know that and what’s also special about that is sailing is definitely international. So the camaraderie encompasses different viewpoints and ways of being from all the time nations and then you know it’s also very much gender neutral although at the highest levels it’s still pretty male dominated. And more and more you’re seeing women at the top levels and so that was the thing that drove me to the sport when I was younger and I played volleyball and soccer and track and field and all these things it’s like oh, but sailing I get to compete with boys and work together with people of different ages and then that really, really really, drew me to it.

Joshua: You said a lot of new records or… I mean you push the limits in this area. I mean the first all-women’s America’s Cup boat. Is that right?

Katie: Yep, yep, yep.

Joshua: Was that difficult? Was that welcome? Was that challenging? Or was it just like, Oh, I just felt like doing it.”?

Katie: It’s funny. So I was the youngest on that team. And for me just kind of was the next step in my development of being an incredible opportunity. Never thought it would happen but with Bill Koch’s energy and his vision we did, we had an all-women’s team. I will say it challenged the historical male kind of view of women sailing and the America’s Cup couldn’t essentially although if you look back to the J boats you know there would be a woman on board as one of the owners’ wives or such but it really did having a women’s team they’re challenging men’s teams with the physicality of these 80-foot boats was definitely you know breaking stereotypes. And the media really responded to that and this was kind of the time before the Internet. There wasn’t like we had the web to do the coverage. I think if we had it now, it would blow it up but it was covered by all the major media outlets. And it was incredible the public outpouring of support both male, female, different countries. I mean everybody was just taken with this because it was a serious glass ceiling that was broken when you had a women’s team in America’s Cup for the first time ever.

Joshua: And fast forward to a couple of months ago you were also in an all-women’s boat and I feel like it gets some attention but it wasn’t to feel like the glass ceiling had been broken long enough that it’s not standard but maybe it’s not remarkable anymore. I feel like that’s part of the goal. I’m not sure.

Katie: Yeah. No. We weren’t the first all-women’s team in the Hobart. That had been done already multiple times and the numbers of women who were competing in the Sydney to Hobart is just great. I mean obviously we’d would like to see more but I think it was really great to see a team like ours where it was a bunch of women who’ve had tremendous professional sailing experience is such that anybody would want this team no matter what gender you were. And so that was interesting because we’re all talking about when we looked at the roster that Stacey Jackson put together this was a team that you would put together to win anything. And it wasn’t about male or female. It literally was a boat of top notch sailors. They just happen to be all women.

Joshua: Part of me wants to switch over and start segueing into environmental things because… Can you tell us about that boat? I guess the sponsors?

Katie: Yeah. So the sponsor, we had two sponsors. One was the Oatley family who has a long history in sailing. Sandy Oatley was there racing on our brother ship that was bit bigger and the [unintelligible] is eleven but so that was one of the sponsors and that was phenomenal. The other main sponsor was 11th hour racing. And they really made a huge impact in the marine world on bringing attention to clean seas. And so Stacey Jackson who had worked and done a lot of stuff with them during the Volvo Ocean Race got them to sponsor the boat and continue the messaging and bringing awareness to the need for getting rid of single use plastic, rethinking the way you do things and the need for us to really continue to focus on ocean health and so they were a big sponsor and that was a huge message for us. And I think that was absolutely awesome, certainly well taken and everybody’s… And it was Australia would love to see us do something up here in the US with it similar. I think it was really, really impactful.

I mean there was a day where the girls were on the beach picking up trash and they have programs where they go out on the water in the harbor, in the Sydney Harbor and are combing the deep depths of it to get this old plastic and debris and trash and so I think we really need to be more aware of our use of this stuff and it really struck me how so much you know even when we go to provision the boat you know you go to buy fruit, go in the store and it’s like oh here’s a little plastic bag to put your two pears in because God forbid your pears touch the tomatoes that you’re buying or the avocados. Let’s have a plastic bag for all that which is ludicrous.

