John and I have been inadvertently training for the coronavirus. We are highly accustomed to spending long periods of time squinched up together in a small space with no other human contact and very limited supplies. We are always dependent on the whims of a greater force to determine both our present comfort and future plans. And we are good at being bored.
While the intention in going cruising was not to prepare ourselves to handle a global pandemic, the cruising lifestyle has given us many applicable skills and perspectives we are now applying in our Coronavirus existence.
We spend most of our time away from civilization centers, exploring remote places and living self-sufficiently. After a wonderful season in French Polynesia, at the end of 2019 we hoisted Halcyon into a dry yard, gave her a big hug, and winged our way back to the states for a temporary change of pace. We were looking forward to spending quality time with friends and family, enjoying the stability and convenience of a home on land, challenging our brains with work, and refueling the cruising kitty.
What a strange time we chose to be in the States! For our brief sojourn back to city life, we envisioned a colorful calendar full of work meetings and happy hours, camping trips with friends and vacations with family. Instead, our calendar doesn’t look too different than it does when we are on the move: mostly empty. We connect with friends and family via FaceTime, just like when we are cruising (though the connectivity is dramatically better here), the apartment we rented is starting to feel a lot smaller, the work has dissipated, and it is unclear when we will be able to return to our boat. While we won’t get to meet the expectations of our time on land, we are well equipped to cope with this current crisis.
Here are some of the things we do in our cruising life that are applicable now to handle the discomfort and anxiety we are all feeling.
Flip the script on meal planning
First it was toilet paper, then bread, and now flour and yeast. Last time I was in a grocery store, the entire cheese section was empty. Between empty shelves, limited grocery store visits and restaurant closures, it can be tough to keep feeding the family. My advice? Flip the script on planning meals.
Traveling from island to island, country to country, we never know what kind of food supplies we will find. Our tiny refrigerator limits how much we can buy at a time, regardless of how long the provisions need to last. When we run out of something, it is rarely as simple as running up to the corner store to replenish. It usually means weeks or sometimes months before we have it again.
To get the most out of our limited ingredients, we build meals from the bottom up, instead of from the top down. Instead of starting with the finished product, Let’s have lasagna tonight, and listing out what ingredients we need to make it, we start with the ingredients. I have ½ a jar of tomato sauce taking up space in the fridge, and broccoli that needs to be eaten by tomorrow. What tasty dish can I make with those?
It is a relatively simple shift in thinking, and can result in some interesting and sometimes very tasty meals. When we have internet, we turn to the Allrecipes app for ideas. You can search for recipes based on what ingredients you have or – my favorite feature in foreign ports with dusty store shelves – what ingredients you don’t have. A side benefit of this cooking strategy is that it is much less wasteful because you find ways to use up ingredients before buying new stuff.
Find time to re-center
Most of us are not accustomed to spending all day every day with our partners and immediate family. While there may be no question of your underlying love and devotion to each other, after three straight weeks in the same increasingly small space, and in such stressful times, you might want to throttle each other. This is normal.
My favorite quote about cruising addresses this very challenge, and can be modified now: “Wherever your relationship is headed,
cruising sheltering in place will get it there faster.” Intense time together, especially under the burden of system-wide stress, can quickly magnify problems that would otherwise be insignificant. It takes patience and perspective and practice to be good at spending all day every day with the same few people. The right mindset is crucial.
Think long and hard about what truly re-centers you. For me, it is exercising outside. It doesn’t matter what the exercise is – yoga, running, biking, dancing like a crazy person – as long as it gets my heart rate up. For you, maybe it’s getting lost in a great book, meditating or going for a hike. Now absolutely prioritize that activity. It might feel impossible to add an activity to the already precarious balance of working from home, taking care of kids, and actively not freaking out about how long this pandemic is going to last. But I promise you will find more space and patience for everything else if you give yourself just an hour a day (or a few times a week) to re-center.
And when it all breaks down into a bickering squabble anyway (because it probably will sometimes), dig up whatever grace and patience you can, take a few deep breaths and get over it quickly. There is no room for grudges in this little home.
Learn new things (but not too many)
If you’re working from home and caring for kids, perhaps boredom doesn’t feel like it tops your list of worries. But I have learned cruising that it is possible to be very busy and very bored at the same time. Doing the same tasks in the same way every day without variation can be incredibly tedious, even if they keep you moving from dawn to dusk.
Last year, we completed our longest passage, a 36-day sail from Panama to the Gambier islands in French Polynesia. The days were busy, full of meal prep and cleanup, boat work, sail changes, studying the weather, and watching the dolphins. But with the exception a few dramatic moments, the days blurred together into one long tedious blob.
To maintain sanity, I set out to do three activities every day, aside from the necessary work to keep the boat and crew moving: one to engage my brain, one to move my body and one to employ my creativity. These were some combination of practicing French, doing modified yoga (never boring on a rolling sailboat at sea), playing guitar, solving a Rubik’s cube, or simply coloring a page in a coloring book. I didn’t always get to all three focus areas, but I never scolded myself if I missed a few. That list next to my bunk was there to help me, not make me feel guilty.
Learning new things is a great way to break up the monotony and there are so many deals on digital learning platforms right now. But now is not the time to go overboard! Don’t set lofty goals to become fluent in a language you’ve never spoken or write your first novel or do so many sit-ups you get a 6-pack. It will just stress you out, and there is no need to add internal pressure on top of the external pressure we are all feeling.
Even with a list of engaging activities, sometimes you will get bored. In those moments, embrace it. Sit around in your PJ’s and feel sorry for yourself. Stare at a wall, get grumpy, sigh as you go through the same routine again. And then pick yourself up, do something for you, and smile a little bit extra.
Redefine the future
Perhaps the most common worry right now is not knowing when this will all end and life can get back to normal, or as close to normal as possible. This is where our cruising life has really equipped us well.
We rely on weather forecasts to choose our route. Said another way, the wind and weather conditions are the ones that decide when and where we can go, not us. Our only action is to either obey or ignore their counsel. Those weather forecasts are more or less accurate for about 48 hours; further out than that, the accuracy degrades quickly. We view a wind forecast 7 days out as little more than a randomized guess.
Without knowledge of future conditions, it is pretty tough to make plans more than a few days in advance. And it can be dangerous to ignore what that greater force tells us to do, whether it aligns with our intended schedule or not. Sound familiar?
Relieving anxiety about the future requires realigning your expectations of how far away the future is. Try shifting your definition of short term and long term. Short term – the length of an accurate forecast. It is feasible to look at the next 48 hours and plan things with some level of confidence. Long term – try two weeks. Think about the things you can control to make life great for the next two weeks. Don’t worry about the details of life further out than that, because the wind will certainly change between now and then and you will know things then that you don’t know now. And when you start to feel overwhelmed, just breathe deep, re-center, and live your best today.