Lessons from Ocean Racing – Surviving Lockdown

Lessons from Ocean Racing – Surviving Lockdown image

21st April 2020

Love these simple tips from my dear friend Cathy. We first met aged 2 years. Having honed our survival skills in the UK’s coastal village of Milford-on-Sea, we’ve since enjoyed many a life-changing travel adventure, both together and apart.


Read on for some simple tips from Cathy’s round the world sailing experiences that can be applied to life right now.


“A few years back, I took part in a Round the World yacht race. I sailed a 72ft yacht from London to Rio, and from Panama up to New York. It was exhilarating, wild and fun. At times, it was terrifying and also extremely boring. It was an incredible experience.


It also taught me how to cope when you are waaaaaay past your comfort zone, something I found myself returning to as we moved into Covid lockdown. The isolation, the fear, the feeling of being trapped and out of control. It all felt very familiar. But the good news is, being stuck on a boat 3,000 miles from anywhere teaches you to get through pretty much anything! So here are my top tips:


Focus only on what is in front of you: on the boat, much like lockdown, time became elastic. Six hours would feel like 24. To cope, I would only think about the next four hour ‘watch’ on deck and set myself tasks to complete in that time. Each tiny task was an achievement and it kept my mind from wandering off into less productive thinking. I have adopted exactly the same technique in lockdown.


Have a strict routine: all of us on the boat had ludicrous routines to help get ourselves through the day. I would start every watch by washing my face with a cold wet wipe. When you are soaked in salty water day in day out, in 42 degree heat, a cold wet wipe is balm to both body and mind. It was a small nod to civilisation. In lockdown, I’m trying to keep to a strict routine, with set hours for work, exercise and housework. It isn’t much but it feels like a small victory against this crazy world.


Food, food, food: You burn 5,000 calories a day ocean racing, so we were hungry. All. The. Time. Food was so important, the smell of fresh bread wafting from down below could raise morale in seconds. It was home, your mum, a hug in the dark. I’ve turned back to food for comfort in lockdown, cooking complicated and delicious meals that take hours, the type of cooking I haven’t done in years but love. And it has the same effect. A quiet contentment after eating, full and satisfied.


Appreciate what everyone brings to the table: there were 21 of us on that 72ft boat. It was claustrophobic, there was zero privacy and there was no contact with home. Preventing rows was one of the biggest challenges we faced as a team. But something I learned was that every single person on that boat contributed something good. Some were outstanding sailors, others were brilliant engineers, some cooked like a dream. But the people I really appreciated were the ones who would watch and listen, and then quietly lay a hand on your arm just as you needed it most. This is something I have brought back into my working and family life – even if a team member is driving you nuts, step back and appreciate the good that they are bringing to the table. It will be there. And it will help you manage your own frustrations.


Think as one unit: one of the best tips I was given was to starting thinking of the crew as a single unit. Are we safe? Are we warm? Are we dry? Are we sailing fast? Do we need to rest? Constantly putting yourself into the position of others takes the emphasis off your own discomfort. In lockdown, I’ve adapted this to try to surprise someone every day…sending flowers to my mum, creating a photobook for someone else, writing a long letter to an aunt. This has probably helped me the most during Covid, as it has moved me out of my anxious, unhappy mind and made me think about someone else instead.


Keep laughing: it was tough out there. At times really tough. And the thing that got me through was my mates. The crew became so close, we could make ourselves laugh with the tiniest comment or daft game. We talked for hours, endless nights sat in the dark on the rail, sharing our deepest secrets. The bond we have is extraordinary, it has to be when you go from a life-endangering moment, where your mate pulls you to safety at the last second, to needing to talk someone down from a panic attack which has frozen them immobile. And laughter is what kept us going, even now, those guys can make me laugh harder than nearly everyone I know. These friendships were the biggest gift the race gave me.


You can probably tell how much I loved it. But it wasn’t easy. And it often wasn’t fun at the time. Much like an offshore race, the Covid lockdown is an experience we are enduring with no option to get off. But it has its positives and in time, maybe we will be able to see more of that.”


Thank you Cathy.

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