Three Lessons Learned on the Wrong Ferry

My family and I recently relocated from Cleveland to Seattle as I prepare to join up with the good people at  So far, that has meant 37 hours on I-90 West (which was a fantastic adventure for the Kellers!), unpacking a great many moving boxes, holding endless family meetings on where specific chairs will go in the new house, and many other key issues.

Besides exploring our local area, I’ve also done some test runs of my new commute to get a sense of traffic and potential routes.  Today’s commute brought to mind one of the craziest commutes I had when we lived in Boston.

We lived on the South Shore, down towards Cape Cod, and I worked in the Financial District right by South Station.  This meant about a 20-minute drive, then a 35-minute ferry ride across Boston Harbor, then a 10-minute walk to my building.  Not too bad, on East Coast terms!

One spring afternoon, I decided to surprise my wife by taking a half day and coming home right after lunch.  Now you should know that commuter ferries are scheduled mostly during prime commuting hours, so now I would be taking a 1:30pm boat that I had never taken before.

I walked to the ferry station, like I always do.  I strutted down the ramp to the pier and proceeded to hop on the first boat in line, which is where my 6:20pm ferry was always waiting for me.

I sat down in the middle of the main deck, threw on my headphones, pulled out my latest reading and settled in for the ride to Hingham.

After a couple minutes, it dawned on me that there were no other commuters on the boat around me.  “Well, I suppose no one is usually on this boat in the middle of the day!” I reassured myself, and returned to my book.

A few minutes later, I glanced back to the main door to the boat, and saw two middle-aged women who appeared to be pointing at me and whispering to each other.  Yep, that was a little weird.  But I just shrugged it off.

A few moments later, I heard the main engines kick on and something told me I needed to get off the boat.  Immediately.

I looked around and focused on what was happening around me.  Yes, the back of the boat was filled with school children.  There were no commuters.  This was a private charter taking a school field trip to the harbor islands.

I grabbed my work bag and ran to the door, just as the dock workers were closing the main door.  I pulled the door open and jumped down to the pier as the boat pulled away.

The two sailors looked at me and smiled as I sheepishly asked, “Yeah, which one is the 1:30 Hingham ferry.” 

“Right over there,” the one replied in a thick South Boston accent, as they both struggled unsuccessfully to choke down laughter.

Here are three lessons I learned from this little commuting mishap.

1) Situational awareness is always important.  Always.

Situational awareness is how pilots are taught to be aware of their surroundings.  If you don’t have a good sense of what’s happening around the airplane, you can fly into other traffic or clouds or a mountain and your flight is over a bit prematurely.

On the ferry that afternoon, I ignored clear signs that something was different.  There would likely be less passengers than on a rush hour ferry, but not zero commuters.  The two women by the door were the teachers and were clearly discussing why there was a weird guy reading on their chartered boat.

Investors are often caught flat-footed with underperforming positions because they missed clear signs that they should make changes.  I long ago learned that looking at a bunch of charts is what helps me to set clear guideposts to follow to identify when conditions have changed.

2) Don’t get too married to a routine.

When I left my office and started walking along the channel on the way to the ferry terminal, I was 100% in autopilot.  My feet were following the same path they always followed when they knew it was time to go home for the day.

Routines are a good thing.  They can keep us centered, keep us committed to our priorities and keep bad habits from creeping in.  But on this day, an overreliance on a routine and a lack of awareness of my surroundings caused me to be in a precarious position.

Routines are good.  But don’t get so much into the motions that you ignore the sixth sense that makes humans so powerful and so unique!

3) When in doubt, ask questions.

Because I was so stuck in my commuting routine, and exercised very poor situational awareness, I never took a few moments to ask the simple question, “Hey am I on the right ferry?”  That would have taken two seconds and would have saved me from a few minutes of panic and recovery.

Overconfident investors tend to believe they know all the answers, they have it all figured it out, they have no need for others to help them navigate the markets. 

The problem with overconfidence is that it tends to negatively affect your investment returns as you ignore the facts and stay committed to a losing proposition.

The most seasoned investors I know ask lots of questions.  They accumulate as much information as they can and are always looking for new perspectives to help stretch their own thinking.  This self-awareness and humility is what has allowed them to find success over the long-term.

The next time you review your positioning, think of yourself as potentially sitting on the wrong ferry.  Look around and gather evidence.  Take a step back and break free from your routine.  Ask questions from someone outside your process to get a second opinion. 

While these three tips may not help you to avoid the wrong ferry, they may help you realize it so you can get off before it’s too late!


Disclaimer: This blog is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial advice. Please see the Disclaimer page for full details.