10 Tips for Self-Isolation, Learned from Life at Sea
It has been a long time since I sat down to catch you up here on my blog. After the book project, I needed time away from the keyboard. A lot has happened since, and I will share more of that soon, but while the whole world is being asked to practice “social distancing” (including me here in the South Pacific), I thought it might be helpful to share some of what life at sea has taught me about living slower and more isolated from others.
COVID-19 has stopped us all in our tracks. Aside from our courageous medical teams, and those on the frontlines working to keep the vitals of our society running, “self-isolating” is the best way for most of us to be helpful during this critical and uncertain time. The spread of the virus itself is scary, as is the financial future for so many right now. We don’t know what the future holds or how long this will go on, so how can we shift away from feelings of anxiousness and make self-isolation a more positive experience?
We must remember that within any adversity, lies opportunity. Feeding our fears does no good; it’s up to us to adjust our focus to the upsides of being isolated. For most of my adult life I chose a lifestyle of isolation aboard Swell. At first, solitude and the unknown brought up fears of scarcity, loneliness, lack. But once I got out there, I realized those fears were unfounded, and that a slower, more isolated life actually held numerous benefits, both for me and for the environment.
Within a short time, the important things in life became more apparent–my family, my health, food and shelter. Superficial worries like having the latest consumer trends or wearing a stylish outfit melted away. This made life delightfully simpler, as did having limited resources aboard Swell. Not being able to dash to the store forced me to be resourceful and creative with what was on hand. It became a fun challenge. Oh the satisfaction of finding the perfect upcycling use for what otherwise would have been trash!? Old sails became sun covers, worn out wetsuits became chaffe guards, plastic bags were washed and reused countless times, broken equipment rebuilt, and custom upgrades made from just what I had onboard.
I also gained a deeper appreciation for simple things, especially food. Since stores weren’t always accessible, wasting food was out of the question. Meals centered around maximizing my provisions by asking myself, what’s going to go bad first? I quickly saw that overstocking food meant it got stale or moldy before I could finish. Rather than over-provisioning, it was better to do more with less. I learned to use the whole fish, cherish those broccoli stems, rotting bananas became banana bread, a quick re-heat in the oven brought the crunch back to chips or crackers. I also became more conscious of what I purchased, because my ‘waste’, was stored aboard Swell until it could be dealt with appropriately.
Along with learning how to do more with less, there were many personal benefits of spending time alone. Isolation helped me to get to know myself like never before. I began to notice my bodily rhythms, and shape my days accordingly. Increased self-awareness and less distraction, amplified my intuition and gut feelings. And those tendencies in my character that I knew I needed work became glaringly clear. Solitude in nature also opened up a spiritual connection to the Great Mystery all around me. I felt the unity of all things, and that made me feel part of something wondrous, and want to do more to protect our precious Earth.
And then there was the luxury of time–there seemed to be more of it when living isolated. Time to be present, time to reflect. Time to dream. In the modern whirlwind of life, this COVID-19 ‘time-out’ is clearly a chance to be more present than usual–with ourselves and our loved ones. It’s a rare hiatus from demanding routines, providing a moment to think about where we are in our lives, and where we are going. Time to consider our habits. Our patterns, our beliefs, our purpose, our focus as humans. The trajectory of humanity!? Do we want to alter course? How can we steer towards the life of our dreams, help others more, and restore ecological harmony on the planet? How can we re-imagine a world where all beings can thrive?
Here are a few more insights from my years at sea to hopefully make this period of social distancing more enjoyable:
- ACCEPTANCE. Resisting the current situation is futile, so accept that this is how it’s going to be for a while. When the wind would shift out of my favor on passage, I often griped and groaned about it for a while. I soon realized that being negative was only making everything worse. Once I’d let go and accept the situation for what is was, it was easier to laugh about it, and focus on the silver linings.
- GO OUTSIDE. When nothing makes sense, or inspiration is running low, nature provides a fresh perspective. If I felt tugs of loneliness or just energetically stale, fresh air renewed, the swirling clouds inspired, the sea surface soothed, the sun rays uplifted, the expansive horizon restored my hope. Get out and explore those trails near your home, spend a night under the desert sky, take a long beach walk. Even if it’s just getting out in the backyard, it feels good. Be present, dissolve into the details, and let nature work its restorative magic.
