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But true travellers leave to leave and that’s it: light, balloon-like hearts that only chance moves eternally, always say “Let’s go”, and they don’t know why. Their wishes have the shapes of the clouds”.

(Charles Baudelaire)

The pleasure of sailing: turning the bow out of port, ready to chase wind, sun and freedom. A very poetic picture, isn’t it?

But sailing is more than this, especially if we share this wonderful experience with other sailors, whether family members or not, relatives by law or not or just people close to us.

Handling frictions on a boat is more complicated due to confined spaces that make it difficult a quick management and resolution of conflicts. I am talking for example of disagreements or diverging views between people on board, which have to be handled or frozen. To do so we have to remain calm. Any burst of anger – even if justified – shall be postponed to when we can exchange views without been seen nor heard by not-involved people. The risk is to light a match in a tinder box, which is a very unpleasant and dangerous situation.

Experiencing boating, you know, may either deepen or destroy friendship and love stories forever. It is a moment beyond the social and cultural boundaries that – like it or not – frame our lives. And this is why a totally different approach is required.

So, an all-encompassing moment as a boost to turn what sometimes can appear as a real prison into a growth opportunity. Sea, wind, sailing through the elements are different aspects of the same experience, each of them having its own weigh in the balance of the issue at stake. We cannot escape from ourselves, and, unless the unlikely option of throwing someone overboard is chosen, what remains in the end is to search mutual understanding and to context the problem in the big picture.

I believe there is nothing new in this. We all have more or less experienced situations and feelings such as biting our tongue in more than one occasion, tying lasting friendships or breaking strong dry land relationships during the first sailing experience

Probably what escapes all of us, and is maybe interesting to explore, is a totally different thing.

Should the fact that sailing is for us, as it is, the essence of our well-being and relax, automatically exclude any moments of tensions? In other words: why should we argue in paradise?

And yet this is precisely the point! The truth is that we all not only board kilos of unnecessary baggage but also “another me” that has nothing to do with our sailing spirit. We insist on keeping on board that “me” made up of habits, stress, social conventions which are at odd with a sailor-like attitude. It can be said that we unconsciously tend to drag on board our civil and civilized life that we would better learn to leave on land.

Once on board the paradigm changes. The sea and the balance among its elements take over and our only chance is to carve out a comfortable and above all sustainable spot.

We mustn’t get on board unless we are sure we have got rid of the “me” that may turn into a burden.

On board everything takes on a special significance, sometimes ancestral, sometimes inexplicable from our usual land-oriented perspective. This involves rituals, points of view, how we interact with ourselves.

When I am on board, if among my crew mates there are people I have already met, I realize, when I focus on them, they seem to be different people, here, on a boat. I think this is something that affects all experienced sailors and what I notice is our ability to free ourselves from the land-oriented perspective mentioned before. As the days go by this appears most explicitly.

Talking about the delicate balance between the roles on board, it is hard to accept the leadership of a captain (the word skipper is here inappropriate) unless we turn that around and say that being the captain does not mean to give orders but to deal with troubles. A captain must be recognised as the most expert and the most deserving sailor to take on the role. If you don’t agree, you or him are out of place. Maybe it is true he is not the most suitable person for the role. Should this be the case, he would do better allow someone else to take his place. Or it may be you who find it hard to accept him as, once again, you are trying to keep on board your burden of attitudes, prejudice or unresolved issues that have little to do with sailing. In this case it is really advisable to give up. At least this time.

The captain, for his part, shall be friendly, smiling, able to establish relationships. He will make sure his decisions are clearly understood and pursued by all. It is true he is the one who has to make decisions, but these have to be deeply acknowledged by all the people on board. The captain shall show his leadership without being authoritative.

The role of the captain and that of the ship owner may coincide or not. The ship owner, however, is not always and not necessarily the most experienced sailor of the crew (just look around you). A smart ship owner leaves room for other people, acts as a polite host, sets an example to help boat mates be aware that on a boat the world is different.  Make you understand that on board you are elsewhere.

And then, here they are. Our cruise or sailing mates, in no particular order. Be they longtime friends or perfect strangers. And here comes the point: B.A, B.S, professor, lawyer, manager and similar professional titles are of no use when you are on a boat. When on board we are what we are and what we can do, we are what the sea requires us to be, undisguised. The rest must not be carried on board. At sea – apart from the captain and the ship owner – there is no hierarchy of roles. There is solidarity, empathy and team spirit. No deference is necessary. Our visit card and our curriculum vitae are the result of our everyday sailing efforts. At sea what matters is to be a natural and that’s it! Nothing more.

Now, commitment is a cornerstone as we are all on board together. Of course there is the expert sailor, the good yachtsman and the beginner keen to learn, but everyone shares in all the duties involved in running the boat, none excluded. Everyone shall stick to the watch system and take on a share of the day-to-day duties, as we all know this is fair. When on a boat a wife doesn’t have to do the washing up in place of her husband <<as he doesn’t do the housework at home >>. Or nobody can say: <<I don’t feel like doing this now; I’ll do it later >>. Everyone is in charged to check the food-stock. Personal products such as sun cream and aftershave won’t be forgotten in bathrooms or shared areas (unless each cabin has a private bathroom). And as for the luggage, we will be careful not to drop it in the middle of corridors or common areas but place it in our cabin.

Even children will have to perform small duties in order to make them responsible and careful. They will be involved in boat manoeuvring, encouraged to be aware of what is happening around them and to plunge into water.

Life on a boat requires a balance that can be reached only if everyone plays his part according to his ability, with no excuse.

In short, the holiday has to be enjoyed all together, with a light touch, with a smile, with respectful tolerance of each other and of everyone’s private spaces. None of us has to bring on board that unnecessary and burdensome me that, by the way, is the real reason why we need a holiday. To put it short, sailing is a good opportunity to free us from ourselves and we would do better not to spoil it.

Fair wind to everybody! See you at sea!


Renzo Crovo