Sailing by Ash Breeze

By May 6, 2016 No Comments
No Wind Required

No Wind Required

In order to become a commissioned Naval Officer upon graduation from college, I was required to take courses in maritime navigation and naval history. Nathaniel Bowditch was a name I was familiar with because he is considered to be the father of American maritime navigation. Being a Navy man, his book, The American Practical Navigator, first published in 1802, is one I became quite familiar with. While I knew his name and was quite familiar with his book, I admittedly knew very little about Nathaniel Bowditch himself until this week when I finished reading a book about his life. In 1955, author Jean Lee Latham won the Newberry Honor Medal for children’s literature by writing, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, which is a fictionalized biographical novel. The people, places, times, and historical events are mostly accurate, but the author did take some creative liberties in telling his life story. One such liberty recounts the story of Nathaniel learning what it meant to “sail by ash breeze”:

“Only a weakling gives up when he’s becalmed! A strong man sails by ash breeze!” (p. 47) “When a ship is becalmed – the wind died down – she can’t move – sometimes the sailors break out their oars. They’ll row a boat ahead of the ship and tow her. Oars are made of ash – white ash. So – when you get ahead by your own get-up-and-get – that’s when you ‘sail by ash breeze’.” (p. 48)

In the story, set during the Golden Age of Sail, a young Nathaniel learns that if there is no wind, a ship would often sit motionless and dead in the water waiting for the breeze to blow again. But some ambitious sailors would tow their ships by rowing a smaller boat in front. Nathaniel learned that this principle applied in his life as well, that he was ultimately responsible for his own life’s direction. Starting at age 12, Nathaniel worked as an indentured servant for nine years, missing his chance at a formal education despite being one of the greatest minds of his (or any other) time. Eventually, he taught himself mathematics (including algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus), several languages, maritime navigation, astronomy, and medicine all without any formalized education. He was determined to learn all he could in life and to create his own “ash breeze” to propel himself forward.

Bowditch was motivated by the pursuit of excellence and was driven to never be stuck waiting for a “favorable wind” to determine his course in life. He is a well-known historical figure even today because of his determination to create a sailing almanac which enabled any person, regardless of their previous education, to chart the exact position of their ship anywhere in the world using only simple arithmetic. The navigation principles taught in his book allowed sailors to stay safe on the seas and kept many ships from sailing too close to danger. If fact, a copy of The American Practical Navigator (colloquially referred to simply as “The Bowditch” by sailors) remains on board every U.S. Naval vessel at sea to this very day. His work has saved the lives of countless mariners throughout history and was the result of his desire to improve the world around himself.

Today, few people have heard the phrase, “sail by ash breeze” (let alone know it’s origin) and yet the best among us live it every day. Motivation and engagement mean different things to every employee within your organization. Some employees will wait for favorable winds by constantly seeking direction while others may fight against any directions given. But your top performers will aspire to create their own ash breeze, and when they do, those around them will notice. Now imagine if you had an incentive program which rewarded those who sail by ash breeze in such a way that invoked positive peer pressure upon others who remain still while waiting for favorable winds. Those who are rewarded for their initiative become models of positive behavior and a culture shift begins to happen because others will want to earn similar rewards. This is the power of positive reinforcement, and of our process at Snowfly of creating a customized incentive program for your company. Snowfly’s unique approach to workplace engagement encourages your employees to take initiative and create their own ash breezes.

Contact Snowfly today to learn how we can help your company sail on the “ash breeze” of initiative by emailing us at or calling (877) 766-9359 and may you have Fair Winds and Following Seas.

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