This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

A common mistake when thinking about sailing is to believe the boat to be a confined space we have to embark on, one in contact with the others. Hence all the fears linked to coexistence and all the urban legends (actually, marine) on the furious quarrels, on the broken friendships, about the couples bursting and so on.

Let’s try to change the point of view instead: as long as you think of the sailboat as a narrow space on which to float, you will never understand how sailing is an opportunity to come into contact with immensely vast spaces in which to learn to live.

That’s why it could be said that the boat is just like life, a gym where we build up our sense of involvement and experience, in a life-long trip, a trip inside ourselves.

Sailing is, therefore, the big metaphor of navigating within oneself, of creating conditions that stimulate cooperation, meditation, creativity, esprit de corps and integration between intuitive, logic and decisional functions.

Facing the sea becomes facing your own deepness. In a sailboat, social interactions are necessarily collaborative and participative, since they are fundamental conditions for the good governance of the boat. Every participant knows that they play a leading role in boat management and lives a full responsibility. This creates the conditions to experience their behavioural and relational attitudes, essential for a positive development of one’s personality.

When sailing you learn to live together and share limited spaces, everyday objects, emotions and sensations that come from the experience of sailing and the contact with nature. When sailing, you put yourself to the test.

From this concept – over the past few decades – interesting educational experiences took place. In Sweden, thirty years ago an experimental project for the recovery of “difficult” teenagers was carried out through learning the art of sailing. This experience then spread and replicated rapidly in Germany, England and Italy; the aim was to give an opportunity to young people that need a break from their usual environment to rediscover a personal and social balance.  A strong experience to make them conquer autonomy and self-confidence, through participation in an experience outside the norm, demanding and enriching.

Sailing is a particularly constructive experience: it allows building interpersonal relationships, spirit of solidarity, of loyalty, of confidence in their own means and in others. Reinforces the sense of acceptance of others as well as themselves, enhances the commitment of the individual and the group, teaches respect and allows surpassing oneself facing difficulties.

A sailboat is a place that teaches you tolerance, at least for the narrowness of its environments: if you do not get on with one sailing mate, you cannot avoid them, since you will bump into them three minutes later; you must learn to deal with them. 

On board takes place a great social workshop and an experience boost, as a restricted, sometimes uncomfortable environment, where you must play the game, cooperate working in the search for solutions to problems and unforeseen.

Moreover, speaking of educational projects, kids are for sure the most interesting to sail with. They are sincere, honest and they allow experimenting more the modalities of teaching.

Emotionality is the basis of this activity; sailing involves everyone: you forget the phone and time flies without noticing. People rediscover the value of silence, the sound of sea, the wave that touches the hull and they reconnect this their deeper part, often buried by everyday life frenzy.

Then there is a metaphorical aspect that interests me particularly: I think you could call it the “existential turn”; changing life direction.

The reasons can be many, it can we our decision: conditions may have changes, forcing us to make different choices. It may be our own will to compete to win changing us. We may be forced to change, to face or survive a counter-force, an imminent danger, just like the sailor when trying to find the best and quickest way to reach a safe shelter from a storm that is coming, and of which the sailor has seen or sensed all the premonitory signs.

Once decided to change, you must do a reconnaissance of your lives, because before putting yourself to question you must be sure you have everything in order: on a sailboat, we would say we are safe.

Then, you have to ask yourselves whether you can make that change as a solitary sailor or it would be better to have a crew with you.

What cannot be put at question is the fact that you and you only are the helmsmen of your change. Nobody can make that change for you, and when you have everything carefully prepared and assured the collaboration of necessary resources for your change, start to speed up, not to be afraid to throw off our life’s boat, looking for the wind in the bow. That condition will not allow you to change direction, the turn you are looking for.

You have to master the fear of going to the dead corner or end up in the hood, to remain planted and immobilized after leaving your old being but not having reached completely the new one.

Therefore, are you ready for the existential turn? It will not be enough decide to change or declare to do so. You have to rotate the helm of your life and in the meantime spin the overhead sheet, the one supporting the sail, and accepting that the sail (and your life) will start waving.

You still have to cross the dreaded dead corner, in which the new life, after changing, is not active yet, while the old one lost the wind that was pushing her, and now is no longer supporting us. This is the moment when the change is likely to fail. Stop turning the helm, try to regain headway on the new tacks.

If you had not accumulated enough energy, the speed of the upwind, or if you did not have enough apparent wind, the vail will slam and the helm will not work. The helm, which is the tool to change life, only works when the water under the boat flows fast. If your life is still, the change will not take place.

To go faster meet the wind and life you must lighten our boat from the unnecessary ballast and similarly you must lighten our lives from unnecessary existential burdens.

In the end of this sailing and life metaphor, with following change-turn you can zigzag up the opposite wind. Never catch it in the dead corner, showing instead at each edge the left side and the starboard side in continuous alternation, finally arriving at your goal.

Then there is one last interesting aspect: the sailboat is the perfect metaphor for a company. Think of a group of people that works with technical means so that the boat can sail towards its target. Navigation can take place quickly or slowly, the crew can work in harmony or with a little fight, the choices that lead to success (or failure) are many. Does not that remind you of anything? The classic business goals, turnover, don’t seem to you more and more like that far yellow buoy, which we must reach?!

We have the entire catalogue here: perfect metaphor of the leadership, problem solving, strategy and the metaphor of the iceberg too against which we can always crash, sinking tragically.

This is sailing, my friends. This is life. It is not a coincidence that many phrases we use metaphorically on a daily basis are nautical expressions: unwind the binds, drop anchor, scan the horizon, go with the wind in the stern…these are only few of the idioms that indicate how sailing is a metaphor of life.

A journey to a goal with different motivations, with the same ambitions. Sharing spaces, places, ways of life and enjoy the same need.

In the value of the time we give to our feeling part of all this, without being invaded or invading the others, escaping the frenzy of something that does not allow us to understand. That makes us feel guests of a life that should belong to us, knowing how to respect and appreciate it, responsibly and with courage, far from those pressing rhythms from which we often run but at the end of the day, they kind of represent us.

Fair wind everybody, see you at sea.

Renzo Crovo
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