Be good to yourself – Sail Solo

Published on April 11th, 2022

© Bill Shea

Peter Becker, a leader in the USA for introducing young people to big boat sailing, is all in for the 2022 Bermuda Short-Handed Return, a post Newport Bermuda Race return to Newport for Single- and Double-Handed Boats. Here he explains:

I have been working on ways to challenge myself, to create a new mind-space that will allow me to grow and expand the boundaries that engulf us over time. Sailing is one of the places where I truly feel skilled, confident, and peaceful. Despite this heightened sense of confidence, I realized that I had a blind spot. For my entire sailing life, I have not engaged with short-handed sailing, especially solo sailing.

It is easy to have the utmost respect for solo and double-handed sailors, they do amazing feats such as sailing non-stop around the world in remarkable boats like IMOCA 60s and Ultim Trimarans. But sailing the 2021 Bermuda 1-2 race became my awakening and my challenge. The first leg to Bermuda is sailed single-handed followed by a double-handed return to Newport.

Preparing the boat was the easy part, I have made boats ready for sea my whole life. What was not straightforward was preparing myself for solo ocean sailing. I had to re-think all the aspects of sailing offshore which I normally would take on with ease and familiarity.

I had to come up with a new plan for the basics like how and when to sleep, eat, navigate, etc all the while sailing the boat as high up the performance curve as physically possible. After all, you don’t win by sailing slow.

What I came to realize in preparing for the solo leg, and then later proved in practice, is that the secret to sailing solo fast is the power of self-care. If you are focused on being good to yourself, you will sail faster and enjoy the ride even more. It almost feels like there is a multiplying effect where the more you take care of yourself the easier it is to take care.

Now while self-care is a simple concept, it can be remarkably difficult to practice.

The obvious forms of self-care are being in good physical shape, eating well, and getting enough sleep. But self-care also requires channeling your inner Buddhist monk so you can take time to manage your mind, attitude, and stress, and practicing self-compassion, along with mindfulness and maybe even a little meditation.

All this sounds like a lot of work, is there still time for sailing? Of course, there is! A few simple steps that I found helpful in being good to myself.

Breathe – Start by just taking a deep breath, be mindful of your breathing. Breath deeper and slow your heart down. You will feel more centered and calm which will let you better manage whatever is happening now or what needed to happen.
Accept – Offshore sailing is messy and ever-changing and rarely going as planned. Rather than grumbling about the situation accept it and let your mind rest. Stop and take in the amazing beauty of being offshore, whether, in a violent storm or a flat calm, Mother Nature is majestic. Accept and enjoy.
Do – Solo sailing is a lot of work and with multiple pressures facing you at any given time. Start with an easy task, complete it and move on to the next. Each time focus on that single task and then move on to the next. Doing keeps you from being paralyzed by inaction or overloaded with the endless length of the exhausting tasks ahead. Just keep on doing.
Sleep – I used to think that you can’t sail fast by sleeping, but sailing solo and with the focus on self-care sleep becomes a powerful tool. You need sleep to clear and rest your brain. Be aggressive and relentless in finding those safe moments to get short naps of 20-30 minutes at a time. If you wake from a nap and it is still safe, treat yourself to another 20-30 minutes of sleep.

I now know that being good to yourself allows you to sail faster and at a higher percentage of the boat’s potential and that being rested and clear-mined is way more fun, and safer for sure. I’m such a better sailor now that I am passionate about taking care of myself and sailing single-handing.

Realizing that there are far too few opportunities in the US for single-handed ocean racing, we created a new single- and double-handed race from Bermuda to Newport.

The New York Yacht Club, Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, and the Cruising Club of America have come together to create the “Bermuda Short-Handed Return” race which will start the day after the Newport Bermuda Race awards.

With this new race, for the first time, there is a race single-handed to or from Bermuda every year. Life is good.

Be happy, be good to yourself.

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