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Born Under the Sail

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"We read the wind and the sky
When the sun is high
We sail the length of the seas
On the ocean breeze

At night we name every star
We know where we are
We know who we are, who we are!"
Moana, "We Know the Way"

A culture whose hat is their skill at sail, whether through literal seafaring and shipbuilding in oceanic or riverine environments, being a spacefaring species known primarily for spacefaring when Space Is an Ocean, or traversing the skies when The Sky Is an Ocean. In some cases, they may be born and spend their entire lives at sea without ever touching dry land. By necessity, they often tend to double as a Proud Warrior Race and/or Proud Merchant Race. They often have a powerful navy, and may also engage in piracy, but aren't limited to those roles.


This trope is a common feature of Ocean Punk settings. A related skill is that of The Navigator.

Compare Space People and Space Nomads. For a similar trope involving horse-riding cultures, see Born in the Saddle.


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    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: On the plane of Ixalan, the ancestors of the Brazen Coalition pirates made their living from the sea, inhabiting a series of coastal city-states and gaining wealth from maritime trade. By the setting's present, after having been forced into the ocean by the Legion of Dusk conquering their homes, the pirates have led an almost entirely maritime existence for more than most of them have been alive: while a few crews have claimed permanent island forts, most live exclusively on their ships as they sail Ixalan's seas. They don't have any leadership beyond their captains and admirals, their ships and fleets serve as the basis of their society's organization, and their only permanent settlement, High and Dry, is a City on the Water made of hundreds of ships lashed to one another.

    Film — Animated 
  • Moana: Moana's people were once skilled seafarers, roaming the ocean to discover new islands as the gods created them, but after Maui took the Heart of Creation the seas became hostile and forbidding and they mothballed their seafaring canoes. After Moana returns the Heart to Te Fiti, they take up their heritage again.

  • Eland from the Arcia Chronicles is a small northern kingdom that is (in)famous for its disproportionately huge sometimes-merchant-sometimes-pirate navy, to the point where the terms "Elander" and "mariner" are used as interchangeable ethnonyms. This goes doubly so after the old coastal Eland from the first duology is flooded by natural cataclysms and its refugees settle on a well-hidden archipelago in the south seas, basically precluding any land contact with other countries.
  • As in real life, The Crocodile God slates the ancient Tagalog tribe in the Philippines as seafarers due to their Austronesian heritage, and their own name "Tagalog" means "people of the rivers." The sea-god Haik is the title's Crocodile God, and the story's Mythopoeia deems him a folk-memory of Paikea the Whale-Rider from New Zealand, bringing this Up to Eleven since the Maori are Polynesian. (As the Real Life folder and the page-quote from Moana notes, Polynesians were especially good navigators even among Austronesians.)
    • Later on it's revealed that Haik's sister is Hina, which also makes him an Expy of Maui.
  • The Minotaurs in Dragonlance are known for being the most accomplished sailors and advanced shipbuilders on Ansalon, to the point that most minotaurs end up serving aboard a sailing vessel at some point in their lives.
  • Redwall:
    • While there are some hedgehog tribes known to sail the rivers of Mossflower, the best inland sailors are the tribes of shrews in logboats. Out at sea, it's sea otters and searats (both are piratical, the otters attacking vermin and the rats any helpless victims).
    • The (river) otters, one of the Always Lawful Good species in the series, are all proficient sailors, led by one they call Skipper.
  • Stardoc: The Jorenians are known for developing wanderlust and taking large portions of their HouseClan on deep space cruises for months or years at a time.
  • Technic History: The Man Who Counts features a race of flying aliens, of which one major tribe spends most of their life on giant rafts, sailing across their world's seas.
  • The Wheel of Time has the Atha'an Miere, commonly known as the Sea Folk, world-renowned merchants whose ships are central to their culture and who spend as little time on land as possible. Although they nominally govern several archipelagos, those lands are inhabited by a separate people and only visited by the Sea Folk for commerce.
  • The Farthest Shore in the Earthsea Trilogy has the Raft People, who live at sea and only come to shore to collect logs to build new rafts.
  • The Maarin people from Dark Shores are a nation of seafaring people. Their home is an archipelago but most of them are born and spend their lives on their ships, travelling around the world. They are also the only ones who know how to navigate deadly doldrums and cross the Endless Seas.

  • Led Zeppelin describes the Horny Vikings thus in "Immigrant Song":
    We come from the land of the ice and snow
    From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow
    Hammer of the gods
    Will drive our ships to new lands
    To fight the hordes and sing and cry
    "Valhalla, I am coming!"
    On we sweep with, with threshing oar
    Our only goal will be the western shore!

