August 06, 2012
5 min read

Sailing voyage highlights work of Hawaiian Eye Foundation

You've successfully added to your alerts. You will receive an email when new content is published.

Click Here to Manage Email Alerts

We were unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this issue please contact

“A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned …
for he will be going out on a day he shouldn’t.
But we do be afraid of the sea, and we do only
be drowned now and again.”
– John Millington Synge, Irish dramatist

“Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was
worthwhile … initially scared me to death.”
– Betty Bender

I recently returned from a solo voyage from San Diego to Honolulu in a 24-foot sailboat to raise funds for the Hawaiian Eye Foundation, founded by John Corboy, MD. If you will indulge me, I would like to tell you how it went and draw the parallels between this little adventure and the not-dissimilar venture that most of you undertake in your professional and commercial lives.

From the Log of Aurelia

May 6, 2012 (Departure)
Little Aurelia and I are now 5 hours into the voyage. Hundreds and hundreds of hours left to go before landfall in Hawaii. Bouts of excitement, mixed with a loathing of the challenges ahead. All boat systems A-OK. All human systems thrashed by last-minute boat preparations compounded by the anxiety that always accompanies a push into the unknown.

From the Log of Aurelia

May 12, 2012
It is becoming increasingly clear that the chief lesson of adventure travel afloat is to remind oneself of the virtues of life on land. Alas, 1,600 nautical miles to go. Offshore, long-distance sailing is naught but serial anxiety. Will the weather hold? What’s that odd new sound? Will the boat leak? Will there be enough wind? The real pleasure of yachting is in port.

From the Log of Aurelia

May 19, 2012
A little over 1,000 nautical miles left to go. We crossed the halfway mark last night. A voyage like this teaches patience. Not attaching to an outcome. Just solve the hour’s challenges, the day’s challenges, and you’ll get by. Consider that there could be as many rewards in arriving late as arriving early.

From the Log of Aurelia

May 25, 2012
Thirty-five knot sustained winds and routine gusts to 40-plus. Then 50. A breaking 25-foot wave has filled the cockpit again, threatening to downflood the main cabin. Sails have been reefed down to handkerchiefs, and still Aurelia is overpowered. Managed to reach Commanders’ Weather service in New Hampshire via satellite phone this morning. It’s a bummer when the conversation starts, “Skipper, we don’t know how to tell you this, but …”

From the Log of Aurelia

May 28, 2012
Arrived a few hours ago at 6:30 p.m. local time at the Waikiki Yacht Club. Aurelia is tied fast to her new slip. Wobbly walking with sea legs on solid ground. A remembrance of forgotten comforts. An outrageously hot 20-minute shower after sponge baths measured out by the teacup to conserve freshwater stores under way. Ice and beer and fresh pineapple juice after 22 days of tepid, plasticky bottled water. The prospect of copious sleep after nothing longer than 30-minute catnaps for the past 540 hours. Home is the sailor. Deliverance.

They say when you get to the halfway point between San Diego and Honolulu, you are more isolated from humanity than is possible at any other spot on the planet. That is probably for the best. I would not have wanted an audience for this horizontal bungee cord jump of a trip, where all hell was breaking loose and it was impossible to forecast how the ending was going to turn out, until the very end.

Which, of course, is a little bit like performing surgery. And a lot like your practice, in the throes of the current reimbursement uncertainties.

John B. Pinto steps off Aurelia in Honolulu, Hawaii, after a month-long journey. 

John B. Pinto steps off Aurelia in Honolulu, Hawaii, after a month-long journey. Pinto blogged his journey live, while also raising awareness for the Hawaiian Eye Foundation.

Image: Pinto JB

Sailing the high seas, sailing an ophthalmic career

It is not overstretching the analogy to compare your 30-odd-year ophthalmology career to the preparation and execution of an ocean crossing. First, you have to find a few teachers and progressively learn some things.

Eventually the world says you are competent enough and grants you a license to practice (even though, truth be told, it takes a few more years before you really know what you are doing). You take the plunge and step off the dock. Things go about how you expected. The usual boring bits, interspersed with fun problems (learning new surgical maneuvers) and dreadful problems (firing your administrator for embezzlement).

Fast forward, and you are more than halfway across your oceanic career. Mid-voyage tiredness, inattention and overconfidence conspire, and you mess up in one way or another, at least once every passage. At this point, sailors might inattentively rip a sail. Surgeons, after years of tedious caution, get served with their first malpractice suit. After the initial shock, your nerves finally settle. You get past it.

And of course, every voyage comes to an end. A few more career years and you are counting down the months to the respite of retirement (just as I counted down the hours to Waikiki). Before you know it, your passage as an eye surgeon is over.

All kinds of challenges for all kinds of people

If this analogy resonates with you, ask yourself, “How is my career voyage going thus far? Am I taking on the right challenges? Am I succeeding or failing? Am I complacent, even lazy, in reaching for new horizons? Where am I ultimately sailing to?”

I will probably never sail around the world. You will probably never win the Nobel Prize in Medicine or invent an anti-cataract eye drop. But short of these summits, there are plenty of interesting challenges you can and should test yourself with.

If you are now working for somebody else as an associate, launch an expedition toward eventual practice ownership. If you have the largest practice in your county, what is holding you back from developing the largest practice in your state? Or in the nation? Dream big. Start with small steps. But act now. The miles are whooshing by under your keel.

Of course, this career challenge-seeking applies whether you are trying to leap from good to great, or claw your way from practice disaster to mere survival. From the perspective of a surgeon who is trying his best to stay upright in today’s tough business squall (much less the reimbursement typhoons up ahead), just hanging on, persevering and barely surviving can be as thrilling and honorable an achievement as owning the most celebrated practice in town.

Not alone, even if you are solo

Sailing solo to Hawaii — or for that matter, being a solo eye surgeon — may be a test of self-reliance, but it is hardly something one does in isolation. In my case, Aurelia’s voyage could not have been possible without shore-based support, starting with my editor here at Ocular Surgery News, David Mullin, who faithfully transcribed my daily garbled satellite phone transmissions into a blog for, OSN’s Web presence.

Link Wilson and his colleagues at Compulink generously provided title sponsorship and fundraising mojo for the Hawaiian Eye Foundation. Commanders’ Weather service in New Hampshire, besides scaring me half to death with its gale warnings, at least let me know what I was in for. Jim Wilson, Aurelia’s indefatigable maintenance chief, bolted on most of the random bits that make a sailboat go fast and stay safe.

Corboy and Bob Grossman, PhD, the Hawaiian Eye Foundation’s director, provided a sensible excuse and motive force for Aurelia’s dance across the pond. To learn more about the foundation’s work or to make a donation, go to Mahalo.

P.S.: If you are not already planning to come to Hawaiian Eye 2013 in January, register today. On Sunday, Jan. 20, we will show a short film clip from the sail and relive the voyage.

P.P.S.: I think I will buy a ticket and fly in this time.

  • John B. Pinto is president of J. Pinto & Associates Inc., an ophthalmic practice management consulting firm established in 1979. He is the author of John Pinto’s Little Green Book of Ophthalmology; Turnaround: 21 Weeks to Ophthalmic Practice Survival and Permanent Improvement; Cash Flow: The Practical Art of Earning More From Your Ophthalmology Practice; The Efficient Ophthalmologist: How to See More Patients, Provide Better Care and Prosper in an Era of Falling Fees; The Women of Ophthalmology; Legal Issues in Ophthalmology: A Review for Surgeons and Administrators; and Leadership: A Practical Guide for Physicians, Administrators and Teams. He can be reached at 619-223-2233; email:; website: