6 Life Lessons I Learned from Sailing

7 weeks after I left, I’m returning to the US a little different. I’m more at ease with uncertainty, I’m looking at social scenarios with different eyes and I have a different sense of confidence when approaching life and the unknowns that come with it. Even after crossing the Mediterranean, I wouldn’t call myself a sailor, but I would say that I’ve gained some sailing experience that translates well into life lessons. Besides the sleeping captain, notice how there's no clutter around? (FYI -- he wasn't on watch.)

A clean boat is a safe boat.

I quickly learned how to clean lines, though there’s nothing quick about how I do it. Cleaning lines is basically taking the excess from the lines (ropes) around the boat and tidying them up so that they’re out of the way and neatly bundled. When you need to adjust lines in a pinch, this also helps the rope flow smoothly instead of sitting in knots and tangles. A clean boat also means putting things in their place—so in a drawer or in a cupboard because loose items can pose a threat as they move around in poor weather. And there’s just something about looking around a clean clutter-less room that just makes you feel good. Taking this learning to land will set me up with a clean environment with fewer distractions, allowing me to be able to relax more thoroughly instead of feeling overwhelmed by a constant mess.

I definitely had the best watch schedule, but I still took a watch shift. I took this after my first shift, before I got seasick.

There’s no such thing as a free ride; everyone contributes.

Chad was the captain, Tyler was the first mate, and I was…well, I was Sejal. Though my sailing experience was limited (aka zilch), there were lots of ways for me to contribute. Whether it was making breakfast or cleaning up the galley or pulling a line when I was told to or providing entertainment through music on my phone, movies on my computer and books on my Kindle, I made contributions as well that helped us with the journey. There’s no such thing as a free ride on a boat. Everyone has a role, everyone contributes; we all work together as a team. Think about that the next time you’re in a group setting and you’re not doing something. You can help, whether it’s physical assistance or supporting the team effort. Don’t underestimate the power of a smile and enthusiasm; everyone needs support. You have a role; know it, learn it, own it.

That's how close boats can get. If you're not keeping an eye out, it can be dangerous.

Look all around, including behind you.

Boats can approach from any which way. Sometimes these boats show up on the navigation screen, sometimes they don’t. While on watch, it’s important to look all around to see if anything is coming our way and if we’re on a collision course. There’s a set of rules for giving way while on the water. Fortunately for us, tankers and other larger boats have to give way for us, especially when we’re under sail since it’s harder for us to alter our course. Looking around constantly is also how we were able to hang out with dolphins and catch glimpses of a whale. You can’t see something if you don’t put your head up and look. In the same vein, challenges can appear in any part of your life whether it’s work, family, friends, your love life, etc. Sometimes we can see these challenges on the horizon and sometimes they sneak up on us. Don’t anticipate things to go wrong, but be cognizant of your surroundings.

A change in plans meant we got to explore Israel

The winds are always changing.

As the winds change, plans change. You might want to sail tomorrow but if the wind isn’t favorable, that’s not going to happen. You might motor more than you thought you would, so now you’re going to run out of fuel before you make it to your destination, so you have to alter your course. You might have wanted to cross the Atlantic with two of your good friends on a sweet boat, but the timing didn’t work out or you already got what you needed out of the trip, so you decided to jump ship and explore land instead. I think “plans change” was the theme of this trip. It’s good to have a sense of direction and a plan of attack, but a good plan is flexible and allows for changes. I’m a total planner but this trip taught me to ease up on the reins a little bit and allow room for spontaneity. If something goes awry, you gain nothing by getting anxious or upset. Instead trust that things happen for a reason and go with the flow, embracing the experience and moment instead of having it disappear behind a cloud of frustration and negativity.

The infamous dock that I nearly fell off of, until I took my time.

Take your time.

There are times when you need to act fast but most of the time rushing does more harm than good. Most accidents can be avoided if people didn’t rush. People get hurt when they go too fast. I learned this lesson when getting on and off the boat at our second stop in Greece. The dock was pretty low so I couldn’t walk on and off the boat like I’d been able to at our other stops. Getting off of the boat at this port required using the lines from the dock to the boat as stepping stones. Getting on the boat required a boost from Tyler and climbing aboard. The first time I got off the boat, I nearly slipped into the water but was caught by a local who was helping me off the boat. Upon returning to the boat, I had learned my lesson (which Tyler happily reiterated because now rushing could possible cause injury to myself as well as to him), and successfully climbed aboard after taking my time. This lesson can apply to thinking before you speak, taking a second before you react or to any situation where you feel pressed for time or frazzled.

The best kind of life jacket is the kind that never gets used because YOU DON'T FALL OFF OF THE BOAT! (There's a carabiner to attach yourself to the boat so you don't fall off when you're outside in bad weather.)

Don’t fall off the boat.

I’ve saved this for last, but this is truly the first rule of the boat. If you fall off of the boat, your chances for survival decrease significantly. There isn’t a lot someone can do for you if you’re in the water, especially at night, especially during a storm. Falling off the boat can be equated to isolating yourself and consciously distancing yourself from a support system. No matter what threats are lurking about or how claustrophobic a boat can be, it’s a warm, safe, and supportive place that will safely get us from point A to point B. In life, the boat is your support system. It’s the people who will keep you on track, who will keep you safe, who will support your endeavors. Your chances of survival, or success, are tied to your support system, to your own personal boat.

Bindaas in Bali

A Hello, A Farewell, and a Moment of Panic