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April 24, 2023

After successful careers in marketing and sailing, Johnstone turned his attention to writing a memoir that draws on both. Maverick Marketer, out now, interweaves the two surprisingly similar fields in this account of finding your passion and doing what you love.

What spurred you to pick up a pen and write your memoir?

Sailing friends insisted that I write my story and recount the creation of more than 50 sailboat and powerboat designs for J Boats and MJM Yachts. This was also a chance to relate some family history for generations to come and to create a marketing text for others who may want to pursue their dreams.

The book recounts your life but also explores your family’s sailing history, including a potential piracy connection. What kind of research did you do for the book?

Not much. Some of those fun family myths were simply passed down. Others, like my wife Mary’s great-grandfather A.R. Chisolm’s exploits during the Fort Sumter dial-up to the Civil War and the First Battle of Bull Run, were sourced from existing historical texts and documents.

Was there any bit of history or a personal story that you wanted to include but couldn’t?

I regret not being able to find more information about my great-grandfather Robert Johnston(e) and his ancestors. He was an 1851 graduate of the University of Virginia, was reported to have been either a Confederate officer or a Union spy, was in a Confederate prison camp, and supposedly met with President Lincoln.

Do you think there’s a connection between your love of sailing and your successful career in marketing?

Yes, that’s covered in the foreword. The mental process of dealing with all the variables of wind and current, anticipating the actions of competitors, and being able to assign probabilities to a myriad of outcomes in a sailboat race closely resembles the decision tree exercise at Harvard Business School. It teaches us how to make decisions in life without knowing all the facts in order to “win the race.”

What’s next for you?

On April 21–23, I will take friends out on the harbor to see the many J Boats, almost 50%, competing in Charleston Race Week, America’s largest keelboat regatta with more than 200 boats participating—a  race I helped create in 1998. In May, as the senior alumni advisor to the Princeton University sailing team, I’ll hopefully witness the team compete in the intercollegiate National Championships after two years of almost weekly Zoom meetings in which the team had to locate a new practice venue, acquire a new fleet of ZIM 420s, and hire a full-time coach.

On June 26–30, I will host a 50th reunion gathering for competitors from the 1973 inaugural U.S. Youth Sailing Championship, held at the Sheridan Shore Yacht Club in Wilmette, Illinois. I was the founding chairman of the event. A reunion dinner is planned at the Herreshoff Marine Museum of Roger Williams University, following the opening ceremonies of this year’s Youth Champs. Those 19-year-olds in 1973 are now all senior citizens, among them Olympic gold medalists, world champions in most major sailboat classes, and leaders in the sport of sailing.

And every Tuesday and Thursday morning here on our senior residential campus in Charleston, SC, where I’m commodore and run the races for the Bishop Gadsden Yacht Club, I attempt to continue my winning ways by racing DragonFlite 95 radio-controlled sailboats on our 150-by-250-foot pond.