- SLOW DOWN. You do not have to be productive all the time. I personally struggle at this, but we are in an unprecedented pause from the incessant hustle. Let’s take some time to properly relax. Most of us at home are coming down from the constant adrenaline from the pace of daily life, so let’s loosen the reins a little, and not be hard on ourselves about it. If your body or mind seem to want more rest than usual, listen!
- WHEN YOU CAN’T GO OUT, GO IN. There is an inner universe accessible for us to explore if we take the time to go inward. I kept a daily journal on Swell that helped me check in with myself. I wrote down things I could improve on and goals and dreams for the future. I made gratitude lists when I was feeling down. And slowly but surely I became comfortable sitting in meditation and connecting to a dimension beyond the physical. So turn off the internet. Grab a pen & paper. Or get comfortable somewhere, close your eyes, observe your mind, your breath, and non-visual senses. Listen closely. Can you sense the cosmos beyond the chatter of the mind?
- SHARING IS CARING. I used to stash dark chocolate bars on Swell in my underwear drawer when I had crew aboard. But I always felt guilty eating them alone, so they would end up going bad anyway. Hording food and household supplies might momentarily make us feel more secure, but it’s not in the spirit of solidarity and compassion that we must embrace to overcome this pandemic. Plus much of it will likely be wasted. Food waste accounts for roughly 8 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change, and 1 in 9 people in the US are food insecure!? So please donate to local food drives if you overpurchased. We’re all in this together!
- MAINTAIN YOUR SPACE. When the inspiration to be productive hits, start with making sure your living space is clean and organized. This is especially important when spending long periods in the same space. Oh, and maybe it’s time change your clothes and brush your teeth? I know from experience that isolation can lead to ‘slackening the lines’ on hygiene. Honestly my hairbrush is one of the least used items on Swell, but when it’s time, it’s time… you’ll know. And after you’ve tidied up, get going on those little things you always want to do but never have time for. Oil that squeaky hinge. Strip your wax and fix the dings on your magic board. Sew the holes in that pile of clothes waiting to be repaired. Clean out your closet, and make a donation pile. Tighten the handles on those kitchen cupboards. Clean the windows. Whittling away at the to do list can be so satisfying.
- BE RESOURCEFUL. Do more with less. What can you do, fix, create using only what you have around you? Make it fun. Let this be a theme of your time in self-isolation. I get such a thrill out of finding solutions for my needs using what would have otherwise been thrown away. Tropicat’s litterbox was made from a discarded plastic motor oil container that I found in a boatyard. I fashioned a coral-friendly dingy anchor out of an old brake drum and a piece of floating line from a discarded fishing net. What’s lying around that can be turned into a swing for the kids, a flower pot, coffee table, wind chime? Repurposing saves money, stimulates the mind, and lightens our footprint. For extra inspiration, look online for upcycling ideas!
- SELF CARE. Put some extra energy toward making yourself feel good at least once a day. This could be as simple as trimming your toenails, drinking a tall glass of water when you wake up, laying in the sun. Do you need some alone time if you’re isolating with others? Take some deep breaths. Read. Write some affirmations and say them aloud. Cook something healthy. Or my favorite, dance! Many of us can’t access our usual exercise routines, so it’s essential to find a way to incorporate some fitness into our days—use YouTube to find a training or dance class video, or join some of the ‘Live’ yoga, breathwork, & exercise classes available online and support your local instructors. Afterward, maybe a bath sounds good? Make an exfoliating scrub from used coffee grounds + coconut oil and scrub every inch of yourself!
- GET CREATIVE. Do not give in to boredom. I honestly never have this problem, as there is always something to do on Swell, but it’s so good for us to be creative. So dust off your sketch book, sit down with your guitar, plant a garden, or herb garden. Learn how to make homemade bread. Paint. Try new recipes. Write a poem or song or letters to loved ones. Make homemade oatmilk. Learn some new knots. Create a vision board. Research that subject you’re curious about. Listen to music. The options are endless! Doing something outside our usual routines stimulates new ideas and gets good feelings flowing.
- BE PRESENT WITH YOUR CREW. For those isolating with partners, parents, kids, or friends, it’s a special time to be extra present with each other. In the midst of the usual rushing and multitasking, we miss out on connection. But I learned very quickly that when sailing with crew for extended periods, it’s super important to check-in with each other often to make sure everyone’s feeling good. As simple as asking, “You good?” can go a long way. Be lovingly direct, so that little misunderstandings don’t build into a groundswell of tension. And carve out a time in the day to be very present with your crew. Don’t check your emails. Bring your mind back when it sneaks off. The effects of making yourself more emotionally and physically available to those around you are immediate and heart-warming. It brings the vibe up, kids behave better, anxieties dissolve, we feel safer, happier, and more hopeful.
