How a Local Sailboat Captain Reinvented Team Building with Corporate Cruises

Several years ago corporate management finally got the memo. Employees on practically every level registered their disdain for the dreaded team-building seminars that had been staged in conference rooms across the country.

To combat complacent lecturers and mind-numbing presentations, corporate trainers then challenged their staff with trust falls, rock-climbing and rope courses designed to test their mettle and develop their personal strengths.

But technology entrepreneur, accomplished sailor and licensed sailboat Captain Todd Bracken operates a business that allows employees to set sail on a different course for team building. He takes department team members to the water for a change of venue. For Bracken, Founder of Dauntless Sailing School, his classroom is aboard Dauntless – a 28-foot performance cruiser sailboat. His campus: Geist Lake and its scenic surroundings.

“Calm weather and smooth seas don’t make for a skilled sailor,” Bracken says. “The same can be applied to any business. The workplace can be fraught with ‘choppy waters,’ but navigating through the conflicts and business challenges provides inherent learning opportunities for personal and staff development. Aboard Dauntless, people learn this firsthand.”

Bracken grins as he points out that team-building sessions on a sailboat don’t require PowerPoint to hold participants’ attention.

“By kicking back with coworkers in a tranquil setting, employees can tackle workplace weaknesses in a non-combative environment and casually discuss improvement techniques,” he says. “Employees get it – that their companies value them as an investment. This is not your standard-issue team-building outing.”

An early participant of Dauntless’ corporate sailing events, Ross Blaettner, a local software industry engineer, agrees that there’s something special about corporate training on the water.

“The change in environment, aboard Dauntless, brings coworkers together for new perspectives,” Blaettner says. “It’s an opportunity to connect with nature and colleagues at the same time.”

Blaettner says Dauntless’ corporate sailing cruises provide stress-relieving benefits. “Distractions disappear as the sailboat sails effortlessly through the water. Solutions to the problems facing the team and the business possibilities for the days ahead become clearer,” he adds.

“On the water, business and personal conversations all become more fluid and natural, helping us to reunite with what's most important,” says Ross Blaettner.

Corporate charters can be conducted during the day, and passengers have access to Dauntless’ locally acclaimed executive chef (a gentleman who served as the personal chef to the U.S. Air Force chief of staff) for custom lunches, snacks and hors d’oeuvres. Participants are also welcome to bring their own food, snacks and hors d' oeuvres aboard. And though alcoholic beverages are not provided, participants are welcome to BYOB.

This 28-foot performance cruiser – described by many as the perfect size yacht – features wheel-steering, standing headroom below deck, an enclosed bathroom and sleeping accommodations for five. Bracken researched and shopped a year and a half before purchasing this specific boat, a C&C 27 Mark IV. 

Every notable skipper has a lifetime of stories. Bracken grew up in Southern Indiana with an adventurous father who fostered his interest in rock-climbing, hiking, camping and cycling. The two conducted several 125-mile per day bicycling tours. When Todd was in his mid-twenties, his father picked up an interest in sailing. Todd developed a similar passion for life on the water and competitive sailing in addition to coastal cruising.

Having amassed more than 25 years of sailing and racing experience, the licensed sailboat captain holds memberships to U.S. Sailing and the Lake Michigan Sail Racing Federation. Bracken is a certified U.S. Power Squadrons advanced pilot and junior navigator, and has served as safety chairman for the Indianapolis Sailing Club. He is also a former American Red Cross certified water safety instructor and lifeguard.

No stranger to boardrooms and corporate seminars, Bracken earned an MBA and has built a career in technology and software product management for companies such as IBMAnthem, and Interactive Intelligence. He also holds a technology patent in the field of syndromic surveillance.

This, combined with his seafaring savvy, have guided him to the Great Lakes, the Florida Bay/Florida Keys/Florida Straits, the Atlantic Ocean, the Bahamas and inland waters in a variety of weather conditions and sea states.

These days it’s Geist Reservoir and the luxurious waterfront homes of this affluent Indianapolis suburb that provide the perfect backdrop for his sailing. And, as Bracken points out, cruises are ideal for companies that want to give employees a special day of camaraderie and relaxation.

"It’s not everyday people get to conduct team-building exercises on the water," says Todd Bracken.

During a corporate cruise, Bracken can include an element of instruction, as smooth sailing does takes teamwork. Or if they prefer, passengers can lounge about the deck and enjoy some laid-back fun while being chauffeured around beautiful Geist Lake. Naturally, Dauntless Sailing School will tailor a sailing experience to each company's specific needs and desires. 

In additional to corporate cruises and water-based team building, Dauntless Sailing School offers adult beginner sailing lessons and sunset cruises from April until November. More than 800 participants have sailed on Dauntless over its eight year history.

During a mid-June sailing lesson this summer, first-time student passengers gathered around Dauntless on the dock at Geist Lake Marinia and shared their expectations for the class. Tom Sproles and his daughter, Hannah, were preparing for their first lesson. The father, who co-owns the Sproles Family Funeral Home in nearby New Castle, says his daughter purchased the lessons for him as a Father’s Day gift.

His daughter found Dauntless Sailing School after Sporles jokingly suggested she buy him a sailboat. She knew the boat was beyond her budget, but sailing instructions would be ideal – and something he’d need if ever he buys his own vessel.

"You need to stop talking about this and just do it,” Hannah Sproles told her father.

Standing together on the dock, the father and daughter were eager for an evening of lessons. “I’ve never been on a sailboat,” Sproles says. "Until I got the text book [optional for the class] I never knew a thing about sailing. I’ve just always wanted to do it.”

Another participant who had gathered on the dock, Elliott Ferguson, worked for America’s Cup for about a month. "I’m an event professional, so I travel around doing different events – rigging and helping with signage,” says Ferguson. “I got the America’s Cup gig, and I’ve never forgotten about sailing. And never will.” 

So yes, water-based team-building excursions and group lessons do exist in landlocked Central Indiana, in Fishers, at Geist. Just look for the biggest sailboat in the region, Dauntless.

And you don’t even have to get your feet wet to enjoy it. But you may want to.


For more information on Corporate team-building sailing events, sunset cruises, adult beginner sailing lessons, or any of the other sailing opportunities provided by Dauntless Sailing School – call or text Captain Todd Bracken at (317) 987-8241.

Email Bracken:

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