Sailing Through Adversity: The Entrepreneurial Voyage of She Sails Vancouver

Some of the best businesses in the province are born out of a passion for sharing what you love with others. Small Business BC sat down with Sinead Sprigg, Founder of She Sails Vancouver, to learn more about how she started a sailing school with a mission.

Sinead was working in the corporate world as a graphic designer when she sustained a traumatic brain injury that halted her career. She had to stop working and couldn’t look at computers. “I was just dizzy, 24/7, and I still struggle,” she said. After her injury, Sinead said that she “literally couldn’t do anything.”

“I couldn’t read a book. I couldn’t listen to a podcast because it was all too much cognitive overload,” she said. Originally in great shape doing Ironman Triathlons, Sinead struggled to walk to the mailbox due to the dizziness. During her convalescence, she had to turn to something as an outlet for her physical and mental health. Sinead’s father got her into sailing when she was eight years old, and she’s been on the water ever since, so she looked to sailing as a path forward.

Returning to Sailing

“I’m drawn to the water,” said Sinead. Sailing gives her a feeling of empowerment that’s like nothing else. “Being on the water, going wherever you want, when the wind picks up, and you pull in the sheet and feel the boat heel [go on its side] and you pick up speed…that feeling is amazing because you’re the one in control…you’re all that stands between you and a capsize!” she said.

She Sails Vancouver Founder Sinead smiles on a sailboat bundled in warm clothes.

“I got a little 24-foot San Juan sailboat, and I took myself on the water, and I found that being on the boat, I wasn’t dizzy,” said Sinead. Then, she really began to get into sailing.

“It was all I could do,” said Sinead. “I was seeing a therapist because it was honestly the hardest time of my life, and he said, ‘Maybe there’s something here, maybe you don’t have to go back to your old normal of graphic design and sitting in front of a computer and working for someone else.'” She reflected on what brought her joy – she loves being outside, empowering others, especially women, and going on adventures.

“Sailing isn’t just a sport, it’s a community of people who share a passion for adventure and the sea,” she said. “Then, I thought about how it’s always been very male-dominated. Every sailing instructor I’ve had has been a man, and for many reasons, that can sometimes be quite off-putting for some women or survivors of trauma to either get into the sport in the first place or to stay in it.”

She wanted to share that feeling of empowerment with other women. “If you learn to sail on the weekend, you’re gonna take that with you into work the next week and be like, I singlehanded 24-foot keelboat by myself on Saturday, I can totally handle this meeting/colleague/task.”

Starting a Business with Support

Sinead started looking at what it would take to start a business. She spent five months getting the proper qualifications and certifications, becoming commercially licensed, writing a curriculum, and getting approved by Transport Canada.

At the time, she was working with a representative from the Canadian Council for Rehabilitation and Work(CCRW) due to her brain injury and not being able to go back to a computer.

Just as she finished the process, she heard about Employ to Empower through her CCRW rep. She signed up for a 10-week program, and it “genuinely changed” her life, said Sinead. Through the process, she made lifelong friends and continues to be a part of their entrepreneurial community. “It’s really been the highlight of these last three years,” she said.

The Business of Teaching

She Sails Vancouver is a safe space on the water primarily for women, but also for anyone who’s ever felt othered in some way. Sinead launched in 2023 and was on the water every weekend. Looking ahead to 2024, she’s taking more bookings and even considering a bigger boat.

“I find it incredibly rewarding,” said Sinead about teaching. “Because you’re working with other people, face to face, out in the elements…no one day is going to be the same.”

“It can be challenging, but then those challenging days are sometimes the most rewarding,” she said.

“If someone comes to you, and they’re terrified. And you’re like, ‘Okay, well, how can we help you not be terrified?’ and then by the end of the day, they’re going along with a smile on their face holding the tiller – steering the boat by themselves, maybe even single-handing it … that’s what’s rewarding.”

Her advice for other entrepreneurs who want to make a business by sharing their knowledge is to “stick with it.”

“Always look to be bettering yourself and your own skills,” said Sinead. “There’s no end to learning.”

She wants other entrepreneurs to talk to every new person they meet as if they were friends. “You never know who you might meet or where that conversation is going to go, or who this person knows,” she said. “People remember how you made them feel.”

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