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You’re winning at this life thing. You’re well-travelled. You have strong opinions on the meat industry and an arsenal of impressive life hacks you picked up while backpacking in Burma. You can open a wine bottle with your shoe and cut a sarong in half using just a cat. Your family thinks you’re great because you can make baklava from memory out of rain water. But there’s always someone out there that’s cooler than you. Like sailors. You’ll never be as cool as a sailor. Here are nine everyday things they’d kick your ass at without even trying.

Team Vestas Wind, Volvo Ocean Race, sailing

Sailors: double ‘ard. Photo by Brain Carlin / Vestas Wind.

I’m no sailor. I like napping under trees and letting my food go through the full digestive process too much to commit to a life on the ocean. But I did recently get the opportunity to hang out at sea with some of the boatmen and women competing in The Volvo Ocean Race (full story in the February 2015 issue of Getaway). These are not your average yachties. These are hardened seafarers who are on the ocean come rain or shine, sailing around the world, eating freeze-dried sandpaper and chiselling salt off their forearms with live seagulls. At sea their talents are vital for survival. On land they might just be superhuman.


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1. Parallel parking

I know, I know. You’re great at parallel parking. You should be the president of it. The words three-point turn don’t even exist in your vocabulary. But you’re an amateur. Try backing a fire truck (without rearview mirrors) into a car wash, on ground made of water, during a thunderstorm. That’s what sailors do. They call it docking.


2. Walking straight when drunk

Your poker face is a farce. We all know how many tequilas you’ve had as soon as you see-saw to the bathroom like a sausage in a pinball machine. Legs don’t lie, unless you’re a sailor. A life on the water imbues sailors with a liquescent centre of gravity. The more fluid you put inside them, the straighter they walk. In fact, if you see a sailor off-kilter you should probably buy him a drink.


3. Straightfacing a double entendre

Sailing terminology is (wait for it) an ocean teeming with metaphors, puns, double entendres and that’s-what-she-saids. You can’t think of a boating pun that hasn’t been exhausted. Chuckling at words and phrases like ‘breastlines; cockpit; coming about; and, in need of a tug’ is the sole folly of us landlubbers. Find someone who can, without flinching, present a Seaman Discharge Book (yes, that’s an actual thing) to a customs official and you’ve found a sailor.


4. Giving directions

‘Ja, so like take a right by the tree and then pass the school. I think it’s a school. Maybe it’s prison. A few blocks behind that is a road. I can’t remember the name of it but just call me when you’re outside.’ These are not directions. These are dangerous non sequiturs that cause people to remain seated in their own gaseous emissions longer than they should. If people gave better directions, there’d be a smaller hole in the ozone layer. Sailors know this (and they’re not even the ones using all the fuel). They also know that on the ocean vague directions can lead to death. Or worse, Port Elizabeth.


5. Dressing appropriately

Weather app, shmeather app. Even the best ones resort to some measure of horoscopic hocus pocus and the problem is nobody has built one out of actual human bones. Sailors have bones. They have bones that tingle, crack, wobble and creak. Sailors can feel inclement weather in their bones before the weather even knows it’s feeling inclement. If you want to know what to wear for the day, find a sailor and copy what they’re wearing. Except epaulettes. Never wear the epaulettes.


Team Brunel, Volvo Ocean Race

Ropework: easy. Photo by Stefan Coppers / Team Brunel



Don’t fib. The reason you’ve never been open to the idea of bondage isn’t because it’s taboo. It’s because you’re rubbish with ropes. Tying your beau to a bedpost isn’t the same as tying a shoelace. There are safety issues. A combination of poor ropemanship and a slippery surface can turn into an emergency very quickly and nobody wants to be gnawing on a granny knot next to a blue cadaver when the police arrive. You know who knows a thing or two about knots? Sailors. They could string up a wrestler with birthday ribbon. And, more importantly, untie him afterwards.


