Here I pick up again on the story of my friend “Catherine the Sailor” having shared previously about how her dream of launching a major sailing endeavour with her husband was cultivated and achieved. This long distance cruising they have been doing for the past 8 years seems such an adventurous lifestyle to a landlubber like me – the way being liquid and volatile, the destinations varied and exotic, the living quarters confined and yet simultaneously bobbing along between vast horizons. What particularly fascinates me is how well-being is experienced in such a small mobile home and Catherine has kindly answered my curious questions, providing the following insights.
Let’s check out the matter of survival first! Survival whilst cruising the globe involves attention to many details including nutrition, access to medical care, and equipment reliability. Over their 8 year journey, the longest stretch of time at sea without access to land has been three weeks. Priority when getting into a port is always to seek out fresh food supplies for good nutrition on board. When the fresh food runs out on long stints at sea they draw from the supply of canned and dry ingredients on-board. Catherine and her husband like to take vitamin supplements to support their nutrition, and they make their own water on board via a reverse osmosis water desalinator, which removes salt from seawater.
Maintaining a well-stocked medical and first aid kit on board is necessary, and before leaving home Catherine and her husband learned how to carry out basic procedures such as giving injections and relocating fingers and shoulders should the need arise whilst out to sea. Advice is also always available to them via radio contact with land-based medical experts they have in their team.
Equipment maintenance tasks and safety checks need to be attended to regularly and proactively on their sailing vessel. Catherine keeps a list and a schedule of tasks to ensure they have an organised approach for this. Usually, some maintenance jobs are completed on their catamaran every time they are in a mooring, and a by-product is increased physical exercise – for example opportunity to swim under the boat to check the rudder and clean the hulls, and checking wires and rigging can involve climbing the mast.
Time at sea is divided into being “on duty” or “off duty”. These shifts alternate for each member of the pair so that between them someone is always responsible for scanning the environment and attending to their course. Being on duty involves being vigilant – often just yourself and the elements for company. Catherine describes having gained an intimate knowledge of the sky and sea and the sun’s journey across both – from dawn to dusk. That one-ness with nature and the daily trajectory of the orb that she gets to observe when on duty on her catamaran bring her an amazing perspective on life that deeply supports her sense of well-being. The vista encourages freedom from restrictive mindsets as she observes the peace and abundance in nature’s gifts. Glorious panoramic views are now etched into her mind’s eye from across many of the world’s oceans.
Overnight Catherine and her husband take a six hour shift each which they find allows the ‘off watch’ a better sleep compared with three or four hour shifts. Being “off duty” in daylight when cruising at sea brings the liberty to grab some extra sleep, or to create a mental break from life on board by watching a movie, journaling or reading.
There have been a few times on this journey when facing raging storms at sea and the mighty force of the ocean conditions seem to threaten the sufficiency of their vessel and equipment and operator skills – and survival itself is on the line. And in those times Catherine has found herself in prayerful request for extraordinary Divine assistance to meet the conditions successfully.
That Catherine is still here to tell me about her sailing endeavours shows that “survival” has been catered for effectively on physical, emotional and spiritual levels. So how about a sense of flourishing not just surviving? For example – is physical flourishing possible when one’s living space is constrained to a 44 foot vessel?
Indeed the physical space constraints on board are balanced by the long walks that Catherine and her husband enjoy when they get access to land. This entails them researching their destination before they reach it, to know what there is to see in the nearby towns and villages and terrain and planning how they will get to the highlights of interest. Time spent on land brings opportunity to connect socially with locals they talk to along the way or with fellow sailors from surrounding sailing vessels who may team up to explore the area together. Long hikes provide wonderful aerobic exercise.
Catherine describes how after beginning their sailing endeavours and even today she is struck by how quiet her thoughts have become in contrast to her lifestyle on land – and this enhances her sense of wellness. Sailing life certainly involves detailed planning and plenty of responsibilities but compared to all that she had running in her head to fulfil a management job and run a family before she left – there now seems a lot less clutter filling her mind. And the times that she notices this relatively quiet mind most as a sailor is as she drifts off to sleep and upon waking.
And what of social aspects of well-being in this cruising life? The teamwork between Catherine and her husband is clearly very tight. They literally rely on each other for survival and flourishing in this sailing endeavour – and their teamwork has stood up to the test extremely well! They also get to see the good will of humanity in the boating world – for generally if anyone is in strife, fellow boaties will do anything they can to help. Shared lifestyle with common vulnerability to the elements creates a wonderful and quick loyalty to each other, even though they may be relative strangers.
In terms of social well-being, Catherine enjoys the camaraderie of sailing life – but finds the nature of social connection in the boating world is feast or famine. The sailing lifestyle brings contact with some fabulous fellow “boaties” in various places all around the world – where they will live in very close proximity with great intensity for a week or more – sharing meals, travel stories, and many tourist adventures – very much ‘living in each other’s pockets’. But then once their stay at that anchorage is over, it may be a long time, if ever, until they will be in the same place with these new found friends again.
Leaving the long-term close friendships and family relationships behind at home was what Catherine missed the most when initially setting sail on this big adventure. And now after 8 years of sailing she knows that friendships of that same quality can be rare and difficult to establish in a boating lifestyle – so she really values kindred spirits when they turn up. She relishes too, the chance to visit home periodically and reconnect with family, her grown children and the grandchildren who have been born while she has been on the high seas. Fortunately she is also travelling in an era when modern technology delivers communication between herself and her family and friends with little delay and she is thus able to keep up to date and keep a timely dialogue running.
In her life before cruising, I have always known Catherine to be a contributor to community well-being and a leader in daily life. When I ask her where she perceives her contributions to fit in this sailing phase of her life, she identifies that she brings respect to all people she has met during her journey. Also she hopes and trusts that her dedication to keeping a detailed written account of their journey – in installments – over the past 8 years, contributes some inspiration to family and friends to whom she sends them. She signs each installment off with a learning and a wish for the reader, connecting the essence of experiences in that part of her journey with themes that are relevant to life in any location.
Contributing to community well-being remains important to her, and she has found that her mobile address has brought her some distinctions around what community is, saying: – “My sense of community is much clearer now – it is wherever I am with my boat. I give myself permission to care about the people in that space and place.” Whilst she is too far away from home to provide practical assistance and companionship to her family members and friends back home, Catherine has come to an expanded perspective of unity, saying “We are all one. How I see it now is that if I give a drink to someone on the other side of the world it is as if I am giving it to one of my family back home”.
And so it is that a small crew on a man-made vessel, choosing to visit the many lands on this earth by means of the ocean in all its conditions, can not only survive the adventure, but also flourish, by proactively attending to self-care and vessel care, and extending care to the community members around them wherever their mobile home takes them.
In relating her adventure, Catherine’s sense of blessing and deep gratitude in this chapter of her life is very apparent. I hope that her story brings encouragement for anyone wanting to widen their horizons – even figuratively speaking in the case of us landlubbers – for it shows that it’s possible to design a life of one’s heart’s choice whatever that be, and that aspects of well-being can be enhanced in the process! Carpe Diem!