Global sailor, global investor Neal Petersen speaking Thursday in Vail |

Global sailor, global investor Neal Petersen speaking Thursday in Vail

Special to the Daily

VAIL – Neal Petersen believes you can do anything, and makes you believe it too.

Petersen completed a round-the world-yacht race in a boat he designed and built himself, which is why he gets to put “professional adventurer” on his resume.

“I don’t have to grow up. I don’t have a job and I’ll never have a job. I get paid to have adventures,” he said.

He’ll be telling us all about it Thursday at the Vail Symposium’s Unlimited Adventure series, and how lessons from something like that help you.

“The Unlimited Adventure series is one of our most popular and we strive to have a diverse line up of speakers every season,” said Liana Moore with the Vail Symposium. “I was very excited when Neal Petersen was suggested and even more excited when he accepted the invitation. Not only are his adventures different, but his story is also truly inspiring.”

The line between inspiration and insanity can be pretty thin, and you can fall off it and into unbridled success or a pile of bovine byproduct.

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So we asked him, “Neal, while you sailed 27,000 miles and nine months, alone, did you ever think this was kind of a stupid idea?”

“Every day, some days many times more than once I wondered why I’d gotten myself into that mess,” he said. “The only thing to do was to keep moving forward. No one was going to come get me out of it.”

He had a doubt or two when a Russian freighter almost ran him down.

And those 14 days he spent 20 minutes of every hour pumping water out just to stay afloat.

Or having to pull into a port to raise more money so he could keep going.

And he did keep going, kept moving forward because success lies before you, not behind you.

It wasn’t like his rich parents bankrolled him. His parents aren’t rich.

Petersen was born and raised in South Africa while apartheid was still the law of the land.

Under apartheid he was declared “coloured,” which turns out to have a rather elastic definition of the term. His mother was an educator and political activist. So he was deemed “coloured,” more for politics than pigmentation.

He grew up in poverty, battled physical disabilities and the restrictions of apartheid. But he had a goal, and focus and a world of want-to.

Pay the price, achieve the goal

Petersen planned that trip for 18 years, from when he was kid on the dock watching other people sail away. He mined diamonds on the ocean floor to scrape together some money. He did everything he could.

“One thing I learned is that it’s like running a business or anything else. You have to be willing to pay the price to achieve your goal,” Petersen said. “It was my goal to race around the world.”

These days he’s a motivational speaker and international investor.

He talks about adaptability and perseverance, about never giving up. You’ll laugh, you’ll be inspired, you’ll go out and try something because you believe you can.

“If you focus on that goal, and you’re willing to pay the price, you can achieve it,” he said.

“To survive an around-the-world race, you establish a strategy and follow it. Look after the boat (and the business) and the boat will look after you,” he said.

Petersen is an international professional racing yachtsman, global investor and award-winning author of “Journey of a Hope Merchant.”

He says success is realized through innovation, balancing risk against return and being flexible enough to adapt to constantly shifting winds.

For example, he took a substantial short investment position in 2007, betting that the markets would tumble, which we now know they did.

In 2009 the markets were much more promising so he started looking long, betting that it was time for the markets to recover.

It’s like sailing.

“Do not invest by emotion, but by strategy,” he said.

He’s bullish on natural gas. “Natural gas is cheap in the United States and it will be the stopgap in the transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy,” he said. “We’re sitting on the largest reserves in the world.”

But mostly he’s bullish on America.

“America was born of people who believed in their dream,” he said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or