Joshua: I want to know something on top of that is you guys are a world class athletes and one of the major goals of this podcast is to get public figures, influential people, athletes and celebrities and politicians and so forth to act according to the values that they talk about not just say, “We should have these values.” but actually live them because so many people feel like, “If I act but no one else does, then what I do doesn’t matter.” And the flip side to that is, “Oh, these world class athletes are doing it. I guess people in my community are doing it. I guess it’s time I do too.”

Katie: Yes, and I love that fact. So we do that, the Sydney to Hobart. And that message is just resonating extremely well and I think waking a lot of people up in Australia and certainly New Zealand and I mean I think this message has actually been percolating around the world but I could just really feel it and see it when we did that race down there. Then I came back to the US and I’m off into Miami to go do this Olympic class event and again huge message. The Olympic venue down in Miami they handed out for all the boats water bottles and they had water filling stations and it was like the… I even took pictures of myself next to all these big boards and the messaging about it and I was like this is amazing. You know this is happening everywhere. We just need to keep having that conversation and pushing it into other areas. I mean we’re starting to really see the value and the benefits in our world which to be fair we’re on the water, it’s in our face, but we need to continue to push it into places where it isn’t just you know, “Hey, if you use the ocean, you should be thinking about this and doing it.” We need to be pushing it into the lands you know, “Hey, by the way plastics making its way up into the food chain. So if you have cats or if you have any dogs that are eating any kind of fish, there’s probably plastic in them now.” And then it’s getting further and further up and so it’s going to affect all of us. We all eat. You know you could live in Kansas but if you’re eating fish, you better be worried about it.

Joshua: Very sobering. Sailing has this connection that, I don’t know, IndyCar racing doesn’t. I guess there is going to be embedded carbon in the boat but sailing itself is pretty free. And yet I think sailors… I ask you this question and I have a feeling you know what the answer is. You know do you have a story about being as far away from land as you can imagine and seeing plastic or something like that around? Is that common?

Katie: Yeah. I mean we’ve seen it. It just depends on what type it is. You know when you’re off the coast what you’re saying you know whether it’s old fishing line or whether it’s single use bags or you know whether it’s a bucket or some plastic container that contained something at some point. I will say I was horrified and really struck… As an American you know we can be so arrogant and then we go to places like you go into a place like I remember going into Brazil and being worried about sanitation and all worried about that. And you know that’s neither here, nor there. I mean it is what it is. But when we came up to the US off the waters I mean the plastic was insane. By far the US was the worst for having plastic in the water.

Joshua: Where were you that you saw it like off a city or…?

Katie: Yeah. I mean going into Fort Lauderdale and Miami and then it’s because we raced up the coast soon as you got close you know 10 miles off shore I mean you’re seeing it just in the water – single use bags or like I said plastic pieces or jugs or this or you know that. But I will say the single use bags is where I saw those off the US. I did not see those in the other countries. We see other stuff but I didn’t really see that level of the you know the grocery single use bags.

Joshua: So how does it feel for you? Because I have ideas I can tell you how it feels for me. So say you’re in a store and someone buys like you said two pears. Someone buys a bag of chips and then they put that in a bag. How does it feel when you see that?

Katie: Oh, I just you know I mean it’s hard. You see it all the time and you want to say, “Really?” You know we buy reusable bag you know if you can’t carry everything, buy reusable bag and leave it in your car. But you know I have to laugh because even when I go to the grocery store… I mean when I was down even in Miami, here in California we’re a lot more aware so you don’t get it, but when I was down in Miami I had a bunch of stuff and I have this big purse that I can like throw my computer in and stuff. And so inevitably and I get it full of a lot of things and I’m like they said, “Oh, you need a bag? No, no.” And I just start packing my purse up and they’re giving me the weirdest look like I’m crazy instead of using their plastic and I’m like, “I don’t want your plastic.”

Joshua: You’re like, “You’re the ones that are crazy.” I guess you know people haven’t seen a bag a couple of miles off the coast and knowing where it came from and making that connection. I guess the people have this amazing ability to hear about Pacific gyres and… This morning I was talking to a friend of mine in Bali and I said you know we were talking environmental stuff and I just you know, “By the way, is there a lot of plastic in the water there?” And his response, and its absolute ordinariness is what got me which is, “Of course.” Like Bali is pretty far from stuff I mean from big population centers. I mean there’s plenty of population around there but it was the way he was, “Yeah, of course.” like that’s the world we live in. It used to be that was aberrant and now that’s normal.

