Engaging in an inner dialogue

Published on March 31st, 2020

Dee Caffari has sailed around the world six times, twice while competing in the Volvo Ocean Race. As the world grapples with the current health pandemic, Dee seeks comfort in her sailing skills to help navigate the crisis. Here’s her report:


My fitness regime often includes signing up to an exercise class or having a planned session. That way I feel committed which makes it much harder to find an excuse not to go. Once you have made the effort to get as far as the gym doors you may as well head inside and do some training.

Whilst we all know that we will feel better afterwards, finding the motivation to do it ourselves can be a challenge. There is a huge increase in online content available for working out at home and it is easy to get lost in the choice. I often prefer to lift heavy things in the gym and avoid the things I am not very good at like yoga and running.

If ever there was a time to focus on the areas I struggle with, it is now. So, with us choosing our one daily outing for exercise carefully, I have added some running to my routine. With the weather being dry and bright, this has been a great thing to do even though my ability leaves much to be desired. I class myself as more of a plodder than a runner, but you have to start somewhere right?

On a recent run I found myself multi-tasking. To ensure I maintain social distancing, I thought I would enlist the help of the Racing Rules of Sailing and collision regs as I pounded the streets.

So here were my challenges:

Rule 10 – On opposite tacks – A port tacked boat shall give way to a starboard tack boat

If someone was approaching from my left, I generally gave them the right of way. Or maybe I found myself to be on a port tack more often as I found myself leaving the path to run on the grass to give them the minimum two metres distance as we passed.

Rule 11 – On the same tack, overlapped – windward boat shall keep clear

I am always aware of where the wind is coming from, mainly because I am not running that fast, so I often try to find that acceleration when needed to allow me to pass to weather, keeping clear of the other runner.

Rule 12 – On the same tack, not overlapped – a boat clear astern shall keep clear of a boat clear ahead

I do not have much speed but following in someone’s footsteps in no fun. The choice then is either to tack away and find an alternative route or find that acceleration and overtake. If on an incline I am more than happy to slow down to clear my air. Let’s take the opportunities to breathe while we can.

Rule 14 – Avoiding Contact – a boat shall avoid contact with another boat if possible

Well, this is what social distancing is all about. I think puffing, panting and sweating also helps to discourage anyone coming too close. So, maintaining two metres radius around me has been pretty easy.

Rule 16 – Changing Course – When a right of way boat changes course, she shall give the other boat room to keep clear

Obviously, no one else knows what route I am running so changing direction at road and path junctions may not be clear to others out on the same pavements. Choosing to run towards them would be foolish, so I am careful to change path to avoid others until they are out of my way. All the while trying to avoid adding any extra mileage to my journey.

Rule 17 – Proper Course – If a boat clear astern becomes overlapped within two of her hull lengths to leeward of a boat on the same tack, she shall not sail above her proper course while they remain on the same tack and overlapped within that distance

It will come as no surprise to find that there are other runners out there wanting to overtake me. So, it is important to maintain my proper course and not make life difficult for them by zig-zagging all over the road. I am also aware that while this inner dialogue is going on in my head, they have no idea what I am thinking about!

There is also a competitive side to my nature that rears its head at the most inopportune of times. I find myself focusing more, like the helm of a boat going to weather, and get in the groove to find my pace accelerating to avoid being overtaken. I realize I cannot maintain this and, with frustration, politely nod as the faster runner slides by. I slow as I try to catch my breath and keep going as before.

Rule 18 – Mark Room
Rule 19 – Passing an Obstruction

As obstructions and corners present themselves, I often realize I am in this race alone and the other people are not playing by the same rules. I then feel that I am rounding a mark with boats that are on a different racecourse, much like we see during Cowes Week.

Maybe it is best not to impede their progress and just keep myself clear. Avoid the parent with the buggy and the adult holding onto a small child. Take the long way around, and not infringe anyone’s progress.

Rule 20 – Room to tack at an obstruction – A boat may hail for room to tack and avoid a boat on the same tack

Now if the pavement runs out or there are people coming towards me, I then look to cross the road into clear air on the other side of the road. I consider myself lucky that the traffic is now reduced to those making essential journeys and so I can hail to the next car as I cross the road. A nice nod of the head to acknowledge the space given to me to carry out the move is all it takes. It’s a good job really as, by this point in my run, breathing and talking are becoming an issue and a head nod is about all I can manage.

Rule 32 – Shortened Course
Rule 33 – Change of Course

Sadly, having crossed the start line I am not seeing any flags S or C displayed along my route to advise that I can either shorten or change my course. Having the discipline to continue with something you are not good at reaps benefits and you will start to see results.

If you keep at it, you will get better. For me, engaging in this inner dialogue and keeping my brain active means that before I know it I have completed my run and am back home able to indulge in some Rule 41 and then get ready to enjoy the prize giving.

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