What do sailing across an ocean and being confined to home have in common ? Nothing, right ? Sailing equals total freedom, while the current lockdown feels more like a prison. But the more I think about it, the more I get the impression that ocean sailing has helped me cope better with this weird situation.
You might ask how.
The inner dragons of solitude
Let’s start with the obvious. When sailing across an ocean double-handed you don’t spend much time together. While one person is on watch, the other one sleeps, so I have become accustomed to being alone for many hours, often in total silence. No phone, no internet, nothing. Being on your own is not as simple as it sounds. If you are living alone during this lockdown, then you already know what I mean. All those inner dragons we have so successfully buried under chores, gym sessions, parties, work, coffees and holidays, are now staring us right in the face. Some very unpleasant feelings might arise and we are unprepared. What should we do with them? I believe that the way to go is to simply let them be. Let them keeping you company for a few hours, a few days or even a few weeks, as long as is needed. They came for a reason. If we kick them out of the door, they will come back through the window. They’re going to leave on their own when it’s time.
Those who do not live alone during lockdown are facing challenges of a different sort. Sharing your living space 24 hours per day amplifies the good and the bad sides of a relationships. I often say that every couple should go to sea for two weeks before they get married. We could replace the sea with the quarantine, the point is the same. They both represent an emotional challenge that not every relationship will survive.
What did sailing teach me about living in a confined space?
First and foremost, it is essential to find time for yourself. We all need to be alone sometimes. This is not a luxury, it is a fundamental necessity. We need to evade, to retire to our private world, whether it be with the help of books, movies, music, meditation, writing or anything that works for you. The second important point is this: when we are in our world we shouldn’t be disturbed. Both sides are equally important: learning to find your own space, but also learning to respect the space of others.
Living without Starbucks
The next lesson is about food (of course, I am from Italy!). When you live on a boat, you go shopping only once in a while, usually once a week or even less frequently. This requires careful planning of meals, but more importantly, it requires a change in attitude. You learn to accept that you cannot satisfy every little desire as soon as it appears. During this pandemic we have learned the same thing, maybe for the first time in our lives we are asked not to go to the store every day and we can’t get our pumpkin spiced latte, no matter how badly we crave it.
I have noticed that the most experienced sailors, those with hundreds of miles under their keels, are often much more humble than the so-called Sunday Sailors. This is the effect the ocean has on us: it reminds us how vulnerable, how exposed, how defencesless we are. We stand no chances in a fight against the sea. But we need to be slapped in the face a few times to learn this lesson, that’s why novice sailors are often more daring and fearless than salty old sea dogs.
I have the feeling that in a similar way this pandemic will make us more humble. Maybe we will finally become less arrogant. Maybe we will stop focusing on our “rights”. We might get rid of the habit that everyhing we order online has to arrive within 24 hours. We may also start to appreciate when we find yeast in the shop and we won’t take it for granted anymore. (Just like the Americans were hoarding toilet paper, Italians stocked up on yeast and now we are all baking like there was no tomorrow). Jokes aside, I’m pretty sure that this pandemic will change us in a deep way. I mean, Italians have learned to patiently wait in a well-arranged queue outside supermarkets. If this is not a miracle, I don’t know what is.
As it is
The most important lesson I’ve taken from the ocean has not been easy to learn. It took a lot of stormy nights, horrific waves, and endless boring days of no wind. At sea I learned to accept the reality, just like it is. I have tried to shout at the wind, but my anger never changed a thing. I couldn’t do anything to strenghten or to calm the wind. Maybe that’s why now I find it easier to accept that I have to stay home until further notice.
Most people who have never done any ocean sailing, imagine dealing with a storm as endless hours of running on deck, steering under the pouring rain or fighting with flapping sails. The reality is very different.
Do you know what most sailors do in the middle of a storm?
They lie in their bunks. They sleep. They read books. They watch movies and play games. Basically, they hide waiting for the storm to pass.
Because every storm, no matter how bad, evetually passes. Remember that.
And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about. (Haruki Murakami)