    Tabletop Games 
  • Numenera: The Redfleets, an organization of traders, explorers and small-time pirates. They revere the ocean, and dedicate their lives to exploring it both by ship and submarine to discover its many treasures. They have no interest in man-made things, however, and focus exclusively on natural treasures — oceanic formations, islands, sea creatures and so on.
  • Rocket Age: The thirty three Green-Yellow Chanari tribes are the preeminent silt sailors of Mars. Most sea trade on Mars is done through them, along with most of the piracy, and they are the only people who dare to hunt Silt Dragons, the largest vertebrate in the solar system.
  • Warhammer: The Norscans are naturally good at sailing (being the Heavy Metal version of Horny Vikings), repeatedly raiding the equivalents of Europe and Canada. Wulfrik the Wanderer even has a flying longship that can go through the Warp and emerge anywhere he wants it to, leading to his moniker of "the Inescapable One".
  • Warhammer 40,000: Among the Space Wolves (space Vikings), Engir Krakendoom's tribe are known for being the best sailors, hunting sea monsters with nothing but oars, harpoons and axes. Their skills translate well when Space Is an Ocean, and so his Company excels at boarding and ship-to-ship combat.

  • Civilization:
    • In Civilization V, the Polynesians' unique ability lets them embark on ocean tiles from the very start of the game, giving them a head start settling islands or distant continents. In Civilization VI, the Norwegians gain a similar ability.
    • Other nations are less dramatic examples of this trope. England in Civ V has the "Sun Never Sets" ability that gives all their ships an extra movement point, while Carthage in the same game gets a free Harbor in newly-founded cities, encouraging them to settle on the coasts and letting them integrate their empire by sea much earlier than most civs. Indonesia doesn't get any concrete naval bonuses, but this playstyle is still encouraged by their "Spice Islanders" ability, which provides exclusive luxuries in the first three Indonesian cities founded on another continent.
    • The Maori in Civ VI are the kings of this trope. They begin the game with their Settler and other starting units embarked in the ocean, but to compensate for their late start get free science and culture points while they look for the perfect place to make landfall and found their capital, and get increased population and production in their first city to help them catch up.
    • Civilization: Beyond Earth has the North Sea Alliance faction, a coalition formed from the British isles, the Dutch and Scandinavia. They are one of two factions able to settle their first city on the water, and their unique ability increases the combat strength of oceanic cities as well as reducing the cost of moving them to acquire territory.
  • In Crusader Kings II, any nation with a lot of coastline can become a serious contender at amphibious warfare, and merchant republics require coastal access to build trade routes, but the true sea kings are the Norse. All counties of Norse culture get free shipyards when the "Dawn of the Viking Age" event fires around 790 AD (and start with them in the 867 AD start date), while Germanic pagans (also chiefly Norse, though the Saxons follow the same faith) can sail up major rivers to raid inland and portage ships overland between them (letting them raid in the Black Sea, up the Danube to southern Germany, and into the Mediterranean by sailing through otherwise landlocked western Russia and Ukraine), and may declare county conquest wars against any coastal province (instead of merely ones on their own borders as other pagans, Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims can). They also have a slew of traits they earn by raiding.
    • The Holy Fury DLC throws a complicating factor into things by allowing any pagan faith to become master seafarers at reformation by taking the Sea-Bound doctrine (representing a major element of the reformed faith), which grants them the unreformed Germanic ship maintenance reduction and ability to sail up major rivers (if they take the Daring doctrine as well they even get pirate traits they can earn by raiding, although due to coding limits they still grant an opinion bonus with Germanics specifically). Germanics and Aztecs can instead take unique doctrines which combine the abilities of Sea-Bound with one or more doctrines. Coastal conquest is still unique to Germanics, however.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • While Redguards are primarily known for being great warriors and swordsmen, they are secondarily famous for being masters of sail, to the point that Hammerfell itself is referred to as "the Land of Sword and Sail".
    • Despite never developing a written language or even agriculture, the ancient Atmorans (ancestors of the modern Nords) were master ship-builders and sailors. Their most famous shipyard was Jylkurfyk, from which Ysgramor commissioned ships for he and his companions to invade Tamriel.
    • The Kothringi were a tribal race of Men native to the Black Marsh. Despite their relatively primitive culture, they, like the Atmorans, were skilled sailors. They are now presumed extinct, having been wiped out by the 2nd Era Knahaten Flu.
  • The Dragon Age series has two nations that are almost synonymous with sailing: Antiva and Rivain. Antiva is a coastal nation that operates a huge merchant fleet, while Rivain is located entirely on a huge peninsula and is best known for their sea smugglers and pirates. Sailing is their hat to such a degree that in the pen-and-paper adaptation, "wayfarer" and "merchant" are basically the only backgrounds available to Antivan and Rivaini PCs, respectively.
  • Halo: Prior to uniting in order to achieve spaceflight, the Kig-Yar or Jackals were divided into pirate clans that raided one another on the seas of their homeworld of Eayn. Afterwards, they ended up forming numerous colonies on the asteroids surrounding Eayn and raided the ships of other species as Space Pirates before getting folded into the Covenant as mercenaries, though they still kept up pirating even after the Human-Covenant War.
  • The Quarians from the Mass Effect series lost their homeworld in a Robot War centuries ago, and have since been traveling the galaxy in a giant flotilla of space ships. Quarian names even include the ship they were born on and the ship they serve under following their Pilgrimage. As a result, their spacefaring skill is legendary and unquestioned throughout the setting.
  • Might and Magic: In the Enroth subsetting, the Regnan Isles are by far the dominant power on the seas in the first few games — their "Empire of the Endless Ocean" moniker is mostly a boast, but it isn't a completely empty one (which is unfortunate for everyone else, Regna being proudly piratical). While Regna does suffer significant defeats at times, it's mostly when they get off the boats for coastal raiding — Might & Magic VIII sank a good chunk of their navynote , but the next game in the franchise blew up the planet, so the consequences of that never really mattered.
  • Pokémon Sun and Moon has the Seafolk, who live in a flotilla of Pokémon-shaped houseboats and travel the seas nomadically in search of new wonders to bring back to Alola for trade. The Seafolk Village where they’re found isn’t even a true village so much as a system of docks, with the houses simply being the Seafolk boats that happen to be at anchor there when you visit.
  • Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri: The Nautilus Pirates are more or less a faction of old-school Earth Pirates that were Recycled In Space. They start the game with a number of sea-related bonuses, including the technology to build aquatic bases. Their agenda is even listed as "pillage and burn".
  • Starcraft: While it makes no difference in-game, the manual explains that the Auriga tribe of Protoss were the first to explore the seas of Aiur, and ten millenia later they maintain their species' space fleet.
  • WarCraft: The island nation of Kul Tiras, whose contribution to the original Alliance was its powerful navy that they had built up to protect their fleet of merchant vessels. Their national emblem is also an anchor.

