The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

The Differences Between Sailing and Travelling

Valerie and Laurent Devin

Lagoon 380, Catamaran
January 12th, 2017

Disclaimer: This essay is only a satire of some aspects of our lives and needs to be read that way. Life is serious, but there is no need to take ourselves too seriously. And then a few days ago it was a windy day; we couldn’t get out of the boat, so we needed to keep ourselves busy or we would have started doing silly things for our age… Call that cabin fever if you will.

As we advance in our exploration of the South Pacific aboard Letitgo, we can clearly see two ways of life in the cruising world coming to light. Something in the range of the famous adage, “do you live to eat or eat to live?” In this light, cruising offers the same dichotomy: two visions; two rhythms of travel, which impact your experience and the way you see the world.

This raises the question: Are you a sailor or a traveller?

If You Are a Sailor

Sailors come in few flavors and subtleties:

The Born to be a Sailor Type

There are the sailors who are born in a coastal region and have been dreaming of sailing away from the coast ever since they first set foot on their great grandparent’s sailboat, as part of their parents’ DNA. They have designed or built multiple crafts and can reverse engineer any piece of equipment blind folded, at the top of the mast, with the wind blowing 20 knots, while singing on the rigging, if made of wood or steel. Plastic is a new material for them and shouldn’t be on a boat, full stop. An engine is still a nice-to-have thing, and any means of verbal communication (read a radio) is a nuisance to their tranquility; they are the “born to be sailor”.

The How-to Sailor Type

The next nuanced sailors get to sea after reading one too many sailing novels, in the woods. They have now sold their farm and have never lived close to the ocean! They bought their sailing boat from the previously mentioned sailor. The result is deceiving, as a well-equipped and able to roam around the Antarctic boat comes to anchor next to you. But you quickly realize that the situation is far from being under control, as they are still reading “the how to” book they found on board, left as a pity gift for their use.

The Beer-can Regatta King Type

Then you find the beer-can regatta king, the one who after one too many celebrations, made a bet with his pals: “Why don’t we go around the world, just for the heck of it, so we can say we’ve done it”. Their boat is loaded with more testosterone than a bar on Friday night; their spinnaker is bigger than their ego, and the only real point of interest is “how many miles in the last 4 hour-watch, boys”? Once you meet them at the dock, you might be asked: “Can we clear in and out at the same time in this port?” or “Where are we again?”

The Hibernating Type

These sailors could be hibernating on their boat weeks at a time; only coming out when the food is running low, or they heard a rumor of a good deal on some rum. You may find them on every online forum, as they generate more volume on the “how to do it” than anybody else. But ask them what they ate in /…/ (insert anywhere in the world), and a “one-pot wonder” will be their answer. The list of future harbors is pinned on their companionway door, with all their datelines and you will also find they are still wearing watches and talking business at any occasion.

The Eat Miles Type

Earlier on, a friend confessed to us that he went from France to Brazil within three weeks, then stayed there only two weeks before turning around to go back home, crossing the Atlantic single-handed. In his words, “I love to eat miles!” For him, this was the best trip ever, and he is a true sailor, sailing 40,000 nm in 3 years. For the longest time, we were not able to fathom the benefit of joining a rally race (except for countries where cruising is new and the advantage outweighs the administration and safety factor), but when someone showed us their standing in the race with teary eyes, we then understood.  We can now see how thrilling a race around the World must be, with its ups and downs, and this may just be what sailors look forward to. Braving the elements and proving they can do it, by digging into the depth of their courage, is a way for some to accomplish their dream. With the Vendée Globe challenge starting soon and beaming live pictures at all hours, a new generation is in-the-making; but don’t worry, as they will never see that blue color of the water, as they are only enjoying online virtual racing…

The Real Sailor Type

These are the real sailors and undeniably they know their stuff. Some have white scruffy beards, smell a little funny, and talk in a manner incomprehensible to most humans, if not to all. They wear only sailing-related gear from head to toe, looking like a “West Marine” catalogue model, they speak at the same volume of a megaphone installed at the first spreader. Besides, they all keep wondering why anyone “let those plastic boats with Yuppies out of the harbour” while they enjoy to show-off their (in)competence; leaving us to wonder when it will be time to rescue them along the way, which will slow them down in the process!

If You Are a Traveller

These are a strange breed and they have now been acknowledged by the World Tourism organization as a new category of tourism; they call them “the travellers”. They don’t sail all the way here only to visit the white sandy beaches, nor do they visit a country in only six days! Indeed they take their time to learn the language, get to know the culture and try to understand a new way of life. Sailing is mostly a means of transportation for their vagabonding, and they discovered this way of life while reading two well-written blogs, making it sound like a piece of cake!

