CEO Turned Sailor Scott Shawyer Proves It’s By no means Too Late to Change Course

At age 52, former CEO Scott Shawyer woke up one day during the COVID lockdown in 2020 and realized he was ready for a big career change. The best part was, he didn’t even know that he was looking for one, let alone so close to home.

“I live in a town in Ontario with a mountain in the backyard and a lake in the front yard,” Shawyer says. “We have some great ski paths and sail on the water and I hadn’t been outside in weeks.

Next up for Scott Shawyer will be on May 29, as he competes in the one person, 3,600 mile New York Vendee. The route starts in New York City and finishes in Les Sables-d’Olonne, Vendée Region, France.

“I was just dying at my desk and I started watching this race that happens every four years called the Vendée Globe, he says. “:I was watching these skippers around the docks, crowded people all wearing masks and when they got to the end of the docks, they took off their masks, jumped on their sailboats and went to set sail around the world. I was just comparing that to where I was: Strapped to my desk, hadn’t been outside, on the phone dying by Zoom calls and these guys are out sailing around the world. I was like, ‘Holy cow.’ I just turned 50 and I was like, ‘I’ve got to do something different.'”

Shawyer found himself so inspired that he almost immediately quit his job—he served as CEO of industrial technology company JMP Solutions—and jumped in feet first to learn how to be his own skipper. He caught on quickly, but realized he had a lot to learn.

“There’s a lot of preparation,” Shawyer says. “Physically, mentally, skill wise, there’s a lot of preparation and needing diet and nutrition, what you eat while you’re at sea. That’s what I like about this sport. It’s so multidimensional.”

From CEO to Skipper

Scott Shawyer learned quickly and set sail quite literally on his new journey into the second half of his life. Unlike most of his competitors, Shawyer didn’t grow up in the offshore sailing scene and he hasn’t sailed a Mini, a Figaro, or a Class 40.  In just a few short years, he’s accomplished a win in the double-handed monohull class in the RORC Transatlantic and a 10th place finish in his first-ever IMOCA class race, the Guayder Bermudes Race. He was amazed how his new path made him calmer than the stressful days at his desk job ever did and has learned to trust himself.

“I’ve never had anxiety or any real form of anxiety until probably four or five years ago,” Shawyer says. “I just started feeling anxious for no reason and then I got anxious about feeling anxious and then it just became all consuming.”

Shawyer—now the skipper and president of Canada Ocean Racing—then turned to mindfulness to ease his restlessness.

“I really learned, practiced meditation and a bunch of different strategies on how to kind of not let intrusive thoughts come and go. That’s the same thing with sailing. You can be out in the middle of the ocean and if you start thinking about, ‘Is the mast gonna stay up? Am I gonna hit something? Am I gonna get a hole in the boat and sink?’ It’s not good thinking. The first step for me is to stop the thought and the second part is doing something else so you don’t have the thought. Especially when you’re trying to sleep and you can’t sleep, you start to get sleep deprived.”


A Whole New Type of Training

There’s been other adjustments, too. He’s traded fancy hotels and bathrooms for biodegradable bags and buckets in order to relieve himself and leading board room meetings with rooms full of colleagues to spending time alone on his boat with Mother Nature. Scott Shawyer also had to adapt to a strict fitness routine to stay in a different kind of shape than he ever was in before.

“I do a mix between pure strength training and then more sport specific strength training,” says Shawyer. Deadlifts, squats, pull-ups, bench press, different things that are more strength focused. I’m not nearly in as good of cardio shape as I have been for triathlons, but I think in terms of strength and being able to handle the demands of this boat, it’s a bit different. I think it’s more sport specific and I think I’m in a great position for that, much better than ever before, for sure.

Shawyer’s overall goal is becoming the first Canadian to compete in the Vendée Globe.  The 23,000 mile, 3 month race will take place in 2028, so he has some time. It is a single-handed, non-stop, non-assisted round-the-world sailing race that takes place only every four years. The journey starts at the tip of France and ends at the tip of France. Should Shawyer be able to compete, he will do so at age 56.

In addition to getting in sailing shape, he also has to familiarize himself with some of the new rules of the New York Vendee. Shawyer has to be careful as it’s easy to become disqualified– Especially on accident. If he touches land, receives any sort of help or his boat breaks down, he will be out. Shawyer will also be the only rth American racing and will be on board with Be Water Positive, a $2 million dollar vessel designed and built for speed. The journey will make this Shawyer’s first solo, Transatlantic race and he’s predicting he’ll finish between 13 and 14 days. Despite the sound of it, Shawyer is confident in his plan.

“I’m a risk taker, adventure seeker, but I’m not crazy. You make sure you have safety systems in place, make sure there are kind of lifelines available, too. There are definitely things I wouldn’t do.”

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