  • The Illhar'dro Clan of Drowtales were originally seafarers back in the Moons Age, but after being driven underground have turned into a Proud Merchant Race that still use turquoise blue as their primary color.

    Real Life 
  • Many cultures and civilizations have been based on seafaring, often either living on an archipelago or establishing overseas colonies. Examples include:
    • The Phoenicians, well-known for being traders and explorers in the ancient Mediterranean Sea, established colonies all over the north African coast (one of which became Carthage) and were according to Herodotus some of the first people to circumnavigate Africa.
    • The Greeks, ancient and modern, as a result of most of their civilization and cities being built on the coasts of the Aegean Sea and on its many islands, with numerous colonies dotting the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Even today, Greeks own about 20% of the global merchant marine despite Greece being a fairly small country.
    • The Austronesians, an umbrella group that includes the Polynesians, who could be an Up to Eleven variant of this trope. Despite having no metalworking, writing, or organized states, Austronesians expanded over half the world's oceans, from Madagascar in the west to Easter island in the east.
    • The Scandinavians, including Finns and Estonians. They were basically the same in the Atlantic what the Polynesians were in the Pacific. The Icelanders in particular were the first Europeans to confirmably reach the New World during the 10th Century, centuries before Columbus.
    • The Dutch, particularly during their 17th century Golden Age.
    • The Spanish
    • The French
    • Japan subverts this in that, despite being an island nation, it actually was not very good at shipbuilding and naval warfare for most of its national history; it was simply too far away from everyone else in the world to make it worthwhile, most of the seafood was close to shore, and the islands weren't far enough away from one another to demand significant navigational skills to reach. The one conspicuous time that the Japanese did invade mainland Asia, in the 1590's, they were crushed at sea by the Koreans... who ironically did fit this trope at the time. Double subverted in that after industrialization and modernization, the Japanese did rapidly become one of the top and most feared naval powers on Earth.
    • The Four Maritime Republics of Renaissance Italy — Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi — were four city-states that built their wealth and power on the backs of their powerful fleets and their maritime trading networks, existing as major powers in trade and politics throughout the Mediterranean for much of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Even today, the official flag of the Italian Merchant Navy consists of the Italian flag with the symbols of the four republics emblazoned on a shield in its center.
    • Pre-modern Korea
    • The Portuguese
    • The medieval Catalans
  • An empire based on dominance of the sea, seafaring and maritime commerce is called a thalassocracy, the prime example being The British Empire.
  • Colonial New England
  • The Warao people of Venezuela are this by necessity, due to mostly living in river deltas. Comparisons to Venice are not unwarranted. One of the worst things you can say about a Warao man is that he has no canoe.


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