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5 Life Lessons From Sailing the Open Ocean

By Edited May 3, 2015 1 0

Sailing the open ocean is a rewarding experience. It is terrifying at times, exiting at others, and peaceful when it is calm. The experience is like no other, and regardless of your occupation or age, it offers some important life lessons that we can all apply to our every day life. From offshore racing, such as the infamous 630 nautical mile Australian Sydney to Hobart Race or the United Kingdom's iconic Fastnet Race (608 nautical miles), the following are some principles I have learnt from time at sea, and how you can apply them in your everyday life.

Sailing The Open Ocean
Credit: Self

Sailing the open ocean during a race.

Quality People

The first life lesson is to surround yourself with quality people. This lesson applies in every aspect of our day-to-day lives and especially when undertaking some of the world's toughest ocean races. It is the people on your team who will pick you up and make you laugh when you have sailed for days on end with nothing but the ocean surrounding you. It is these same people you need to rely on, to give you the motivation, strength and will power to push on when 'mother nature' unleashes eight metre high waves, 80 km/hr winds and you are saturated and cold to the bone.


Sailing the open ocean, also teaches the importance of teamwork and comradery among the crew. Races can last for days on end, and in order to complete them you need to form 'watch' systems in which people rotate between sailing the boat and sleeping below deck. 

Imagine you are in an ocean race; it is 3:45am, you are awoken by your crew-mate and informed you are due to start your watch in fifteen minutes. The exhaustion was the only thing keeping you asleep as you grew accustomed to the sound of the waves crashing against the hull. You fasten up your water-proof overall's, put on your sea boots and throw on your damp sailing jacket to get on deck as quickly as you can, punctuality is key. As your eyes begin to adjust to the darkness and you regain your balance to stand on the deck, you are greeted by some tired faces who have put in all their effort over the last four hours. As your team mates head below deck to get some much-needed sleep, it is now your turn to push through the personal discomfort for the benefit of the team and achieve maximum performance from the boat.

It is during these change over's, of watch systems where teamwork is critical, as you must exchange a significant amount of information such as the boats location, the direction in which you need to sail, the sail configuration and setting, the expected wind and information on any opposition boats. Without effective communication and understanding of one another, the boats performance would be compromised. Hence teamwork plays a vital role in ocean racing, and we can apply this same principle to our every day lives. We need to collaborate with those around us, whether it be our family, friends or colleagues, to complete goals that we would not be able to achieve on our own.


The third life lesson to gain from sailing the open ocean is the importance of preparation, and it is applicable in two key areas. The first of, is the preparedness of the people on board the boat. Each person needs to be physically fit to undertake their required task, whether it be operating the winches, or lifting and manouvering heavy sails. An appropriate level of fitness needs to be obtained leading up to the race, otherwise you may risk getting injured or not being able to fulfil your role to its full potential, hence hampering the rest of the crew and overall performance of the boat. In addition to being physically fit, each team member needs to be mentally fit to be able to withstand the pressures of the race. There may be times when you are three or four days into a race, and your opposition is still nearby, requiring all of your mental energy to keep on pushing the boat just that little bit harder until you reach the finish line. This kind of mental resilience needs to be obtained through prior experience and practicing. 

The second area is ensuring that the boat and supplies are thoroughly prepared before departing. In order for a boat to compete in an ocean race such as the Sydney to Hobart, they must meet a certain safety criteria. This requires preparation of life rafts, storm sails, emergency water and many other finer details. Food and water also needs to be prepared before departure, especially when some crews can have up to eighteen people on board, this requires a significant number of meals to be prepared if the race lasts for a number of days. 

Preparation can apply in many areas of our everyday life, and is an important skill to adopt and develop if we are going to reach our full potential. Like many things in our lives, the results we achieve are not determined on the day, but in the weeks, months and years leading up to the event. 

Trust In Your Abilities

Having the belief and courage in your own abilities is vital in our everyday lives. So often we doubt ourselves, and tell ourselves that we can't do something or we are afraid to try something incase we fail. Ocean racing forces you to build trust in your abilities by providing many challenging situations. One such obstacle could be that you are required to perform a sailing manoeuvre such as a sail change in pitch black darkness. Hence you need to rely on the previous training you have done, but also be confident with your judgement and skill, as there is no option to simply walk away from the task. The howling wind and darkness adds another level of difficulty to the task, however through visualising the task and enough practice, you can rely on your ability to get the job done.

Even if we are not sailing in the ocean, working on believing in ourselves and trusting our abilities is an important skill to develop. We need to be confident with our judgement and not be afraid to tackle new obstacles and challenges.

Embrace The Moment

One key area in our life that people often neglect, is to really embrace the moment and be grateful for what you have. When you are sailing in rough sea's this can sometimes be difficult. The conditions may be windy and cold, and you may be completely saturated from waves crashing over the boat and wondering "why did I put myself through this", however it is in these moments when you need to be optimistic. You need to find small things to focus on, such as the finish line and overcoming the challenge. In these times I would often think, that "it is only a bit of water" and that I was grateful for the rain and water that gave us life, and that the water would eventually dry and I would soon be warm again. Going through theses challenging situations and keeping a positive mindset was some of the most rewarding experiences, as it allowed you to appreciate the 'good times' so much more, and be grateful for something such as a warm shower and dry land.

These are some of the lessons I learnt from my adventures at sea, and how I have applied them to my life. I hope they have been beneficial to you and that you can use some of the tips in your journey through life. 



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