This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

We are all in the same boat….. or better: we can’t stay in the same boat unless a safe distance is maintained….No, that’s not true: we can’t stay in the same boat and that’s all!

Guys, we can beat about the bush trying to find more positive interpretations but there is nothing we can do about it: sailing is NOT among the sport activities permitted during this forced isolation. Many Port Authorities in Italy have clarified that we and our boats have to remain in port until the emergency is over.

Let’s set our minds at rest. There are people who are worse than us, so it isn’t time to complain.

And, by the way, it sounds quite reasonable: first of all (except for those who live on board) we will have to go to the port. We will have to avoid contacts with anybody (so no, we can’t have a coffee or a beer with our boat neighbour) and of course we will have to sail alone. The last one is not a small detail as, unless we are the lucky owner of a Wally 100, the space in our boat will hardly allow us to respect the safe distance as indicated by doctors.

In short, things would be “slightly” more complex and probably more stressful than spending quarantine at home with our mother-in-law (or father-in-law, of course).

And so what can we do? How can we keep our passion alive in this dark time?

Let’s try – half joking – to give some ideas.

Why don’t we plan a summer cruise?

A summer cruise is that thing which you start dreaming of in October but you start planning the evening before you leave. It does not apply always or to everybody but, to be really honest, it happened to me to choose the cruise destination on the spot, once my boat mates and me were already on board.

For me it is not so difficult after all: I normally sail on a cruise with my dear one, her brother and his wife. We are a small, yet tight-knit team and, leaving from Liguria, we can easily decide to head to the French Riviera, the Tuscan Archipelago or, if we are in the mood to make a crossing, to Corsica.

However, thinking about it carefully, why not to take advantage of this forced stop to single out your favourite destinations, to buy guidebooks and pilot books (as far as couriers are delivering goods) or to consult online information about ports, natural harbours, points of interest worth to be visited. It could be a chance to dust off that old idea for a cruise or to plan in a good time a visit to that special place, which had been set aside so many times. Maybe you could think about an occasional hire of your boat to rent one in a destination you have never visited, yet.

Reading stories and watching films about seas and sailors

We all have read a book, watched a movie or heard a tale that has transmitted us the passion for the sea. If we go back to memory lane, that first hint will surely come to our mind. A small seed, no doubt, yet one which has taken deep roots, if today you are reading this article.

To tell the truth my earliest memory is slightly irreverent and dates back to 1970, when the French baron Marcel Bich (famous for having given his surname to a ballpoint pen, after having removed an “h” from the said surname) challenged the America’s Cup. I was only 8 but I can remember very well the passion with which I read the reports of Mr. Bic(h)’s exploits, who, at the helm of his boat, lost all the races and in the end he lost himself in the fog of Newport, unaware of the ironic smiles of the posh Americans of the New York Yacht Club. However, thanks to their sense of humour, they were so good to coin for him the title of Sail Baron.

Marcel Bich

Ok, ok, maybe this is not the best story to inspire our next regatta season. Maybe around you something better can be found, however, setting irony apart – please pardon me as I am in self-quarantine, too – the basic idea is a good one. Let’s resume reading that special book, read that story again and find new ones. Let’s watch a movie about life at sea and don’t lose contact with that feeling that makes us feel at home while we are sailing. Let’s not lose the magic. Not this time. Not now.

Review charts, weather and navigation signals

Some time ago I was contacted by a user from a Facebook page I visit now and then, texting me as follows: “Looks like you’re an experienced sailor (??) I have had a boat licence for 20 years but I have never sailed. I bought a 40-foot sloop and now it is […omissis…], how about giving me some lessons?

I must say I was a little shocked. Later, thinking about the surreal scenes you see at sea or in the ports, I have pondered about the whole situation.

Ok, no doubt this is an isolated case but, as a sailor usually speaks about the storms he has faced in the same terms as a fisherman tells about the fish he has caught (or he has not caught although it wasn’t his fault!), I suggest to spend some of the time we are forced to stay at home to revise our notions of navigation charts (don’t trust GPS too much, it may fail), to deepen our knowledge on metereology, signals, navigation lights, etc. (can you describe by heart the lights of a tug boat towing a vessel at night?..) and all the practical notions that – I challenge you to prove otherwise – you have stockpiled somewhere in your brain, but at the right time, when you need them, struggle to come out.

So, let’s find that nautical chart, read some manuals again, have a look at some online tutorials to learn the “Mexican gybe” or how to moor “on double anchors” or, more simply, how to perform a stern-side-mooring, with cross-wind.

Studying navigation at night

The reason why it might be a good idea to take the opportunity to examine this matter in depth is that this is the nightmare, a blessing and a curse for any summer cruiser. You will feel calmer and more ready at the beginning of the next cruise season.

Sailing at night is beautiful yet dangerous and surely cannot be learnt from a book. However, dealing with this issue theoretically will help you to feel more comfortable and responsive when you will have to face it. And maybe you will be lucky enough to have someone more expert than you on board, someone who feels like teaching you.

Make a checklist to launch our boat after winter storage

Breakdown or malfunctions of all boat equipment may occur, and they will. Starting from this positive viewpoint we can make a few comments and – once again – take the opportunity of this forced stop to put into practice a small tip.

Our boats, or at least those not at sea 12 months a year, are, or better, were getting ready to be launched for a new sailing season. Not everybody has the time and money to have his boat serviced by a shipyard or a “dedicated operator”. On the contrary, most of us carry out personally the inspections, repairs and maintenance required by our beloved one at the beginning of each and every season.

Well, let’s get inspired by the shipyards and timely make a customized checklist for our boat. This will help us not to overlook any inspections, checks or revisions of the parts and components that have to be checked because – as per Murphy’s Law – if neglected, they will inexorably break down in the worst possible time. 

Many tutorials are available online on this subject and even ready-made lists we can customize to meet our needs. And, last but not least, an interesting article is available on this blog on boat launch after winter storage.

Now it’s time for me to end this article: my dear one’s exercise activity in the living room is over and we are going to spend our recreation time doing shopping.

I hope I have offended no one by the ironic tone this lines have tried to convey. We are living a delicate moment and I think a moment of levity can help to look ahead.

Finally, two more comments.

These days, while visiting many cruising and sailing forums I have got an irresistible and legitimate wish to go to sea at all costs. There are people who post circulars, their interpretations and subsequent denials and legal opinions on whatsapp chats normally used to exchange information on regattas.

Well, considering that only about 15-20% of the boats moored in ports go regularly to sea, this frenzy for sailing makes me think about the powerful need I have right now to go to the pub around the corner (now closed, of course) to have a beer with a friend of mine. Something that up to a couple of days ago I could do as often as I wished. And now that I can’t, I feel as if this were an insufferable limitation of my personal freedom.

The second thought has to do with humility and awareness.

This virus has changed our life in the last two weeks and will go on changing it for a long while. This virus somehow will remain in our lives and will change them.

It is up to us to draw lessons from it. It will be up to us to try to bring back to sea a little humility, a little awareness, to keep the sense of proportion we have learnt during this period. It will be up to us to put actually into practice the sense of community that bring seafarers together and from which we often say we take inspiration.

Finally: stay at home. Let’s stay at home and we’ll meet soon at sea!

Renzo Crovo