Being Alone

When I tell people that I’m planning to sail around the world they are generally very interested, excited and enthusiastic – which is really heartening. When I tell them that I’m planning on doing it alone the reaction changes. This can be to shock, awe, surprise, or bewilderment, so perhaps that’s one reason why solo circumnavigation is so rare. The most often asked question is ‘why solo?’, to which I don’t yet have a full answer. Not wanting to be tied to finding crews, or being fixed to flights and rendezvous was definitely why I initially started to look at single handed sailing but its rarity and challenge certainly has an appeal that resonates with me too.

“I had already found that it was not good to be alone, and so made companionship with what there was around me, sometimes with the universe and sometimes with my own insignificant self; but my books were always my friends, let fail all else.”
Joshua Slocum

Another question is ‘how will you cope alone?’. This is a harder one, the short answer is ‘I don’t know’ and I really don’t. Andrew Evans’ excellent book on solo sailing (Thoughts, Tips, Techniques and Tactics for Singlehanded Sailing) starts off with a long chapter on the psychology of solo sailing. It focuses predominantly on the pressures of racing, something which I hope to avoid for the most part, but it does bring together a number of sources as well as his own experiences. It highlights some of the emotional rollercoaster that solo sailors encounter but one thing’s for sure: it changes you.

I’ve lived alone for five years and I generally relish it; being able to have things how I like them is something I appreciate. That said, working alone on the house and boat is difficult, jobs can take over twice as long as when assisted and the inability to discuss an idea or hear alternative views means there’s huge reliance on one’s own decisions. For me this will be one of the hardest things; having to make every call and decision without a sounding board for ideas.

The weekends when friends and family have helped out on the boat have been great fun with lots getting done, due mainly to a really good work ethic and the ability to have help when it’s needed. Good conversation and the general comfort of knowing there’s someone there makes it enjoyable, and makes the chance of getting stuck while hanging upside down in the aft locker a little less scary too.

“I think it’s good for a person to spend time alone. It gives him an opportunity to discover who he is and to figure out why he is always alone.”
Amy Sedaris

Beyond these things of course are family, friends, and relationships. I was recently fortunate enough to be asked to be a Godfather to a friend’s son, this was a real privilege. The christening, on a bright and crisp November’s day, in the beautiful and picturesque Saxon church of Long Melford, Suffolk, was a lovely affair. Surrounded by friends and loved ones I was taken back eight years to this same friend’s wedding, at the same church, surrounded my many of the same wonderful people. What had changed in the intervening period was that over a dozen new people (ages 0-7) had joined us: life had moved on.

Spending years at sea, making one’s way around the globe, is something I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do. I’m supported by amazing friends and family in this endeavour but I do wonder where life will have moved on to by the time I get home. Life has a habit of moving on, under our feet, often imperceptibly, but markedly and always in that one direction.