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Sailing Gatekeepers - Ye Too Shall Not Pass

Photo by Erik Scheel

With the advent of so many YouTube sailing channels, and a trend in peoples general desire to make a life change in these crazy times, many people that have never sailed a boat are wanting to get involved. They latch on to the dream of the life they see on YouTube and start scouring the various corners of the internet to make a plan. They ask questions and often those questions are novice & uninformed, but that makes a lot of sense. They are just starting. They are novice, they are gathering the info.

Fortunately the vast majority of the responses provided to these newcomers by the sailing community are constructive, encouraging, and appropriate. But that's also when the gatekeepers strike. They lurk in the forums, Facebook groups, YouTube comments, all over. Here are just a few examples from the various crevices of the inter-web.

  • "If you have to ask you shouldn't be out there".

  • "You're going to kill yourself or someone else."

  • "You're a menace on the water."

  • And a recent comment on our Facebook page regarding our article about a YouTuber that is starting from scratch and documenting it, "It's hard to watching an accident about to happen..... You know the painful result of his disastrous decisions. Oy!"

Ok, I get it, things can go sideways, but honestly things can go VERY sideways in your car. We don't require drivers to have years of experience to take that first on-ramp to the highway. A basic course and very little experience is all that is required.

Now I'm not advocating for people to take a sailboat out without any training or skills, but after some basic sail training, it's just not that hard. Sailing a boat safely is not rocket science or reserved for the highly experienced. Resources are out there to gain knowledge about sailing, sail techniques, boat operation, weather routing, tides & currents, etc. YouTube has plenty of quality instructional videos for handling a sailboat. Couple that with some basic sail training like the ASA101 & 102 courses and people with only the dream and initiative can do it. I would also submit that learning by doing is truly the stickiest learning. I own a learning tech company so I do understand a bit of how people learn. Experiential learning and making mistakes are the golden nuggets of learning retention.

So why the gatekeeping?

A therapist once told me that we don't do anything that doesn't serve us in some way, even negative or self-destructive things. It's how we are built. So what's in it for the gatekeeper? I know I'm going to get heat for this but I submit that a vast majority of the gatekeepers make these negative comments and try to discourage the adventurous because it threatens their ego. An amateur getting involved in a pursuit in which the gatekeeper feels accomplished diminishes their inner feeling of superiority. It bruises the ego.

A comment I saw on a reddit post responding to the question "Why do people gatekeep?" put it well:


Why? I guess one reason I can think of is because when someone has an interest/hobby/lifestyle/etc they tend to assimilate that into their identity. An individual's identity is very important to them, and when something threatens that said identity the ego tends to react in certain ways. I guess what I'm getting at is that people are (a lot of times) sensitive to others making frivolous claims that they are x when they haven't really taken the time to truly appreciate x.

Gatekeeping is not unique to sailing of course. Music, art, coffee, rock climbing, etc. It is a negative trait of the human condition that maps to our innate need to be divisive. The ego in a state of threat. The ego being the only part of the conscious personality. It's what the person is aware of when they think about themselves, and is what they usually try to project toward others.

An article titled "Not Metal Enough - A Psychological Perspective on Gatekeeping" written by psychologist Steve Byrne for Loudwire magazine also put it well:

"After having listened to clients during therapy, I can tell you that nobody actually wants to be an asshole.

But if you ask other people about their perceptions, it definitely still happens. And it goes back to that first point – people are trying to prove that they belong to something, that they know something, that you should look to them for guidance. They feel better about themselves when they can elevate themselves into a higher status position, sometimes by telling you that you’re not at their level."

At Sail Junky we are all about driving everyone and anyone to pursue their dreams. Grab an opportunity. Learn a skill. Jump in the deep end, learn, and live, because the truth is that it's doable with enough passion, persistence, and drive.

Not a single person came into this world knowing the "secret" art of sailing, because it's, well.. not a secret.

There are logical paths to living the sailing dream of course. Just buying a 40' Catamaran and winging it is obviously not that logical path. But, it also doesn't have to be prohibitively difficult or expensive. A friend shared this article with me a while back that is a good resource for ideas: TWELVE STEPS TO BECOMING A SAILOR but even that is heavy on spending money on ASA courses. (it is on the ASA website so there's that.)

Safety is obviously a concern, but that is also true with many different activities, so spending time to understand the challenges of your home waters, basic safe operation of a sailboat, and some general tasks like those that the ASA101, 102, & 103 courses offer is enough to get the weekend sailor started. Passage to Bermuda? Well obviously that will come after some time, but experience is what we need and we don't get that without doing.

So thank you to all those positive, caring, and constructive members of the community that embrace the newcomers and share their knowledge and advice to feed and nurture the dream of those new to this amazing activity/lifestyle. Those dreamers that want to buy a boat and refit it and think they know what they are gettin into, but will discover the truth along the way. Those that have barely stepped aboard a boat, yet dream of long passages. They are welcome here and if they apply themselves, they will do it. And if not, well, you miss 100% of the opportunities you do not take.

Speaking as a newcomer to this world of sailing and doing my refit on my boat.. Don't get down when the gatekeepers strike. Recognize what is going on. Their fragile ego is threatened by our ambition. As well it should be.


Mike D. is the founder of Sail Junky Magazine. Striving to find more purpose in life, Mike writes and shares about his journey to rediscover his passion for living a fulfilled life, especially through the medium of sailing.

Article Photo by Erik Scheel

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