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Counterintuitive Thinking Part of Blind Man’s Successes

Vince Morvillo at the helm of a Beneteau 38 on Clear Lake, Texas. Photo by Kathy Bohanan Enzerink
Vince Morvillo at the helm of a Beneteau 38 on Clear Lake, Texas. Photo by Kathy Bohanan Enzerink

Growing up in Rhode Island, Vince Morvillo wanted to play baseball with his buddies. His mom bought a glove, dropped him at the Little League field and drove off. After the tryouts, she asked, “How did it go?”

Morvillo cried. “I couldn’t hit the ball. I couldn’t find the ball and I got hit by a ball.”

With an arm around her upset boy, she told him, “Not being successful is not failure. Failure is not trying.” Sage words for a child born with low vision because his optic nerves were not fully developed.

“I was not diagnosed until the first grade, but my mom decided not to send me to a special school for the blind,” said Morvillo. “So I walked to and from school with the kids in my neighborhood.”

Receiving a wooden puzzle for Christmas, the young Morvillo was encouraged by his mother to, “find out how you can do it.” By feeling the piece shapes, he mastered the challenge. “I think differently because I can’t do it the same way as others,” he said. “Since then, I have never worried about giving anything a shot.” Including sailing.

A pre-teen in the 1950s, Morvillo learned and loved to sail before his vision became little more than shadows of light and dark. In a span of ten years, from 1992 to 2002, he won bronze, silver and gold medals in the Blind Sailing World Championships in New Zealand, Italy and England, respectively. “Winning against other blind sailors was exciting, but I wanted a greater challenge,” he said.

Beginning then to assemble a team to work with him, Morvillo told three carefully selected sailors, “I want to earn more credibility in the sailing world and I want to be a National Sailing Champion.”

“You can’t do it,” they said.

Remembering his mother’s words ‘find out how you can do it,’ he countered, “How might we do it?

“I think counterintuitively to see other solutions,” said Morvillo. The four men agreed they needed to be in control of the race fleet, not the other way around. That changed their possibilities.

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Two years later, mainsail trimmer Buddy Brown, foredeck/tactician Kent Gordon, jib trimmer Dick Playter and Morvillo competed against 40 teams at the 2004 National Ensign Sailing Championship in Newport, R.I.

To qualify as captain, Morvillo had to take the 22-foot Ensign across the starting line, sail windward and be at the tiller when going around the markers. On a downward leg break, he would go forward, raise and lower the jib and adjust the spinnaker tweakers when instructed. “We were so in sync,” he said. “There was harmony and positive thinking. We respected each other and trusted that every man was doing his job.”

Brown, Morvillo’s “eyes and ears on the water” had devised with Morvillo, a simple touch system of communication. Gordon and Playter had to go “all out” and “never let the boat slow down.” They adjusted the sails to Morvillo’s steering, constantly trimming as he moved the boat up and down in the groove.

Morvillo and his co-sailors won that race with an unprecedented margin of 11 points. After the competition, Morvillo overheard another racer comment, “Some blind guy won.”

Never far from sailing, Morvillo worked for a weekly magazine, managed hospitals for a venture capital firm and sold repossessed boats. That’s when he met Charlotte Pratti, “a gutsy kind of woman.”

“She had 72 cents and I had 14 cents,” said Morvillo. “We pooled our resources and went into business selling boats. We were known around Houston as the ‘Blind man and the Blonde.’”

Without a Floor Plan, the financing format between banks and boat dealers, Morvillo informed Pratti he was going to approach Beneteau to “get a boat today and pay for it in 90 days.” She informed him it would never work. Morvillo returned from Charlotte, N.C. with an agreement for a new Beneteau, bought on consignment, payable in three months.

“What are we going to do if we don’t sell it?” asked Pratti. “It’s not an option,” he replied.

Sea Lakes Yachts, under Morvillo’s leadership, remains a major Beneteau dealership at Clear Lake near Houston. Still involved in the day-to-day operations, Morvillo shares his dealership time with motivational speaking, training and coaching seminars throughout the country.

His repertoire is full of one-liners. Hope is not a viable business strategy. Don’t rely on conventional wisdom as it is not always wise. Do what the competition won’t do. Embrace change, and if there is none, create it. Don’t sell your product or service if that is not what the customer needs or wants and You won’t close a sale to a man without a woman’s okay.

Speaking of his mentor-mother, Morvillo said, “When I think about my successes, I think what would have happened if I hadn’t had the mom I had. She allowed me to have experiences and gave me the power to make choices about my life; that’s all she wanted for me.”

Working 50-plus hours a week while attending the University of Houston at night, Morvillo graduated at the top of his class with an MBA degree. After walking across the stage, a fellow graduate stopped him. “He thanked me. He told me he would not have graduated if it wasn’t for me. He said it was harder for me than it was for himself so he had to stay in the program. He was too embarrassed to quit.”

“I had no idea anyone felt this way,” said Morvillo. “I was so humbled and honored.”

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