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Global Solo Challenge: Isolation and introspection - the infinity of possible worlds

by Global Solo Challenge 11 Jul 02:49 PDT
An albatros in flight in the Southern ocean © Global Solo Challenge

It has now been many years since I completed the 2011/2012 Global Ocean Race. It is an experience that took me years to completely metabolise. An article by Marco Nannini.

I faced a thousand other storms since then, on land, more than at sea, before realising what was left of that adventure within me. The isolation and enormity of the oceans lay bare our insignificant smallness. While we are at sea we rediscover a humility that we did not know we had. And, in these days of Coronavirus isolation, I found myself drawing parallels.

A forced isolation in which, I must admit, I feel absolutely at ease. Indeed, I almost appreciate it, my living spaces are no longer invaded by others as before. I no longer have the obligation to be part of situations or conversations for which I feel no interest. "Alone in my room and the whole world outside" sang Italian songwriter Vasco Rossi in a very different context. But being absorbed in one's own thoughts (thoughts, thoughts) is a luxury that our society has deprived us of.

This isolation makes me savor it again, certainly with the bitter aftertaste of everything that is happening. But in many ways it is no different than a long navigation. I am at home alone, or with my daughter when she's with me, and we live in the confinement of our home walls. When I am alone, only the phone occasionally interrupts the perpetual silence of the days. I don't listen to music, as I didn't at sea. I don't need to be distracted from my thoughts, in fact I'm happy to be able to hear them.

The isolation of the sea as a place of reflection

Only at sea during the long races I did single-handed or with a short-handed crew did I experience these emotions. So I think of all those who are experiencing this situation for the first time and I am not surprised they are somehow lost. Not everyone, I would say, experiences it as an epiphany as being at sea was for me the first time. Indeed, the anxiety and uncertainties of tomorrow, seen from this isolation, makes many feel helpless. Fears devour them from within and helplessness turns into anger.

At sea I learned to wait, knowing that I could not do anything. Wait for the end of a storm, wait for the wind to return after a calm. Today we are waiting for something to change, but we don't even know exactly how long it'll take. Mostly I hear about "returning to normal", but there is no point in talking about normalcy if that was the problem. This suspension gave us the elusive opportunity to reflect, to hear the chirping of birds and not the noise of modern life.

Yet when we'll return to the streets some, perhaps not all, will have changed. Only a drastic change such as this isolation creates the conditions for an introspective moment. I am not saying that everyone will have deep epiphanies, there will be those who have never had them and won't now. But some will have been able to enjoy that luxury reserved for those who, for sport or passion, already knew extreme isolation. This doesn't happen just at sea, the similarities are found among mountain lovers or even in the euphoria of the marathon runner.

The desolate infinite horizon of the oceans

Many years have passed since my circumnavigation, and more than now I think about its legacy on me. In truth, I should also count other solo navigations. I believe my real personal "isolation" epiphany occurred in the 2009 OSTAR. I had just turned 31 and for the first time in my life I was totally isolated for 22 days of navigation. I had never been on the ocean even as a crew for so many days and I didn't know what awaited me.

When I arrived in Newport, after sailing in storms and fog among the icebergs of Newfoundland, I knew that something had changed. But I still didn't know what, and yest since that day I sought all-encompassing experience of extreme isolation. First at the Route du Rhum 2010 then at the Global Ocean Race 2011/2012. The Global Ocean Race was double-handed, but on such long passages, the navigation is shared between two sailors who are pretty much sailing single-handed. Apart from a few moments especially during difficult manoeuvres. Other than that, each lived in his own personal bubble of thoughts.

During this pandemic forced isolation, I therefore found myself re-reading some passages from the book I wrote after the Global Ocean Race. After all, I think it took me all these years, and many other storms, to finally digest and fully comprehend the experience. I believe that in many ways the real circle is only closing now, during this forced isolation on land. At the end of the race I knew that nothing would be the same as before, but I said it as a sailor. Today I feel I can say it as a citizen, as a father, as a worker - not just as a dreamer in the middle of the seas.

Read the full article here...

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