Would they have done it without the ease of GPS? Would they have learned how to use a table for the sextant? Maybe not. Do they appreciate the fine art of sailing and trimming the sails, or the purity of the movement? You probably have guessed it by now and the answer is: not at all! They really don’t have a clue, except for what they saw on YouTube. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter to them, as they could be doing this by plane, bus, skateboard or even a stroller. Truly, their goal is to see and discover new horizons and be out of their comfort zone. As a matter of fact they get disoriented when the wind doesn’t match the prognostic and then look for any advice they can find on the Net, including from the above-mentioned sailor types, that will get them to their next destination, one way or another.

You will find them using more fuel, as it never occurs to them that waiting three days for the wind to come back in the middle of nowhere is a possibility.  But as soon as they arrive close to land, they have mastered the 40 magic words in any dialect and with this new tool, they soon will know half of the village, and will be invited to the next celebration with gusto. They have a blog with more recipes than Martha Stewart knew it even existed. And if you need to hear a point of view on the difference between the black and green cardamom pod, they will be happy to let you know! They own a Chapman’s Piloting and Seamanship, though they still need to open it.

Hence along the way, when Sailors and Travellers mix by chance, it makes for funny conversations:

Sailor: I found the perfect graving piece to implement a rose lashing to hold my snaffle in place

Traveller (faking it to not look out of place): Of course that could work.

Traveller: How did you enjoy the snake tacos with those delightful local herbs and fresh coriander at the food stand in town?

Sailor (not wanting to engage in any long conversation): Of course that could work.

Sailor: Why didn’t you get a futtock plate installed before departing?

Traveller: Because I don’t know what this is and don’t really want to know, actually!

Traveller: Are you aware that the uncle of the chief by his first marriage is having a party for us sailors tonight?

Sailor: No, I didn’t realize the island was inhabited!

And then you have the ones who left in the 60’s and 70’s, who are a blend of both worlds, because in those days you couldn’t leave the dock without knowing how to sail. These sailors are rare nowadays and the few still left in the wild are not easy to ‘capture’. You may find some on land, and they open up slowly as they have learned a long time ago that life is always a compromise and cruising is no different.

One last one for the road:

Traveller: Do you carry a colt?

Sailor: Of course and I use it on any sailor who sets foot on her! (Looking at his boat like a young bride)

Traveller:  Oh yeah! That could work. (Running back home, only to realize later that the definition of a Colt is: “A short length of rope with a knot at the end of it, used by officers in the Royal Navy to hit sailors, theoretically to induce them to work harder.)



  1. Ken Christie says:

    Love, the conversation. Thanks so much.
    It expands the simple definitions I have to use for the Skate-Boarders who arrive at my Dinghy Club.

    3 types of Sailors:
    1-Those that want to step onto a Sailboat get the photo, maybe unhook the bowline for a minute.

    2- Those who want to be seen on a Sailboat. Just to go out past the Chanel marker & raise / unfurl one sail and then go back inside a Harbour, like False Creek- anchor and have a deck picnic in front of High Rise Condos.
    Alternate is to go from mooring dock to a Pub-Dock.

    3- Those learned or Novice, with some physical sports history, take them out into the open water, give them the controls, lean that ship over, try the Sails, what & where is the Keel, Play on the Rudder, spin Circles, where is the wind now, smash through those waves, hold perfect courses, points of Sail, can this boat get to Hawaii? – waaaaahoooo ! A sense of Awe predominates. (They are often 4-7 years old- their mother can take days to get there)

  2. Ken W. says:

    Ah oui Laurent , much enjoyed your expose . read it twice…olde tars do that .
    there is truth in some comments, and humour in others…………perfect mix !
    I do know this article cent fois plus longtemps to write than read . Well, been my case anyway.
    So, I tink about the 2 types….could there be ‘overlap’ ? oui oui pour sur .
    So, you may want to tag them. Oui un nouveau mot pour notre langue torturee .
    How about………….STRAIVELOR ” let it roll off your tongue eh
    sail…travell..stray…strive….trail…ravel…and more ?…
    juste une pensee mon ami
    Ciao Ciao ( was in Italia last summer)
    Ken W [ SURGIAMO ]

  3. Ken Wright says:

    Bonjour Laurent, hope you are “spending” more time with Valerie than your quirky diesel eng.
    Again , I enjoyed this article ! not sure if I fit into 1 or another catagory. Could there be another catagory
    for those who straddle 2 (or more) cats, or are seen crawling out of one , and slithering into another ?
    Look fwd to more !
    In life i have usually leaned to starboard. But this year its a Port tack…..swallow the anchor, and start wearing shoes again.
    What kind of trees in your future ?…. palm….fir…deciduous or coniferous ?
    Safe & Happy travails

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