Katie: Yeah, yeah.

Joshua: So part of me wants to continue about that but I want to go back to some leadership stuff too before getting wholesale into environmental things because I think what you also do a lot of corporate speaking I think and training with people who are aspiring leaders in totally other contexts in sport. But I feel like sailing because of the team aspect and because stuff comes from so many different directions and it’s so unpredictable that I feel like this type of athlete brings something that others don’t. Is it something that business leadership and also other types of leadership I guess political and other areas, is it really in demand? And is it something that they’ve a lot to learn from you guys?

Katie: I think it is in demand and it’s interesting because you will see some corporate sailing events. I mean I think it’s definitely a thing where people are realizing that sailing is just a great team building kind of vehicle. But I also think you know I look at sailors who actually left the marine world and they tend to be really successful in whatever they do because of all the skills that you get as you mentioned. I mean you’re used to having to work with people in complex and dynamic environments and so I mean whether it’s corporate or political or otherwise I think you know it does make for somebody being very effective as a part of whatever quote unquote team that is.

And I think you know I work in legal and political world and I think you know it’s interesting I always know that there’s another viewpoint I mean the international teams I’ve sailed with. And also there’s a million ways to skin a cat on the boat you know and so you have to just be really open and present and I think that’s very helpful in today’s world. And I do think that the people who sail whether it’s high school college or onward I just think they’re really good people to have in whatever endeavor you’re doing.

Joshua: Yeah. I have to say that the community that I’ve tapped into I guess it’s started with Dawn Riley who put me in touch with you. Just meeting all these like America’s Cup athletes and champions and Olympians and [unintelligible] people and everyone’s so super friendly even though I’m such a neophyte to the sport, not even to the sport. I’ve only learned to sail. I guess I’ve been on boats that were racing but the waves were like two feet high.

Katie: You’ve got wet.

Joshua: Yeah and it’s such a… I can’t tell if it’s the specific group that I’ve tapped into or if it’s just the sport because partly one of my measures of someone’s leadership’s quality or someone’s leadership’s skills or ability is the number and depth of type of followers they have, people in their community. And so maybe I’ve just found some really tremendous leaders or maybe I found a community that’s really tight or maybe both. I don’t know. How does it look from the inside?

Katie: I’d say it’s a community that’s tight but I do think you know all the people are pretty outstanding as well and like any community we all have our stories where you cringe because you see somebody being a horrible individual and you’re like that doesn’t really represent whether it’s the Corinthian spirit or whether it’s just our sailing spirit. And so you know I mean I think that this sport tends to have really good people because ultimately the ocean and the seas don’t really care. And so if you’re alone out there, other sailors, other mariners are really your allies and your friends that will come to your aid in tough times and so you know it is a real community. You talk about any of these stories where there are mariners who are sailors and then something goes awry and they were rescued it’s the other mariners out there that come to their aid and so the sea… It’s funny because I know the historical writers you know what often characterizes the sea is cruel and uncaring. I think it’s wonderful but it doesn’t care. It doesn’t care about somebody’s victim story or excuses or this or that it just is and so you better be ready to meet it.

Joshua: Have you ever either bailed out or been bailed out? Have you ever been one of these mariners on either the receiving side or the helping side?

Katie: I haven’t been on the helping side. We required assistance up in the North Atlantic when we were doing the Volvo Ocean Race and our mast broke. We ended up getting a tow from a massive ice, Canadian ice breaker in some pretty grim horrible conditions. But you know it was wonderful and I will say just as an aside you know both of these around the world races we broke our mast. The first one we broke her mass so far from land nobody could come and save us. We had to get it on the boat and sail the boat with our wits and what we had on the boat to the tip of Argentina to Ushuaia and then of course in this particular case we were towed by the ice breaker into Nova Scotia.

