“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – H. Jackson Brown Jr.
It is important to remember that when you are in physical isolation you don’t have to be emotionally isolated – there is a huge difference between being lonely and being alone. Even when you are in the middle of an ocean, thousands of miles away from any land, you should know that there are people out there who are thinking of you. We live in a connected world, so there are multiple ways for us to keep in contact and make use of today’s technology to set up chat groups, video calls, and just be present sharing mundane things. That said, it can also be important to ensure our need for contact does not lead to negative or distracting behaviour, such as endless trawling of social media. Placing a structure around your communications can be a positive thing; pre-arrange times to make calls, use online networking facilities to speak with more than one person at a time, turn off social media if it becomes too distracting and don’t expect people to respond immediately to messages and emails. Don’t underestimate how valuable your news and chat is to other people and don’t be afraid to speak out if you are feeling lonely. Objectives are important. In the short term, they give focus to every day and long term goals give a positive view beyond difficult situations. You can make short term objectives of what must be done in a 24 hr period: a list of routine tasks, essential tasks and ‘nice to do’ items. It is useful to note it all down at the beginning of a day then balance the routine and essential with things that will give you pleasure or help you to get ahead. Don’t feel guilty about relaxing and relish in ticking items off your list.
Mid-term objectives when sailing are governed largely by the weather and you have to acknowledge this is a force that you cannot control. In navigational terms, these objectives are there to keep you sailing safe and fast, but they can also create milestones to aim for and look forward to. The mid-term objectives can bring perspective to the difficult times.
Long term objectives are key to everything for some people and it is helpful to have a positive future goal to work towards, even when life in the present seems very uncertain. As human beings, we have an incredible capacity to keep improving, learning and adapting regardless of our age or stage in life; taking positive steps towards any goal, no matter how small is going to make life feel better no matter and give us some control of our future. We just need a goal and to permit ourselves to work towards it.
When the everyday routine is completely removed it is important to create your own structure and try to follow it. Build each day around your short term objectives blending what you must do with downtime and fun.
You could vary your routine, balancing the amount of time spent below decks and on deck in natural light, making sure each activity is long enough to make a difference but short enough to be achievable. Downtime is important but needs to be managed; allowing your brain to relax is vital to productivity as part of a structured day. Listen to music and spend time outside watching the world. You can try reading a book while waiting for the wind to pick up. Podcasts or audiobooks are great while working with hands.
Many sailors are prone to not talking while they are alone but it helps to talk, shout, laugh out loud, read out loud and sing: it will make you feel real.
Include movement and exercise in your daily routine. There are plenty of exercises that can be done in confined spaces, for ten minutes at a time, working arms and legs, using bodyweight resistance to keep mobile and strong if you are not sailing every day. Look on the internet for examples of ten-minute exercise routines that can be done in confined space. If you have access to the outdoors, then make sure you go outside as much as possible. The natural light will stimulate the brain and the feeling of fresh air on your skin and in your lungs can be a game-changer to mood and positivity. If you can go for a walk then schedule one at least once a day and don’t feel guilty for stopping work to do it.
Humans are incredibly resourceful and we do adapt. Fear and its symptoms – panic and anxiety – are normal responses to danger and uncertainty. Fear keeps you safe – acting quickly to change plans when ominous clouds signal an oncoming storm or staying alert through hours of fatigue in thick fog. Sailors are good at connecting fast and helping each other because they know what it is to be in trouble at sea. Their shared lifestyle means they are used to being friendly without crowding each other’s limited space. Storms at anchor are marked by small gestures from others – the guy who raises a glass from his cockpit, thumbs up when you set anchor from a fellow sailor so you know you won’t drift off… There is enormous comfort from the smallest human contact. Never underestimate it. Learn something new, then share it with someone else by recommending a great podcast, a great book, or music. Isolation is a great time to exercise the mind. Try different puzzles, sudoku, crosswords. There are apps that you can have on your phone or tablet.
The sailboat brings so much freedom and adventure to your lives. You can sail to remote corners of the world and bring your home along with you. When living on a sailboat, or spending a lot of time on one the world really is your oyster. You can enjoy dolphins leaping from your bow as you carve a path in the sea but when you are all alone on the sea it is sometimes hard not to get lonely or depressed so it is important to cherish the little things and find joy in everyday life. Take care of your mental health and enjoy your life.