The last time I was in self-isolation I had no phone, no internet, no shops, no neighbours and no alcohol.
This is my third time being in self-isolation although the other two were by choice.
In 2008 my wife, Ursula, and I bought a 42-foot sailing yacht called Cerys intending to sail from the west coast of Ireland, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, one way. There was one small problem—I didn’t know much about sailing and she had never been on a boat before.
But we figured it out and after taking three months to get from Ireland to the Canary Islands, we were ready for a three-week trip from Gran Canaria to St. Lucia in the Caribbean. We set off in early December and as we sailed out of the bay we took a good look around as we were not to see another soul between then and almost Christmas.
We spent three weeks in a space that is smaller than the bedroom we have now plus we shared it with two other crew members. Not alone did we have limited space and no contact with the outside world but our floating box was being kicked around like a coke can most hours of most days. We were isolated, we were battered, we were risking our lives, but we were happy.
Learn more about what we learned on this trip and how to apply that to achieving Predictable Success in The Game Changer Formula
We faced a lot of challenges during those three weeks. We were in unknown waters, to us at least, and at many levels. Ursula and I were recently married, and we didn’t know what kind of strain isolation could put on our relationship. We were on watch shifts through the night and so we suffered fatigue. We were tight on space and constantly trying to get around each other on a moving platform. We encountered storms, pirates and equipment failures. We knew if one of us went overboard there wasn’t much hope they were coming back. Danger was always present, there were a lot of challenges but we had a plan and it helped us hugely.
Last week I noticed Ursula was turning over boxes of eggs in the kitchen and I asked her what she was doing. ‘Don’t you remember?’ she asked. I had forgotten that was one of our tricks for keeping eggs fresh onboard Cerys. You turn them every day to keep the entire inner shell moist all the time that way they last longer. She hadn’t done that in ten years. I realised that many of our coping mechanisms from that trip were coming back into play and helping us through self-isolation.
These are some principals that helped us through:
1 Roles and responsibilities.
Everyone on board had specific roles and responsibilities. Some examples are weather reporting, navigation, rigging checks, engine maintenance or sail repair. Each crew member had a role and a set of daily tasks that they were responsible for.
We needed to keep watch for danger and for navigation 24 hours a day. We set up a system of ‘watches’ that were 3 hours each so someone was always responsible for our direction, obstacles, changing sail for wind shifts, etc. It didn’t mean you’d have to change sail on your own. You could wake someone up to help but you made the call. That routine meant you slept and woke at the same time each day. Meals were at the same times also this put a sense of ordinary about the extraordinary and kept us grounded.
Keeping the boat maintained was vital. Everyday crew would run checks on various pieces of equipment and make adjustments or fixes a necessary. When your life depends on it you tend to focus. We had a daily checklist for all equipment.
We worked together closely all the time. There as an unwritten rule of always asking if you could help someone out. Even making a cup of tea can be a massive pain in the ass when the boat is heaving (its hard to pour boiling water when the cup keeps moving) so help was always offered and generally accepted.
Chores were divided evenly among the crew and planned in advance. We each took turns cleaning the galley (kitchen), cleaning the heads (toilets) cooking and keeping the boat generally tidy. We had a chart for who was to do which chores when. One crew member couldn’t cook so he took on extra duties elsewhere. Everything was clear, there were no misunderstandings and nothing got dropped.
Every now and again we would get a surprise. Ursula had bagged up some goodies she kept hidden somewhere and now and then she would haul out a bag for each of us. The swapping and trading of sweets and treats could keep us occupied for hours. Little surprises can make a huge difference.
As you can imagine space was very limited, so we created space for ourselves in different areas. We respected other people’s space. If you were reading when someone came down the companionway (steps into the cabin) and you didn’t look up you would not be disturbed. We used head torches at night so as not to bother one another with cabin lights.
Our lives were in one another’s hands so we were very careful to remain clipped in while on deck, always wearing life jackets and clipping onto a lifeline when going on the foredeck. Risking my life meant risking someone else’s so we were particularly careful.
We became creative. I wrote a lot at night while on watch, others sketched and tried out new things. I read books I would never have read and Ursula studied the stars. That kept minds occupied but also allowed us to see things differently.
We were accepting of others. All of us on board were quite different, and we just accepted that fact and worked around eachother. We understood that everybody is wired differently. Sometimes I wouldn’t understand why someone had done something, but I didn’t need to I just accepted that it was the right thing for them at the time and then I would forget about it and move on.
Boredom sometimes set in especially when becalmed for days at a time. Really, there wasn’t much you could do about it apart from accepting the fact the boredom is okay and a great opportunity to reflect on things you never normally have time to think about
When I look at this list I see that we, as a family use elements of it now every day while in self-isolation. We have the luxury of TV, phone, being able to get outside for some exercise and internet but we still need to turn the eggs.