And you know although it’s not great for competition in both cases those stops are amazing and I saw beautiful parts of the world that I probably wouldn’t have gone to otherwise. So I think I was very fortunate. I just think you know life’s a kind of funny thing when it throws you a curveball it’s actually can be a beautiful thing.

Joshua: How do you sail a boat without a mast? I mean just standing really tall and holding it?

Katie: We had twenty-one feet left of the mast still up. So our bowel girl went up, she basically free climb to the top of it and attach ropes [unintelligible] and we took our small sails and made holes and put them up sideways and figured out ways to trim them and attach ropes to them and we sailed the boats.

Joshua: Does that give you a feeling of accomplishment or is it a feeling like, “Damn we messed up.”? How did it break? Was it too strong wind or…

Katie: No, it was terrible winds, terrible conditions. [unintelligible] about globalization. It turned out that the parts, there were parts of the mast that had been subcontracted out and the subcontractor put half as many threads as needed for the loads on this piece and so they failed. These pieces failed and the mast broke.

Joshua: It’s amazing. That came out like a post-mortem…

Katie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Because we had a male team and so they obviously were concerned about their mast. They didn’t lose their mast but they were very concerned. So yeah we had a [unintelligible] because we had no idea why when nothing had happened. Usually something happens. And actually funnily enough the second race where we broke mast same sort of deal there were fractures that weren’t apparent on visual inspection and the mast failed in beautiful calm waters very nice you know 12 knots, sunny sky, just folded over you know just kind of went with a breath and in the post-mortem you kind of find out the structural failures.

Joshua: So much to the sport. And one last thing I want to touch about before going into the environment part of the podcast is that I really would never have expected the sport or the lifestyle to be as accessible because it seemed shrouded in elite rich Kennedy type stuff and the only reason I got into it was that I was not flying and wanted to go to places off of North America. I wasn’t going to take a cruise ship and so sailing seemed to fit the bill. And now if I compare what I spent on flying it’s so small compared than what I spent on sailings, it is much less. And I want to help spread that it’s not this snooty upper class thing. I mean I guess there is that element to it but a lot of things are like that and I want to help that message get out there. Do you have a view on that as well?

Katie: No, I think it is definitely not just the snooty class you know kind of sport. I mean I am not upper class. I’m Midwest you know middle class and we have wonderful yacht clubs and you know I think about my hometown Yacht Club port here in Michigan that was built with the equity and the sweat of all the members. My grandfather and cousins and you know I just remember being a kid they basically built that yacht club themselves brick by brick and everyone pitches in and there’s no paid bartender ever but the members bartend. And so it’s a wonderful community. I mean sailing definitely is not a snooty sport up to your point there is that element. And you know what? That’s fine too. That’s beautiful and wonderful that it’s a sport that’s just…. It’s a family sport that you know you can pick up and do. You don’t need a lot of money and all you need is wind and some water.

Joshua: Yeah maybe you had some weird… I’m trying to think of why I got the idea that I did because when you talk about that that does resonate with I guess more if you’re… I mean I grew up in Philadelphia so I think of Chesapeake or Boston where just sailing seems to be there. It’s just part of culture. Whereas I was I guess more inland and maybe it’s just by geography that I just had this view that just doesn’t fit with how I look at it now.

Katie: Yeah. Well I mean the thing is you know it is hard to access sailboats unless you know where to go to get one and where do they tend to be in yacht clubs. Obviously yachts clubs like golf clubs you have to be a member and so that’s I think where some of the barriers start to come. But all yacht clubs you know or now they’re sailing centers and sailing community’s centers and those are all very much trying to get everybody involved because sailing like everything is fighting for everyone’s attention. You mean I don’t care what sport or pastime whether it’s golf, sailing, riding, biking, you know skiing you know we’re all so busy in our lives that all these things are fighting for survival and so you know sailing used to be I think more prevalent but we’re seeing a little bit of a dip in it because you know being on a sailboat isn’t fast. I mean if you were going to use it as your means of getting someplace, you better have some time because you’re at the wind of the wind.

