Emily Nagel: Letter to my younger self
Published on June 3rd, 2021
Presented by North Sails, “Letter to my younger self” is a series told from their ambassadors, and in each article their advice and personal journeys are brought to life by asking the question: if your “now-self” could give your “younger self” advice, what would it be?
Dear 10-year-old Emily,
I promise you that one day your sailing dreams are all going to happen, but not until you start ignoring the people who say “you can’t.” I need you to stop getting out of people’s way and start fighting. I need you to go for it.
Yes, starting to sail the Opti at age ten was always going to be hard. It doesn’t help that you’re too big for the boat, and coming in last all the time is discouraging. I get it.
But your dream to race around the planet is not crazy. Whatever you do, do not give up on this dream. That might seem a little wild to hear right now but trust me, you will one day see albatross soaring in the Southern Ocean. Stay inspired by Ellen MacArthur and her book, “Taking on the World”– the way she puts her head down, works hard, and makes things happen. Even if people tell you that you can’t do it, pretend you are Ellen; just get after it, and eventually you’ll prove them all wrong.
One thing, though: you must listen to your parents. Go to school, study hard, get good grades and be practical (trust me, it will make sense one day). But don’t lose focus on your love of sailing. Because, 10-year-old-Emily, despite what so many people say, you’re really quite good.
One of the most instrumental projects you’ll work on is in 2016 (just over ten years away!) and it’s a Red Bull project called “Flying on Water.” Together with Jimmy Spithill, Rome Kirby and Shannon Falcone, you’ll sail from New York to Bermuda. It will be intense, but it will be a real eye-opener.
You’re going to really see that this dream you have now, at the age of ten, really isn’t so crazy after all. You’ll realize that your dream to sail around this world is in reach, and that all you need is a bit of a kick to get yourself moving. There might be some low days between now and then, but that fire inside you will always exist and the spark will reignite on this trip.
After “Flying on Water”, you’ll be mentored by Jimmy Spithill. You’ll ask him for advice and he’ll stay involved with your progress. He will keep inspiring you to chase after your “crazy little dreams,” whether it’s offshore sailing or high-performance foiling.
If you want to do professional sailing correctly, become as well-rounded as possible and get as many different offshore skills as possible. Get on the bow, be a trimmer, get to know a winch inside and out, and figure out how to fight for the helm. Get onto both big boats and little boats, and when Moths come on the scene, start racing on those as well. Match racing and other inshore tactics will come in surprisingly handy when you start racing VO65s. (These don’t exist yet, but one in particular will become your offshore home.)
Equally, don’t limit yourself to sailing. Your degree in naval architecture and engineering experience will lead you first to the design office and then to working with shore teams. You’ll get your hands dirty servicing winches and repairing carbon boats. And —this might sound funny because it’s only 2004– but computers are going to become an essential part of sailing. One day, your ability to crunch numbers and data will make you even more valuable.
One day not too far in the future, 10-year-old Emily, you’re going to work for some of the best teams in the sailing industry—and be an asset to each one. From the Ocean Race to the America’s Cup, you’ll get stuck into incredible projects, learn from the best, and share in the victories. You’ll love working towards these high-performance goals.
But, to do this, you’re going to have to make things happen. Opportunities won’t be handed to you, so you’ll have to stop worrying about what other people think and trust yourself. Stop listening to the haters. Get over any fear of failure, and give it everything. You can do it, even if it terrifies you, it will be a brilliant challenge to race around the world. This mental mindset will make you a little different. It will make you stand out. It will give you that cutting edge.
Decide now that you don’t want to be pushed around anymore and that you’re good enough. Once you do that, you’ll get your foot in the door with the high-performance world and you’ll break into professional sailing. You must back yourself, you have to shut out the noise. 10 year old Emily, believe me: you have to go for it.