9 everyday things a sailor will kick your ass at

Posted on 28 January 2015

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.


Related: 7 everyday things a mountain biker will kick your ass at

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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