7. Pulling an all-nighter

It was the pillar of your tertiary education, but somewhere along the line the insouciance of burning the midnight oil turned to chronic anxiety. The only thing that burns in your house after midnight now is the office block you’re torching in your dreams (statistically the most satisfying dream experienced by the proletariat). Caffeine is impotent, hardcore drum and bass is discombobulating and even The Panic Monster can’t keep you awake anymore. But sailors are fuelled by something stronger than caffeine and panic combined: fear of the unknown. The ocean is a capricious mistress and much like the writers of Lost, sailors don’t always know what’s going to happen next. They’re prepared for every eventuality. And that requires being awake. ALL THE TIME.


8. Letting things go

When something falls in the ocean it’s gone forever (unless you’re James Cameron). The only thing to do is forget about it and move on while muttering something profound like ‘It belongs to the ocean now, man.’ At sea if you don’t learn to let things go, you drown. Sailors would make great psychologists.


9. Democracy

Jokes. Sailors don’t know what that is. On a boat the captain is always right. Even when he’s not.


On a serious note: do follow the Volvo Ocean Race (app available here) – it’s quite something. And if you’re keen to learn to sail, pick up the February 2015 issue of Getaway for some tips to get started.


sailing, volvo ocean race

Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 infographics: The Route.

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  • “They also know that on the ocean vague directions can lead to death. Or worse, Port Elizabeth.” – That to me is a serious insult, specially to somebody trying my darnest to promote Port Elizabeth and the Eastern Cape on a daily basis. Very disappointed. Getaway owes PE some serious retribution after this.

    • Pat

      See #8.

    • Unless he’s referring to Port Elizabeth, NEW JERSEY! THAT’S where I thought he meant.

    • Rudi

      For this years Vasco da Gama yaght race, South Africa’s biggest non-stop race, there will be quite a few sailors trying to make it to PE from Durban…

    • You need to chill Firefly! This is a quote from a story I am publishing next month in my magazine: “Port Elizabeth is known as the friendly city around these parts and it is true. The people 
are warm, friendly and welcoming.”

    • Ken

      If Port Elizabeth needs a “promoter,” number 4 was spot on.

    • Unless, of course, if you’re talking about Port Elizabeth, Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines…

    • Roldie

      On the contrary! I just spent an hour googling pictures, just to see about the ass of the wolrd…

    • I’m a sailor and never heard of Port Elizabeth (well the name sounds familiar but not specifics). I do know “The Cape”. So I google mapped it and found a P.E in New Jersey and South Africa. What’s to hate about a nice windy place with good scenery and a break from the Southern Ocean? I think they’re talking about New Jersey

    • Richie-Skipper

      Aww, bless ya, but do lighten up a tad, I’m sure it was a mere arbitrary choice of place name. Most probably never heard of it or know where it is. Remember the old adage that all publicity is good publicity – ‘I don’t care what they write about me, just make sure they spell my name right’..

      • Aye aye matey! You’re right, now I’ve heard of Port Elizabeth and have learned there are several to boot!

    • Flyin-H-man Gary.

      Guess some folk possess little humour…….

    • Gareth.

      See number 8. I’m guessing you’re not a sailor.

  • Daddy K

    This is brilliant!!!

  • Sailing as a sport does not get much renown as a sport and enjoyed the article as a fellow sailor for having seen or experienced many of the 9-things that are everyday in sailing.

    However it is ironic that the image is of Vestas Wind the Volvo Ocean Racing Boat that on November 30, 2014 during Leg 2 of this around the world race ran aground on the Cargados Carajos Shoals in the Indian Ocean. A credit to the team (all of who survived and were rescued from the harrowing experience without serious injury) and sponsors who came back and removed the boat from the shoals with a little damage to the reef as possible.

    • Richard

      They couldn’t get away from Port Elizabeth fast enough.
      These South Africans seriously need to chill out a bit and stop taking themselves so seriously. I thought Kiwis were bad

    • cbmjr3

      Really? Do ya need to be spoon fed? And if ya got balls big enough to admit yes, learn ye now. It don’t matter where the f^*K Port Elizibeth is unless that is or is not where you are headed. It is all relative to “YOUR” POINT OF VIEW. We learn very quickly that very little of what we expect will happen and what we can control is not all that. I love all, I dare you to say you need me to understand you agree.

