No Man's Sea
So, can I come aboard? That was my main question when I began reporting on Womanship, a sailing school for women based in Annapolis, Maryland ("Putting Wind in Their Sails," page 92). Single-sex sailing is what makes Womanship different from most other sailing schools. Founder and president Suzanne Pogell believes that women learn differently from men and that including men alters the group dynamic.
In my case, though, she made an exception, with the tacit understanding that I was only along for the ride. In other words, I was to keep my hands off the wheel. I immediately started packing for a cruise in the British Virgin Islands, which, in hindsight, was a bit premature. I ended up spending a day with a class near the Chesapeake Bay instead.
It turns out that the women were far too busy to notice me, much less get distracted. From the minute they stepped on the boat, instructor Kathy McGraw set about demystifying the often mysterious process of sailing, demonstrating how to haul line in a winch, how to chart a course, and how to read the wind. How do women learn to sail? By asking countless questions (at one point, I counted a dozen in 15 minutes) and by sailing. McGraw promised that she would let the students do the steering, and she kept her word. There was no jockeying for the helm or showing off, which you might expect from a group of men. When McGraw corrected their technique, they were quick to say, "Sorry," which she forbade on the boat. "Got it," was the preferred reply.
By mid-afternoon, the women were in a groove, tacking back and forth as a team. As for me, I was getting nervous about the upcoming man-overboard drill.
Hey, Cutie! Funny Story 4 U! ;)
It was a delicious, telling moment. While reporting "The Dirty Little Secret About Spam" (page 84), I sat in on the Federal Trade Commission's forum in Washington, DC on email spam. There, William Waggoner, founder of AAW Marketing, a Las Vegas outfit often identified as a prime spammer, griped about the software filters that many Internet-service providers and corporations use to weed out unwanted messages.
"Filters — who do they hurt?" Waggoner asked. "They hurt legitimate marketers like me." At that, few in the audience could stifle their amusement. Waggoner, impeccably dressed and sporting a long ponytail, took offense. "Who's laughing?" he demanded, glaring over his sunglasses. "Is that you laughing? You think that's funny, huh?"
Waggoner had a point. What he does may tick us off. It may be low on the scruples scale. "If you have an ethics-ectomy, you can spam," says John Mozena, vice president of CAUCE, an anti-spam activist group. But in many cases, whether we like it or not, spamming is indeed a perfectly legitimate business practice.
There's no federal law, for example, that prevents people from using a cheap and widely available software program that automatically "harvests" email addresses that appear on a Web site. Nor is it illegal to launch a "dictionary attack" that hurls millions of email messages at random addresses of a domain (most of the messages will be lost, but a few will find actual people).
Waggoner and others like him insist that they're just businesspeople trying to serve demand. "I believe in great customer service," says Scott Richter, president of Optinrealbig.com, another bulk-mail distributor. "I'm in business to make my customers money." Which he probably does — and legally.
You think that's funny?
Keith H. Hammonds.
Reporting from Napa on Shakers vodka for this issue's story on marketing ("Buzz Without Bucks," page 78) presented some new challenges. I'm pretty much a vodka dunce, preferring my booze tarted up in a Cosmo like the Sex and the City girls.
So when I arrived at Infinite Spirits, Shakers' parent company, at 9 AM to see a raft of martini glasses, I begin to worry. Things go fine for the first half hour, as I dutifully listen to the CEO's story. Then, Tim Clarke, Infinite Spirits' cofounder, can contain himself no longer. Lining up three glasses, he proposes a taste test. His first sample: Absolut, 80-proof, straight up. What can I do? It's my job. I confess, dear reader, I tossed it back. Next up: Grey Goose. I waver, thinking, "What would a guy do?" I toss it back. Finally: Shakers. I'm getting woozy, but this is no time to quit.
I'm starting to feel witty. I want to dance. But the guys insist we adjourn to a nearby restaurant — for a round of Shakers martinis. I look at my notebook. I haven't written a word. I order a lemonade.
A version of this article appeared in the August 2003 issue of Fast Company magazine.