10 Things You’ll Learn as a Sailor
Growing up aboard a tall ship, I never fully realized the impact sailing had on my life. That is, until I finally stepped ashore and decided to get a “real job”. I quickly learned the 9-5 life was not for me. After being raised with unconventional working hours, differnt thoughts on how to make a family work, and a living a “boat home” lifestyle – the idea alone of sticking to one job for the next 30 years until I retire – namely cramped indoors – was enough to make me pick up my skirts and sprint the polar opposite direction. Throughout my days at sea, I’ve come to find some things you’ll learn as a sailor – just from being behind the helm and on the ocean that isn’t always taught in the standard-issue life. These are things you’ll only learn aboard ship, and any sailor worth their salt knows them to be true. A collection from my passages, I present 10 things you’ll learn as a sailor.
All Good Things Take Time
I think the most incredible thing sailors have in this day and age the rest of the world often seems to forget – is the ability to realize that all good things take time. This is in many ways one of the very first things you’ll learn as a sailor. The patience of a sailor is something that doesn’t come around too often these days. You don’t buy a sailboat to get somewhere fast – you’re going to take your time and you’ll get there when the wind decides. It’s going to take a while to arrive at your destination, and likely there will be a few good stories from along the way to share later on.
Sh*t is going to break.
Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever done any sort of navigational passage where something hasn’t broken. Superyacht, daysailer, or cabin cruiser. From toilets to generators, sails falling out of the track, steering cables coming off, running aground, and dysfunctioning autopilot – something you’ll learn as a sailor is something is going to go down and break. It’s not ususaly serious and it’s sometimes a bit more than a simple fix, but one of the things you’ll learn as a sailor is that shit is going to break, and your best bet is to be as prepared as possible for it.
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If it can go wrong, it will
On that same train of thought, Murphy’s Law comes into play more than any other instance when sailing underway. If it can go wrong, it will. Bad things come in three, whatever you want to call it, things will happen out on the sea you aren’t going to be completely prepared for. You just have to roll with it and make it work. Expect surprises, and if I can offer a bit of advice – try and be a fair-weather sailor. You might not have as many “cool” stories – but you’ll probably live a lot longer.
Your mind and body will adapt faster than you thought they possibly could
Just because things are going wrong and you didn’t anticipate it, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to resolve the problem. Your body is going to get used to being on watch for four hours and off for four hours. You’re going to somehow know what needs to be done to get to the next port when sh*t hits the fan, and you’ll pull it together. If you’ve done the work ahead of time, you’ll know what to do. You’re going to be exhausted at times, sunburnt others, and occasionally freezing cold in the rain, but it’ll all be worth it and you’ll be amazed at yourself for doing it.
You’re going to unplug, and you’re going to love it.
It’s the 21st century, and we are plugged in. Literally and figuratively. Constantly attached to our technological umbilical cords, heading to sea offers the detox from our screens we all know we need but never seem to take. You sleep better, forget about Instagram, and focus on eating, who is sailing by you, and the company you are with. You can share the massive tuna you caught on the ‘gram once you’re back to shore, but the lack of data at sea truly feels incredible. Your natural circadian rhythm comes back and most worries seem to float away. You realize you really don’t need to check your email as much as you think you do.
As someone who connects to social media for their livlihood, I have always worried that I would massively struggle with the being at sea no data aspect of sailing. Turns out, since I’m so connected, I generally appreciate it more than anyone else. I get to read, write, and relax, totally undistracted, just for me.
Enjoying your own company is one of the most important things you’ll learn as a sailor.
While you’re typically out there sailing with at least a few people – sometimes it’s just you. You learn to enjoy your own company, pass the hours on watch, and find a sort of comfortableness in the isolation of the sea and your thoughts. Finding peace with your thoughts and enjoying your own company is possibly one of the hardest things you’ll learn as a sailor but also one of the most rewarding.
You’ll relearn how great a good book is.
There is HEAPS of time to read on a long voyage – and I definitely recommend bringing a few physical books and downloading a few more on your iPad or eReader. When your eyes get tired though, and you feel a bit queasy from all the reading (it happens to most) make sure you have some podcasts downloaded – especially for the late nights where your eyes are tired and you need a good story to keep you awake.
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Some of my favorite podcasts are:
You’ll learn navigational skills and an ancient practice that has been around for thousands of years.
There’s something devilishly romantic about knowing the skillset of sailing. It’s an incredibly passionate hobby and one that makes you feel connected to the planet, the ocean, and even the heavens. It’s an ancient practice moving people across oceans, to new continents, and to new lives. From the Polynesians to the colonies in America, ships have always symbolized the start of new life and adventures to come. A glint of promise. Even today, people start new lives via ship. The Queen Mary II moves people every year – travel blogger @HeleneInBetween did so in the last few years with her husband, Michael, and their two dogs.
The navigational, line work, mental capacity, and other skills you learn with sailing will last you a lifetime, as they are not easily forgotten. Once a sailor, always a sailor in my opinion. Once you get a taste of life on the sea – you’re not likely to turn back to an average life.
You’re going to learn the ocean, her cycles, what certain clouds mean, and weather patterns that are most likely more reliable than any meteorologist.
You’ll learn to feel the weather before you see it – that certain clouds in the sky mean different weather patterns coming through. Though you can’t abide by this adage anymore due to the smog in the atmosphere “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning” – there are some weather patterns that hold true timelessly. A mackerel sky means change is likely – ‘Mackerel sky, mackerel sky – never long wet, never long dry.’ Mare tails mean rain is often on the way. “Mares’ tails and mackerel scales make lofty ships to carry low sails.”
You’ll learn to feel the pressure in the atmosphere, see the wind move across the water when a gust is coming, and that no weather pattern lasts forever – though it may seem like it.
You’ll learn it’s more about the journey and not about the destination.
Just to leave you on a cliche, that is always pertinent to sailing. It truly isn’t about the destination. Naturally, any sailor is joyous to put foot on dry land and head to the beach bar. True sailors know the adventure really is in the journey. I often say the best part of yachting is the crossings – and people don’t always get that. But no guests, little sleep, countless stars, dolphins for days, and fishing for tuna off the stern – you can’t get much better than that.
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