  • PB Moran

    Getaway owes the port of Port Elizabeth an apology….big time. I have sailed in and from their waters many times. wonderful people.

  • As a sailor, and dedicated fan of the Volvo Ocean Race, I think this is great fun!

  • What did PE ever do to deserve this… nothing.. it had it coming I think. Only good thing about PE from a sailors perspective is that their is a coast line and wind most of the time.

  • DAVe

    I’m #5 all the way, with a minor in #4. Outstandingly fun, and accurate article. Thanks. 8^)

  • Chief N

    Great writing! And no offense taken. Sailors are also well equipped to laugh, even if at themselves. Hey, things get weird on the mid-watch…

  • Leah Ethridge

    You have described my husband…to a tee. Better than the Myers-Briggs! Did I mention he’s been a sailor for 30 years? Congrats!

  • You can try the virtual race as part of the Volvo Ocean Race. I’m in a respectable position of 34,830 out of more than 170,000, endlessly tacking up to Sanya at the end of Leg 3.

  • A bit cheeky…bit I quite like it.

  • Sailing new it in Annapolis. Loved this article, still working on hose knots.

  • Gregg Little

    Matey, any port is a port, it is not the ocean. PE or anywhere else in the world, a port is the pit-stop to get you back on the water if its got a bar, fuel and food. If you don’t go back on the water then it shelters the boat until the next time. Until landlubbers experience at least a few of the “9 everyday things” they have yet to understand or appreciate sailors. Kicking ass or not, we do what we do because its what has to be done.

    • Seerower

      Hear hear pe is a hardcore place so harden up white nukkle sailors dont make like were a bunch of softys every body knows pe is [email protected] but allright, try living in pta

  • A great article – thanks!

  • Hornblower

    ‘Any port in a storm!’

  • AH

    Anyone that uses the terms “Sailing” and “Fun” in the same sentence is not a real sailor.
    I spent 20 years in the Navy and it was never “Fun”. It was dangerous, risky, amazing, breathtaking, confusing, frustrating, irritating, sickening, horrifying, and sometimes we enjoyed the thrill of making it through a ten day storm alive. It was many things, but never fun.
    Sailing in a race on a luxury yacht eating lobster and drinking champagne in some of the world’s most luxurious ports, that’s not for sailors but wanna be’s.

    • Nicki

      I’ve never known a serious racer, whether rounding buoys or rounding a horn, to eat lobster and drink champers. At least, not until s/he hears the horn!

      • Steve

        Spot on Nicki ! You can tell who the novices are real fast on these posts………….

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  • Hi Roger,
    You’re not talking about Me and Sue are you ???…………….Jus’ jokin’………

  • OF cauce we real sailors would:nt be drinking champanne unless we where departing France for our voyage . Any other departure point would determine what to be partaken of. eg:from Mexico it would be Tequila,in New Zeland it would be white wine from the Molbrough region ,from Australia it would be beer allthough if you are departing Northern Australia it would be Rum,as it would be anywhere in the Bahamas or the Carabian. fair winds and full sails to you al out there, i will soon be back out with you all after some much needed restoration work on my 53yr old darling ,and i dont mean the wife who i traded for the yacth.

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  • W.C. Fields

    I tried to go to Port Elizabeth once but it was closed.

  • Mike D

    Sweet Kaenon’s

  • baseldon

    What was the point 9th ? no jocks? its proven 🙂

  • Sailors always know how to look like they are not really trying.
    If a boat is behind you and catching you do your best to stay ahead, tweaking everything.
    If they get close and look like they are going to pass then that is the time to sit back with your feet up and brew in hand giving them casual acknowledgement like you have no been trying or are not interested.

  • Cap’n_Dave

    Hilariously well written! Loved the adroit turns-of-phrases….”liquescent centre of gravity.” So true!