Do sex and the sea go hand in hand? Jonty Pearce ponders the British protocol for such behaviour


The physical aspect of on board romance is a subject rarely covered by the yachting press. We know many sailors do participate in a bit of nookie afloat, but few will actually admit to it. And fewer still are brave (or foolhardy) enough to even ask about it; such inquisitiveness comes under the ‘slightly kinky’ label and interested parties would be better directed to top shelf publications. No, amongst sailors the subject is decidedly taboo. Verily, the publication of these words speaks volumes about the editor’s desire to give all activities afloat a broad airing.

The British have a reputation for prudishness and sexual restraint that emanates from French propaganda. Indeed, the sight of a Gallic couple gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes across the cockpit before rising, kissing, and slipping below hand in hand would raise no eyebrows. Their mast would rock gently from side to side while their British neighbours would carefully avert their eyes and talk fervently about the weather. No, sex afloat for us Brits is not quite the done thing, old chap. Yet look around you – our population is not shrinking, so hidden procreation must occur. Maybe we are not all as prudish as our neighbours across The Channel assume.

Perhaps our fantasy is to sail off to some secluded sunny beach with the (hopefully mutual) partner of our desire where it is possible to bob privately at anchor. A disinhibiting glass or three anticipates slinking off below for a spot of nautical seduction. Such euphoric moments can occur, but interruptions can be myriad. From the rumble of a dragging anchor to the broadcast of ‘gale warning’ on the radio, any number of factors can cause a droop in ones libido. The most unwelcome might be the call of ‘ahoy there, can we raft up to you?’

What does etiquette dictate when moored in company? Apart from the requirement of muffling any inappropriate noise, not rocking the boat does become an issue. The coarse cry of ‘we know what you’re doing’ ringing across an anchorage tends to put one off ones stroke. A still more difficult situation develops when sharing a boat with others, either as guests or on charter. Few would want to pay for an expensive sailing holiday to the Caribbean with their sweetheart and friends and not indulge in a little of what you inevitably fancy after a few rum cocktails. I suppose the options could either be a brash ‘so what, we’re all at it’ simultaneous activity, or the pretense of ‘no sex please, we’re British’ with secret snuggling in a sleeping bag whilst trying to muffle the heavy breathing with a spare pair of socks, movement limited in the heat of the moment.

Or should we assume a studied normality when our friends emerge flushed but relaxed after a horizontal interlude as if nothing has happened? Many may make the excuse of a private trip to a secluded beach, or alternatively suffer a simultaneous joint headache enforcing a private stay on board where the necessary urges can secretly be slaked.

The idea of simply abstaining may have occurred to many, and I expect that this is what most non nautical onlookers imagine is the norm. Restraint can certainly be a considerate option – indeed, I got engaged on one cruise, and enjoyed the honeymoon on another crowded boat, and can confirm that the options for lasciviousness may be somewhat limited on a full charter boat.

Each facet of civilisation has its extremes, and there are those, of course, for whom exhibitionism is a major adjunct to the libido. From sailing in birthday suits to showing off ones pulling power with a well-endowed skimpily dressed blonde on deck (usually female), we have seen it all, and ignored it. Such things are better kept below decks, and in this country we are at least aided in this by our weather.

There are instances of course, when sexual activity afloat can cause problems. I did hear of a couple who set the autopilot of their speedboat for home and went below to indulge their fancies. Unfortunately, their level of navigational experience proved inferior to their carnal knowledge, and, unaware that the course set would not automatically detour rocky headlands, a rather expensive coitus interruptus resulted. Love on the rocks?

Another apocryphal couple, whose ardour was so urgent that the chart table was the chosen venue, were embarrassed to be later informed by the Coastguard that the entire performance had been transmitted on channel 16 when the ‘press to talk’ button had inadvertently been trapped under the excited young ladies’ derrière. It gave a new meaning to the term broadcast, and blocked all emergency transmissions until the activity was complete.

Such reports are, fortunately, rare, and for most of us the enjoyment of sailing can continue blissfully uninfluenced in an arena where this most irrepressible of urges seems to hold no swell. Let us continue to take pride in our Britishness, keep our upper lips stiff, and our private lives private.

Jonty Pearce