Joshua: Well, have to say that for me because it began as replacing flying what I was very pleasantly surprised to find… Well, first of all, in Manhattan the sailing clubs, I’m sure there a lot of them but the one I belong to is a non-owner one so I never have to worry at this stage, maybe one day I’ll want to worry about these things but I don’t worry about what to do with it in the wintertime and things like that or barnacles. It’s just I go online and see when it’s an open time and basically every time I’ve ever wanted to sail there’s a skipper going out and I can just crew on that boat and so I get all the fun part and I’m out in the water. There’s the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan and I’m no more than two or three miles from home by distance but once I get on that boat it’s the pace of the wind… I mean no 81-foot waves there in the New York Harbor but it’s just like whatever stress was in my life it may return when the boat is back but it’s just so such a comfortable pace. It’s an escape that flying doesn’t… I mean flying has its other stuff to go to other places but it gives me… I haven’t missed going to other places because it’s such another world when you’re in the water. That’s just been my experience.

Katie: I know I agree. When you go out on the ocean it takes you away from so many things. It’s another world. It really is. I think there is something really special about that.


Joshua: So now I want to switch back to environment because when you’re talking about seeing the plastic bags and the single-use, I mean of course this is the Leadership and the Environment podcast so you’re probably predisposed to see things a certain way but it didn’t sound like you were faking it. It sounds like there’s something… It was resonating that there’s something… I mean some people might say, “Oh, whatever, that’s part of humanity.” but it sounded like it resonated with something in you.

Katie: Yeah. I don’t think it is part of humanity and I think it’s us being careless and selfish and short-sighted and self-destructive, frankly, because you know these things that we do and we put out there is always going to come back to us in some way, shape or form. And when I have seen it you know to the extent I have it’s just I think because if you don’t go on the water and you’re not in the water and you’re certainly not on the shores maybe it’s not in your face so much you know it’s that notion of, “Well, if it’s not there, I don’t have to worry about it if somebody else is dealing with it.” Well, you know somebody isn’t. And you need to deal with it yourself and everybody needs to be responsible for themselves. And it’s like anything else whether it’s a complex problem or not, it needs to be broken down into very small steps in front of you the things that you can do right now.

When I was in that terrible storm you know with these waves that were towering over the boat and I remember looking up at them we were running with the storm so they were behind us. I mean you’re running down the wave. I remember looking back and like holy cow and it would’ve been very easy to have been overwhelmed by it but, “I, right, I’m not going to focus on those, I’m going to focus on the things I can do. What is it on this boat right here and now that I can do you know to get through this situation.” And that’s essentially what we all need to be doing in terms of managing ourselves and starting to think sustainably about all these things. What are the small things that I can do here? Don’t worry about solving a whole problem like it’s going to take a bunch of people to work together in concert to solve the problem and it’s going to take time. But in the middle right now, right here and now everybody should be focused on their little steps that they can do and do them.

Joshua: It sounded to me of all the things you said there maybe to me it sounded like the biggest pieces were, and tell me if I misread, responsibility and being able to act one’s self and without being dissuaded by the scale of how difficult something might be but “What can I do anyway?”

Katie: Yeah. I think the thing is scale can really dissuade people from acting, I mean can overwhelm a person and you might give up, “All right. Well, why should I do it?” Let’s take something that’s very common to women around the world – weight loss. You’re just going to take those little steps and just keep doing them you know and it’ll work out. You just have to focus on it. The same with sustainability – all of us need to take those little steps. And you and I’ve talked about this before it’s like I mean people can say if you have, “Oh, I’ve got to do all these things to incredibly make my life green.” Well, that can be overwhelming. So it’s like start taking the small steps. Don’t use those stupid bags for each vegetable and each fruit. OK. Take the next step. Don’t buy or use plastic bags in the grocery, for God’s sake. You know what I mean? And then you start don’t use the plastic bottles of water, you know carry around a thermos, use those you know. And so all those things I think you just start you know just take it step by step.

Joshua: No matter how small the little thing feels if you don’t do the little things, the big things seem really big but actually even if the little things are small, after you do it the big things seem more accessible. They seem easy in comparison.

Katie: Right. Well and maybe even not easier but at least you’re on your way to getting to them.

