Sail Away on the Ocean of Your Mind: 5 Ways to Keep Sailing (Kind of) Through Lockdown

Here we go again. It’s not exactly sailing season (in the UK, anyway), but England’s lockdown 2.0 has nevertheless forced many sailors to leave what are arguably floating Covid-secure zones and back onto land. They say it will all be over by Christmas, but with a Johnson in Number 10 (yes, America, we know you’re laughing as much as UK kids were laughing at a trump in the White House), don’t get your hopes up. With this in mind, we’ve come up with five ways to keep the sea in your soul – even if your soul can’t be on the sea – for as long as it takes.

Sail vicariously

A good book can transport you almost instantly to wherever it is you’d like to be – which, right now, is probably anywhere you’re not prevented from leaving. If you’re not the reading type, binging on your favourite YouTube sailing channels can have the same effect. In the former category, we’d recommend getting yourself a copy of Bernard Moitessier’s The Long Way, and Ellen Macarthur’s Race Against Time. For the more digitally-minded, click through to the YouTube channels of the Wildlings, Salty Lass, AB Sea, Tom Cunliffe (to name just a few)… and of course Sail Ho.

Get weather wise

Every sailor worth their salt knows that the weather can be their best friend or greatest enemy. You don’t need to be physically at sea to hone your weather-watching skills – it can be done from your garden, your balcony, or even your kitchen window. Get yourself a thermometer and barometer (nothing snazzy, as long as they work – just search on Amazon or similar), install the first outside and the second inside, and start keeping records. When you include cloud cover, precipitation and any other noteworthy events, you’ll soon start spotting patterns that can only make you a better sailor. And, if you want to go the extra mile, get a copy of David Burch’s Modern Marine Weather (pricey, but the only one you’ll need) and start working your way through it.

Reach for the stars

Ever since humans first took to the sea, they’ve used the heavens to guide them. Crisp winter weather can mean a clear(ish) view of the night sky, and an opportunity to learn more about bluewater navigation – either for pleasure, or as a necessity when the juice drains out or your instruments are killed by an electrical storm. Most people know how to use the Plough to find north, but did you know that Cassiopeia and Cepheus also point the way? Or that Orion can help you get a fix on east and west? All you need is a planisphere or an interactive app (search your Android or Apple store for free and paid-for options) to start identifying the heavenly bodies. Astronavigation can be a fascinating and addictive subject, so when you do feel the urge to immerse yourself, the book Celestial Navigation (also by David Burch – but Tom Cunliffe does an excellent starter guide of the same title too) and a reasonably inexpensive plastic sextant with artificial horizon for use on land will speed you on your way.

Learn a language

A real positivity boost, because you’re already looking to a brighter future at sea. Where do you want to sail next year? Although English is the international language of sailing, you’ll get so much out of boating abroad if you can engage with the locals (and perhaps eavesdrop on the more interesting channel 16 communications). It’s likely that you will also earn brownie points from harbourmasters and other officials if you can at least start your radio comms about formalities, docking, etc. in their own language. If you’re hoping to head for the Med, Spanish, French, Italian and Greek might all be useful. You can start learning by studying the appropriate pages of sea-faring language in Reeds Almanac, but we’d also highly recommend the Duolingo website. It’s free, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly and easily you can make progress.

Sail away on the ocean of your mind

Think of your dream destination, then get to work with the almanacs, charts, tidal atlases and pilotage books to work out how you could get there from wherever your boat is right now. It doesn’t have to involve a major ocean passage or round the world adventure; you might have always fancied exploring the harbours and creeks just up the coast from your home mooring, but never had the chance to do so. However you approach this, it doesn’t have to be an exercise in day-dreaming. After all, you have a starting point and a goal in mind – so the planning that you do now could even inspire you to make the journey for real when circumstances allow.

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