Sailors in Isolation

Steven Callahan was an experienced sailor who had seen just about everything in his lifetime.He built his own boat and set sail to cross the Atlantic in his youth. On his way back however, bound for Antigua, he ran into trouble and his ship sunk. Steven drifted on his liferaft for 76 days before finally being rescued. He had lost a third of his weight and could barely stand, and was taken to a hospital for treatment. However, Callahan didn’t even stay the night in the hospital, opting instead to hitchhike throughout the West Indies while “recuperating” . Nothing would ever stop this man from exploring.

Before this voyage, I always had what I needed—food, shelter, clothing, and companionship—yet I was often dissatisfied when I didn’t get everything I wanted, when people didn’t meet my expectations, when a goal was thwarted, or when I couldn’t acquire some material goody. My plight has given me a strange kind of wealth, the most important kind. I value each moment that is not spent in pain, desperation, hunger, thirst, or loneliness. Even here, there is richness all around me.

Steven Callahan

What can we learn from Sailors?

Submariners, oil-riggers, and sailors are all groups of people who spend extended periods of time living and working  in enclosed and remote environments. In these confined spaces, they need to balance the emotional needs of individuals with the resources of the group and find effective ways to cope.

  • Humour and talking nonsense helps to release tension or covertly show your frustration. Dark humour can be a guiding light during dark times. Follow your favourite satirists and comedians on social media, have a karaoke session, take the time with your friends to poke fun of the situation, or maybe get lost in this paper-clip factory game: complete nonsense yet highly addictive. 
  • Setting rituals, such as meal-times and games nights create opportunities to provide and receive psychological support. Don’t miss mealtimes even when your days seem to blur into one another. Or create shared dinners with friends and family through video chats to mark the end of another day.
  • Sailors know very well that being isolated with a small number of individuals for weeks or months on a ship can magnify any pre-existing tensions. They also know that the social relations on board are crucial. For these reasons, sailors make use of social systems where everyone has a clear role, and there are leaders who step in to resolve conflicts. If you are practicing physical distancing with others, be it a relative, friend or someone else, agree on who will be doing what. Make plans for how you can settle any disputes that may arise.
  • Many sailors use their spare time at sea to study and learn something new. Now is the time to finally study that language you’ve wanted to learn (a great excuse for socializing!), practice your cooking, or learn new work-related skills.
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