Joshua: Yeah. I mean when I first started avoiding packaged food I would throw out my garbage something like once a week and if someone told me, “So you throw out your garbage less than once a year. That’s too much work and I don’t really feel like it.” And I wouldn’t have believed it possible. But now looking back once I started it, it seems almost inevitable just because each step improved my life. And when something prison life than you want to do the next thing even if it’s small.

Katie: And it’s funny because I know you probably… Well, we’ve talked already there but there was a girl that we got to work with in the ocean racing down in Sydney there and she doesn’t use package food at all and they have a store that they go to and she gets everything that’s in bulk and you bring your glass jars and you get stuff. And I thought you know that’s amazing. She said the very first time she did that her boyfriend thought she was crazy and was like “What are you doing?” And now he’s completely bought into it and your point about the trash, they hardly take any trash out and all these things and it’s funny because the team from the Sydney to Hobart we have this group chat and we continue to talk about different things and one of our… I actually think it was Stacy just recommending shampoo bar for the hair which I’m intrigued to try because I’ve really thick hair. I was like, “Is it going to clean my hair?” I don’t know but I’m going to try it. So get rid of those plastic bottles for shampoo.

Joshua: Yeah. It’s kind of fun to see what the next thing is that you can do and like oh, I didn’t realize I could do something about that. You know for years I’ve been doing this stuff and I just have leftover toothpaste that I haven’t had to worry about toothpaste for because I just am finishing what was in stock. For some reason I had a lot of it.

Katie: So we’ll leave that alone for a second.

Joshua: So someday soon I’ll have to… I mean I go online and there’s plenty of stuff it’s like I don’t know you mix some scented oils with a little coconut oil and baking soda I think and there’s your toothpaste. I haven’t done it yet. I mean it doesn’t sound particularly hard. But at some point I’ll do it. I’m not going to throw away a tube of toothpaste. I’m going to finish it. But then once finished I’m not going replace it with more packaged stuff that I don’t need to.

Okay. So for all the stuff that you’ve been doing you know one of the things I like to ask guests I invite you at your option to take on something you haven’t done before usually based on presumably your values of… I heard responsibility and taking action and… Care to take on something that you haven’t done before? And again I don’t have to say this to you but for listeners you don’t have to save all the world’s problems or solve all the world’s problems by yourself overnight. But it can’t be telling someone else what to do because we’ve got enough of that and something measurable. Care to try something new that you haven’t done already?

Katie: Well, I’m going to try this shampoo stuff. That’s going to be my new… I thought about that actually before I got on this. It’s like, “Okay. What am I going to try new that I can say that I will report back and how this works?” I’m going to try the shampoo and conditioner bars. Yeah.

Joshua: So that will, I bet, satisfy the curiosity of a lot of listeners because I’m sure that for a lot of people what you just said is new and they’re like, “What? Bar soap for shampoo? That doesn’t make sense. Bar soap is going to dry…” I don’t know what it would do because my hair is really short and I don’t have to worry about these things. But I mean what would you worry about before if you hadn’t had any motivation to try this?

Katie: Yeah. So I’ve really thick hair but it’s fine. So it tangles and it because it’s so thick it’s really hard to… I don’t want to say get clean but it’s really thick and tangly and so you know what concerns me about is A) does this actually dry it out? B) Does it make it greasy? and c) Does it actually clean it? And so yeah. So that’s my concern and then conditioner the same sort of deal. So just look I mean I could probably put coconut oil on it and that would probably untangle it but it’s going to be really greasy.

So what is the thing that’s going to allow me to… You know I am a professional, I work at you know and like I said political legal you know world. I’ve got to look professional so these are the things – I want to be sustainable but I got to look professionals so let’s meld the two.

Joshua: Does that mean you have to try different ones and get a few and see which one works with your particular hair?

Katie: Yep, probably, probably. And brands. I mean different types, different brands, now all the things that we you know us women have to go through. Now if I just share what may have made my hair [unintelligible] to my head like yours I probably really [unintelligible].

Joshua: So it’s possible that the first one you get works perfectly. It’s also possible that it takes you 10 times in a week for each or something like that.