Sending everyone so much love right now! We will get through this! And hopefully resurface stronger, more cohesive, and ready to help shape a better tomorrow.
Big Hug, Capt Liz
some designs just get better with age... - Boating StoreApril 17, 2020
[…] timely worthwhile reading from Liz Clark, Wendig nails it, and in the “two or three percent doesn’t sound like […]
Andrew R AkehurstApril 26, 2020
I really feel close to your pursuits and adventures, in philosophy and spirit.
Are you still sailing/living on your boat? And if not how have you managed integration back into society, and urban living? I tend to extend myself on long adventures, and come back to the regular flowing of culture and society, and immediately settle into a low constant state of subtle anxiety. I would like to find a way to exist within our structures shaping them from the inside out, but find that life very defeating. I am wondering how you have approached these truths and feelings and what cycles you have been through that have taught you about where to put yourself and your life energy?
Thanks for you time, all very much appreciated..
Captain LizSeptember 30, 2020
Hi Andrew, I totally understand these feelings you are mentioning. At the moment I am not living on the boat. I am taking some time on land, on a small island in French Polynesia. I still have anxiety about the way our world is headed, and still work like i have a 8-5 job, but being here in a remote place surrounded by nature really does help me make sense of it all. Or at least feel as though I have access to what soothes and reinspires me to keep working toward a better world. I’m very grateful to have this option!!
John WilsonDecember 24, 2020
Hey Liz, It has been forever and a day since we communicated. I am not sure what time zone you are in so I best go ahead and hit send. The last time I wrote to you, you were using Sail Net. From your communications you are as of September it seems in French Polynesia. I like what I read of your tips for Mental Health from you time spent alone on Swell. Are you still involved with Reef Check? I hope we are both still walking in line. I have not been involved with Publishing for a while but will be diving back into the mix shortly. Please write to me.
Jim JacobApril 28, 2020
Very well said, and thoughtfully written.
Discovered your travels mid trip on IG. Bought your book Impressive lady you are!
All the best
Captain LizSeptember 30, 2020
Thank you Jim!! Best to you!
RickMay 31, 2020
Good tips, Liz. And I very much enjoyed your book, Swell. Are you still sailing the waters these days?
Captain LizSeptember 30, 2020
Hey Rick! I’m having a land adventure at the moment, but there will be more sailing in my future!! :D
JenniferJuly 2, 2020
Hi i am so glad we found your blog!
Its amazing, we have just bought our first sail boat Brigantia, we would love some more support if your interested our blog is over at
thanks for sharing your journey and inspiring ours!
Jonny BlairAugust 6, 2020
I spent time at sea as well working on car ferries back in the day. It was refreshing away from the world. I also toured Antarctica on boat. A chance to reflect on thoughts of life. Stay safe!
Captain LizSeptember 30, 2020
So awesome! Hope you can keep some of that zen with you on land!!
Tricia De LunaJanuary 20, 2021
Reading your book right now. Helps take me away on a new adventure while stuck at home during a pandemic. Stay safe! Stay strong!
Ventura Boat ServicesJanuary 29, 2021
I am glad I found your blog. I am very impressed with your adventures and your writing. I though I would say “hi” from your native California. Good luck on your future trips!
Sally Lee StewartFebruary 10, 2021
Dear Captain Liz,
Today I read the last page of Swell. I tried to read it slowly, to postpone finishing the book. I was astonished by what you were able to describe about water and your relationship to the sea, about surfing, and sailing, about love, about the feminine aspect, self care and about your travels. I especially marveled at the descriptions of storms. I am a 60 year old woman, who has spent a lot of time in classrooms and at home with children. I live deep in nature, have always felt most at home in the wilderness and climbed mountains as a young girl. I have danced and practiced yoga my whole life. Now I am sailing in SF bay. This is a family tradition that got lost when my father died when I was 19. I’ve resurrected it and I’m falling in love with water and wind. Maybe I can write a book before I die, that will be talking to your book. Thank you so much for all your love, courage, care and perseverance.
Captain LizFebruary 23, 2021
Your note made my day. Just thinking of you with the wind in your hair out there on the bay gives me the biggest smile. I’m thrilled you’ve reconnected with the sea, I’m sure your father is sailing along out there with you in spirit… thank you again for your message. I’m so glad you connected with Swell. I poured my heart into it. xoxo hugs, Liz