Last September, Canadian Bill Norrie embarked from his homeland on a solo circumnavigation aboard his 28-foot British Channel Cutter yacht Pixie. His goal of sailing the Southern Ocean beneath the world’s five southernmost capes was ambitious enough. Then, while at sea, far away from any human contact, the world changed.
The magnitude of that change felt downright otherworldly here at home. As a new realm of pandemic-triggered rules and regulations tightens around us like a tourniquet, many of us have been forced to swallow a heaping dose of restraint when it comes to indulging our primal boating instincts. No one likes to be told that he can’t do something, especially something that probably keeps us farther away from a land-based virus than any stay-at-home order ever could.
Yet, when lockdown arrived, I complied. For someone who eats, sleeps and breathes the ocean—both as a pastime and for a living—having my boating taken away, even briefly, was a shock to the system. With the boating season on hold, I largely stayed at home. I notched a bunch of back-burner household projects, to my wife’s relief. I cleaned out my inbox, a medal-worthy accomplishment in itself. And I made priceless new memories while “land cruising” with my kids—during which I deduced that being stuck in a house amid a world health crisis may be only slightly worse than being stuck on a boat with them in bad weather, though both scenarios require a certain amount of luck, grit and the ability to adapt on the fly.
And through it all, the ocean provided for me what it always has: a respite, both physical and mental. Even in the landlocked throes of social isolation, the sea has been an escape from the things that were weighing me down, my own safe haven from the woes of the manmade world, my portal to adventure, if only in my head.
I’ve made some lists during the past few months. I’ve been planning my next waterborne endeavors. I imagine you have as well. Maybe it’s time to get serious about that run up the Inside Passage or that lazy spin around the Great Loop. Perhaps you decided this is the year to cross an ocean or two, like Norrie, whose months-long sojourn—despite a rogue wave capsizing his boat, destroying its electrical equipment and turning his navigational charts into glop—may also have been his saving grace, keeping him far away from the worst pandemic to affect civilization in generations.
Norrie’s journey is far from over. While we slowly climb out of isolation, he’s going back into it on the next leg of his voyage, heading north and, eventually, back home. We should all be so fortunate.