Katie: Yeah, no idea. It’s going to be a project. It will be an experiment.

Joshua: Sounds like something has been on the horizon but you are like, “I’ll get to it eventually.” And now…

Katie: I was kind of waiting for my sailing friends to report back and what they thought on it but I think you know what, I’m not going to wait and having these plastic bottles in my bathroom are driving me crazy because it’s just you know they’re staring at you every day and you’re like, “Really? I got to get rid of you, guys.”

Joshua: So how long do you think we should take to check back in to hear how it goes or shall I just hear back for you when it works out?

Katie: I’ll let you know. I’ll let you know. I’ll probably know in a month.

Joshua: OK. It’s also possible that in a month you’re like, “Well, these five didn’t work.”

Katie: Yeah, yeah. That’ll be like, “OK, so how do I get my regular shampoo outside of plastic bottles?”

Joshua: Oh, yeah, actually the places near me where you can get bulk stuff I know that they have bulk olive oil, bulk soy sauce, bulk vinegar and bulk the all one or none chamomile stuff which I know some people use for shampoo so you can refill the bottles there. Only about a pound.

Katie: Nice. We need more bulk stores. I would really believe that that would be really, really helpful.

Joshua: Yeah. Living in lower Manhattan makes it easy. The one near me that I went to went out of business and then it turns out there’s another one that’s a co-op which I like even more. And it’s a mile walk each way but that’s not a big deal. I mean I walk that far anyway. So yeah, having bulk… Oh, it depends. If I’m coming back because I’m in the neighborhood I’m just passing by I’ll pick up a few things but when I’m low on… The main things I get there are legumes so lentils and split peas and beans and beans and beans because the pressure cooker cooks them really quick and the nuts so I get nuts there and nutritional yeast. So usually I’ll use like at one time I’ll buy tons of nuts and tons of … I mean whatever bag I have it’s completely full. So I’ll come home with like seriously 50 pounds of legumes, of dried red beans, black beans and so forth and then I won’t really get any more until I run out of all of them. So right now I have a little bit of adzuki beans, a little bit of split peas and the odds of me going shopping are very small because why I go shopping when I can just cook the ones in here. And that means that I generally go in it completely empty and if I’m coming back that way and I pass by it I’ll maybe stop and get some stuff. And the same with the nuts like I just finish the nuts when I finish them.

And also this is seriously going to get me in trouble someday. I did the stand-up routine and so people have look at my blog and they can find it where I was at Whole Foods once and I never shop at Whole Foods because to me it’s like a landfill. It’s just so much packaging. So I’m there with a friend and my friend’s shopping and we’re in the book section and they have these containers that you put the bag under and you fill the bag up and a lot of times stuff spills out and there’s a little tray that catches it. So I’m there and this guy comes and starts taking the stuff in the tray the almonds and whatever and throwing them in the trash can. I’m like, “Why are you throwing this out?” And he says, “Well, once it’s out of the container we can’t sell it. We have to throw it away.” or maybe they could compost it.

So now as far as I can tell once it’s in the tray it’s good to go in the landfill and maybe it best composting and it’s still perfectly fine. So when I’m in a neighborhood of Whole Foods I’ll stop in and grab a handful of nuts that they couldn’t sell anyway. And as far as I can tell I’m saving it. If that stuff goes to landfill it anaerobic decomposes which means it turns to methane and I can’t see any way that is not making the world a better place for me to eat that compared to it going into becoming methane which is as people probably know is a very potent greenhouse gas. So it delays my buying nuts at the co-op because I grab handful of nuts with some regularity at the Whole Foods.

Katie: That is awesome.

Joshua: And it’s got to the point where I know where all the Whole Foods are near me because it’s tasty.

Katie: That is great. And you know what’s funny is what strikes me about that and maybe this is also driving the packaging is that my immediate reaction was, “Oh, my gosh, what if somebody [unintelligible] and what about the bacteria from somebody handling it?” And then I immediately thought you know and your point is well taken nothing’s happened [unintelligible]. I think a lot of the packaging is driven by this marketing kind of push that oh, my gosh, everything’s dirty and you need a package to be able to eat it to make it safe.

