Photo: Amory Ross | Volvo AB
Self-Isolation Hacks from Offshore Sailing
As the world around us slips into Coronavirus isolation the concept of confined spaces and limited freedoms can be daunting. I remember the first time I sailed across an ocean and the first time I had those same feelings. The reality is that, since then, isolation has become one of my biggest draws to the sea.
Since offshore sailing is about being stuck on a boat for long periods of time, and since we aren’t on a boat right now, it might be interesting to dig up some similarities and provide a few tips from enthusiastic isolators!
Disconnect and unplug.
Our lives can be complex. One of my favorite things about weeks at sea is the forced freedom from the internet and Instagram. With so much time in the house, you could waste hours scrolling endlessly. Take some time to step away. Put down the phone, turn off the TV, pick up a book, build a model, learn to knit, draw – take a deep breath and tune out all the heavy news for a second. We survived without data for centuries, and you might find it as refreshing as I do.
Get some fresh air.
Sure, your physical environment may be seriously restricted – and it’s no different on a 60-foot boat with almost no space to live – but that has always allowed me more than ample room to explore the world around us by simply sitting and staring. We spend a lot of time on deck looking at the ocean, the sky, the horizon – you’d be amazed at what you see that you’d otherwise miss. Sit on a porch or a patio or your front steps if that’s as far as you can go, look at the birds, clouds, stars and surroundings. I sometimes hit the bunk dreaming of Wikipedia – but observe and explore the world just outside your home, then use it.
Run a watch program.
Onboard you are working all the time. Sleep-eat-sail-sleep, on repeat for one or two or three weeks at a time. Everyone always struggles with the first few days, but once you’re into a routine the time flies by. So maintain a degree of structure; it will help pass the days. Try to wake up around the same time, be productive for a while, eat meals like you normally would, take a breather and relax, go to bed like you normally would. We call that a watch schedule, but it keeps you disciplined and honest. You’d be amazed how fast 14 days of isolation will fly by if each day is like the last.
Tackle some boat(house)work.
We have periods of violent intensity onboard when things break but you don’t have the luxury of fixing them. The front passes, the breeze drops, and the tools come out. Offshore sailors have to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Similarly, we all have things we’ve been meaning to fix or upgrade around the house. Use this time at home to tackle something meaningful. Figure out how to do it yourself, and with the added benefit of online tutorials that we don’t get at sea.
Connect with friends and family.
I heavily advocate for alone time, but I also find it’s great when I’m offshore to connect with friends the old-fashioned way. Random, long letters of substance. What are you doing? How are you feeling? What is life like? My emails from sea are very different to my day to day ones that utilize maximum efficiency. Write a long note to someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Or better yet, maybe call them. A lot cheaper than the sat phone!
Embrace the lifestyle.
It’s okay to wear the same clothes for days (or weeks) at a time, but make sure you brush your teeth twice a day and just like on the boat, always wear the right gear when you do go outside.
Learn something, share something.
Most of us fill our iPods with fresh content before leaving the dock. It’s a nice way to zone out when you climb into your bunk after four hours of battle on deck. We’ve all watched a lot of great documentaries and listened to a lot of informative podcasts onboard, and once you’ve run through your own collection it’s easy to pass your iPod on to your bunkmate. I’ve learned a lot about a lot this way. So learn something new, then share it with someone else who may have run through their lineup of binges. Isolation is a great time to exercise the mind!
There’s no question this is an unprecedented time. The safety and health of our country are at stake and self-isolation is what is being asked of us. While routines have been upended and much of life has been either canceled or postponed, I know that I for one am treating it like an offshore leg. Stay structured, keep the brain sharp, take care of your house, enjoy the little things, connect with and support your teammates.
Stay safe everyone,