How sailing prepared me

Published on April 6th, 2020

While a sailing trip is undoubtedly less stressful than the current times, crossing the Atlantic with three other people taught Lauren Sloss some important lessons for sheltering in place.


Three years ago, I sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Town, South Africa, to Martinique, in the Caribbean. I was aboard Saltbreaker, a 32-foot 1979 Valiant sailboat, along with my husband, Alex, my brother-in-law, Nick, and his girlfriend, Alex.

All told, the trip took about four months, and our longest passage without sighting land—from Ascension Island in the South Atlantic to Martinique—lasted 31 days. It was an experience that was simultaneously epic and monotonous, profound and incredibly dull. It was also, for better or worse, good preparation for quarantine.

Of course, there are crucial differences. An ocean crossing is a choice, though it may not feel like it around day 22. Our current COVID-19 isolation comes from frightening, unpredictable times and is a requirement to keep ourselves and our communities safe and healthy. But I’ve found that the feelings of isolation, uncertainty, and cabin fever translate.

It’s a refrain I’ve heard echoed among my sailing friends. “We’re basically doing a crossing. But we can go to the store!” said one who crossed the Pacific a few years back. This is not meant to downplay the seriousness of our current circumstances. But for many of us sailors, the creature comforts of this figurative crossing are a welcome flash of levity worth appreciating: Hot showers! More space! A non-rocking kitchen!

The ability to carefully go outside to walk, run, or bike! Grocery stores going the extra mile to allow us to stock up and feed ourselves! It doesn’t make up for this climate of fear and the real-life hardships that continue to impact so many, but I’ll take all the scraps of silver lining I can get.

A crossing can feel interminable. So can this state of anxiety in which many of us find ourselves. As we take it a day at a time, I’ve found myself turning to lessons learned from my first transoceanic journey to find ways to cope with our current confinement.

I’m writing this from San Francisco, one of the first U.S. cities to institute shelter-in-place rules, and other places are quickly following suit. Here are six tips that helped me stay relatively sane while crossing the Atlantic. – Full report

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