Joshua: Yeah. Meanwhile it’s like you know what they used to fertilize this stuff. Well I guess now this fossil fuel made fertilizer but generally it’s poop and everyone knows it. And that’s what makes it healthier. Not that I want to eat poop but yeah, I haven’t gotten sick yet eating these things and I don’t see people sneezing on them and yeah, I’m of the mind that you know my sister talks about taking the kids out her and my nieces and nephews and she’s like you know yeah, of course, they should get dirt under the fingernails. That’s healthy. That’s how they develop the immune systems. And that’s how we keep methane out in the atmosphere. And me with a smile on my face holding on my breath.

All right. Well, I’d like to wrap up with a couple of questions. One is is there anything I didn’t think to ask this with bring up.

Katie: I think we’ve kind of hit everything far and wide.

Joshua: OK. And of course we’ll talk again. And is there any message to give to the listeners that you’d like to share?

Katie: I think you know we talked at length about it but it’s essentially just if you do one small thing, challenge yourself a day you know and question and just notice what can I do to get less plastic out there. You know whether it’s a coffee cup or whether it’s you know Kitty Litter bags or grocery bags or toothpaste. I just think do it, just do it because everybody taking one small step will help.

Joshua: Now you were saying that in the context of the environment. I’m curious also does that also apply as a world class athlete who’s competed at this global level I mean around the world and everything? Does it also for that too if you want to become a great athlete, if you were to become a great leader? Does the same apply?

Katie: Well, I think the attention to detail and taking the small steps you know that applies to you know training and whatever goal you’re setting yourself whether it’s athletic or otherwise I mean it’s taking small steps and it gets you to a bigger goal. And so yeah, I think if you have the ability to take a small step in your life in reducing plastic, you certainly have the ability to do one small thing and getting out and being healthier whether it’s going to the gym or eating better or taking better care of yourself. So I mean it’s all the small steps you know it’s not losing 50 pounds in two weeks it’s you know doing one small thing that helps start knocking the pounds down or you up the pounds on the gym by two pounds and eventually you’ll be lifting you know exponentially more weight or if you’re doing yoga you know it’s “I can’t get into that position.” It’s you just take it one step at a time and eventually you’ll get there. I think that goes for everything.

Joshua: And is that something that happened with you? I realized I said I was going to wrap up it I’m really intrigued that is it something to reach these waves that could knock down a house? Before the 80-foot waves were there 70-foot waves and before that there were 50-foot waves? And is that how it happened or did you intentionally ramp things up in your training?

Katie: I think my sailing I ramped it up. I mean I started sailing kill boats when I was in middle school and I certainly started doing longer distances. You know my first quote unquote distance race was here at [unintelligible] port here into Port St. Olaf and then port [unintelligible] and then I went to Florida and there were some Florida distance races and then I did a trans-Atlantic and then you know you do around the world race after that, after you’ve crossed the ocean and then OK, you know I like that distance. So yeah, I think you do, everything you do it’s a ramp up.

Joshua: I’m really glad to hear that because it makes things… Because in the environment so many times people have gone back to me like, “It’s not going to make a difference.” And then I feel like the people at the highest level of human achievement like it came through little changes and attention to detail.

Katie: Attention to detail and just keeping on.

Joshua: Katie Pettibone, thank you very much.

Katie: Thank you.


Around the world sailors see parts of our planet farthest from human establishment. Sadly, I found it’s a standard response that they’ve all seen human junk however remote they’ve traveled. When did it become normal that we have polluted every place possible? When will each of us, you, me, all of us, each of us take responsibility? After all, the garbage she saw may well have been something that you paid for. Maybe it was something that I paid for. For the record, on a lighter note, a story is about 10 feet so those waves that were taller than their 81-foot mast are taller than eight-story buildings. How would you like an eight-story building crashing around you? Staying calm in a situation like that sounds like a tall order but what you want in a leader. And she achieved that calmness, that leadership through attention to detail, starting small and practicing. It’s the same as turning the ship around with the environment. Fixing the environment will come through starting where you are and keeping on acting. It worked for her and it will work for us.

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