This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

You are a cool guy, there is no doubt, and you are successful in every field of life: you have an amazing job, a nice house, an enviable car and an even more enviable girlfriend. You have travelled a lot, you have made great experiences and you have interesting opinions about the meat industry, the socio-political balance in South East Asia and the chances of living on Mars. You have reflected on all these topics while walking with your backpack in Burma, where you worked as a paediatric surgeon operating your little patients using only popsicles sticks. You can open a wine bottle with a shoe and cut a sarong in half using the claws of a Siamese cat. Your friends believe you are brilliant because you can make a carbonara with rainwater and crocodile eggs (do crocodiles lay eggs?).

However, there will always be someone out there cooler than you will. Someone out at sea, in particular. Get over it: you will never be as cool as a sailor.

I am an amateur sailor, I cannot call myself a professional but I know enough and have enough experience to know what it means to sail in open sea; I can picture, for example, what racing in a Vendée Globe is like. It is not about common sailing and it is not about common sailors. Women and men, hardened sailors who stay at sea, come rain or shine, sailing all around the world, eating lyophilized sandpaper and scraping the salt off their forearms using the beak of seagulls flying by. At sea, their talents are vital to survive. On earth, they might as well be superhuman.

There are everyday things a sailor will do better than anybody else, with no special effort. You might think (and with good reason) that these skills are completely useless in most people’s lives; you might think (and you would not be wrong here either) that they are folkloristic traits that normal people would find socially inappropriate; still, there must be a reason why today we are talking about sailors and not about dentists.

Whether you like it or not then, there are situations where a sailor will inevitably do better than you will.

Let’s have a look at a few of them.


I know, I know. You’re great at parallel parking, you’re the master of parallel parking; you can enter the parking lot with your SUV without even turning around and turning down the volume of your radio (no, not that, even you do that). Nevertheless, you are a rookie. Try backing out with a fire truck without rear-view mirrors and without brakes in a car wash, on wet ground, during a storm. That is what we sailors do. We call that mooring.

Walking straight when drunk

There is no point in trying to keep a poker face, it is a farce. We all know how many grappe you have drunk as soon as you get up to go to the restroom walking like a flipper ball. Legs do not lie, unless you are a sailor. A life on water instils sailors a liquid centre of gravity. The more liquid there is in them, the straighter they walk. In fact, if you see a sailor walking in a disjointed way, you should probably offer him a drink.

Vocabulary and double meanings

Sailing terminology is (as is widely known) an ocean alive with metaphors, puns and double meanings. It is impossible to think of a pun that has not already been extensively used by sailors. In addition, a not necessarily prim vocabulary highlights most of activities and actions on board, especially when the sailor is also a regatta racer.

Seen (and heard) from outside, the way we talk might be laughable or embarrassing and it makes nice people’s hair stand on their heads. The truth is that sailors are perfectly able not to lose their temper when saying the most unspeakable things, those things that on dry land would be received with a social exile or, at least, a raised eyebrow.      

Giving directions

«Turn right near the tree, go ahead for a while, and then go past a school… no, maybe it’s a cinema, or a barrack; go ahead for a few blocks more and then enter a street… I can’t remember the name but once you’re there you can call me». These are the directions that you landfarers give – as useful as the Sibyl oracle – that should lead sensible people to not move an inch from their chair. If people were able to give better directions, we all would save millions of kilometres and tons of fuel. There would be a smaller hole in the ozone layer. Sailors know that (and they are not even those who use the most fuel). They also know that at sea vague directions can lead to serious troubles. Or to discover new continents.

Dressing appropriately

Weather apps, constant TV forecasts, there are a bazillion of circumstances and sources that a land man could use to know what the weather will be like and consequently choose what to do and what to wear. Sailors have bones; they have bones that tingle that break, oscillate and creak. Sailors can feel unforgiving weather in their bones before the weather itself knows it will be unforgiving. If you want to know what to wear today, just find a sailor and imitate what he is wearing. A part from the insignias. Never wear insignias.


We all remember when we, as children, used to play pretend and “imprison” each other, tying someone to a pole as we had seen in cowboys and Indians or gangster movies. The reason why most of us gave up on a far west sheriff career is that growing up we understood that we were not that good with ropes and knots. Tying a prisoner to a pole is not the same thing as tying shoelaces. There are implications regarding safety and practicality. A combination of scarce wiggle room and a slippery surface can turn very quickly into an emergency, and no one wants to untie the Granny knot with his teeth if push comes to shove. Who knows just a couple of things about knots? Sailors of course. A sailor could tie a sumo fighter with kitchen twine. And – which is quite important – untie him later.

Pull an all-nighter

It was the cornerstone of our high school years, but eventually at an indeterminate point of our light-heartedness, the thought of going on into the early hours went from a pleasant habit to a moment of chronic anxiety. The only lively thing happening on land after midnight is the government house burning in your dreams (statistically, this is the most satisfying dream average citizens have). Caffeine is useless, and even a nice Dario Argento’s movie from the good old days cannot keep you awake anymore. However, sailors are fuelled by something stronger than the combination of caffeine and panic: the fear of the unknown. The ocean is a fickle mistress and just like Lost screenwriters, sailors do not always know what comes next. They are ready for any eventuality. And that requires being awake. Very awake.

Letting things go

When something falls into the ocean, it is gone forever. The only thing you can do is forgetting it and going on mumbling something deep like “Now you belong to the ocean, my friend”. At sea if you do not learn to let things go, you drown.

Sailors would be great therapists.


Just kidding. Sailors do not know what that is. On a boat, the captain is always right. Even when he is wrong. Especially when he is wrong.

Well, I really do not think I have convinced you that a sailor is always cooler than any other person who would rather move on land. I obviously was not even planning doing it. The truth is that this was a chance to laugh among us and at us. About what we wish we were and what we realize we are. Leaving to our readers the task of observing to determine what we really are like. Laughing a bit about the sailor stereotype and stereotypes in general. Laughing a bit at a time when clouds are gathering on our horizon portending nothing good.

“A stereotype is a subjective characteristic, over-simplified and persistent, applied to a place, an object, an event or a recognizable group of people sharing certain characteristics or qualities”.

It is true, though, we sailors are really cool.

Fair wind to everybody, see you at sea.

Renzo Crovo