A JOURNEY TO BECOMING SELF-SUFFICIENT
Lyssandra recently opened a base of her sailing school Secondstar Sailing in the beautiful island of Antigua, in the Caribbean.
When COVID-19 happened she decided to remain in the Caribbean and this is the wonderful story of her lockdown.
I've never understood how people can say that they get bored sailing, that it's limiting because of the restriction in movement and the fact you cannot get off the boat itself… But there is so much to do all the time. From up on deck at a basic level: actually sailing the boat - helming, trimming, constantly adjusting the sail plan to the slight changes in wind and sea conditions, to simply enjoying the view and the environment you are in, to the company you are sharing on board- to down below, where you can navigate, research new destinations, and run the boat and its systems for all that supports our life on board: water, power, food, shelter- to the simple act of making a meal for yourself and the rest of the crew - or simply rest. I am constantly learning and being challenged when on board. And obviously repairing. There has never been a moment when I have thought: oh the boat is perfectly fixed, there are no small or large jobs that need doing onboard.
That said, now that I have been in quarantine on Antigua for the last month, with a rather stringent curfew and restrictions due to the pandemic, it has been a different type of adjusting and challenge but I feel that all the skills I have acquired as a sailor have helped me enormously during this time.
I am in isolation, the only one in my house/base. I sent my crew back to Europe before the island was shut down, and opted to remain here. I feel incredibly lucky as I am in a house in a marina, with my two boats on the dock in front of the house. I am allowed to walk outside on my dock to the boats. But the boats are not allowed to leave the dock. And until last week, we were also not allowed to leave the house except for food, pharmacy or hospital runs, and all that during the hours of 7-12. So that left me with a lot of time on my hands, as I was supposed to be teaching sailing, racing, and running the school during this time.
I provisioned early, before the shutdown was declared, drawing on my experience as an Atlantic skipper, creating a progressive perishables plan so that I would not have to leave the house at all and that I would not need any food supplies for at least two months. Stocked pantry in the house. Full fridge. Gas canisters for cooking on the boats (in case I had to leave the coast at any time if the situation became worse) and full fuel tanks and spare cans. Cleaned the desalination installation on board, making sure the watermakers worked properly. Checked the solar panel outputs.
Once the boats were ready - just in case - I started thinking about other projects - because just like on a boat, I cannot standstill…
I created a water filtration system using some spare filters from one of the boats to that I could actually drink the island tap water, which nobody does on Antigua. This triple system means that I do not need to purchase water jugs and I don't have to waste plastic for that purpose - we do not really have real recycling on the island anyway, so less trash going to the landfill.
Found an old set of tubs with holes in them - created a compost bin and began composting all the vegetable waste from cooking. Don't have tools for aerating the heap, so use a broken boat hook for that purpose. Added in paper from the document shredder to mix (again, no paper recycling on the island..) and sand, and any soil I could find around the house (not much, I live on a sand island in a marina! Now after 4 weeks, I have a good mix of compost and soil.
Started planting my own seeds from the food I was eating - tomatoes, peppers, butternut squash, cucumber, zucchini, hot peppers - got a few basil cuts from the herbs I purchased at the market to put out roots, and experimented with soaking and planting some of the seeds from the spice jars such as coriander. Used the egg cartons as planting trays, the compost from the food waste, and rainwater from the catchment barrel. It's working. I now how have a series of 2-4cm tall plants. A few I am not sure exactly what they are.. but it will be something I ate, so it should be fine! Repurposed any plastic container I am finding as plant vase.
This is making me really think about sustainability on board, and how to grow food on long voyages to have fresh greens available. On offshore trips, all the food waste is thrown overboard (international rules allow biowaste to be thrown overboard when on the high seas, as well as metal and glass) but we could actually create a container system for plant-based composting and reuse that to make soil for new plants and then have a fairly closed-loop system to support ourselves on board. Having a mostly vegetarian diet to really take advantage of the closed-loop system might help, and obviously it would require designing appropriate containers, that allow for all the necessary access - sun, water, air - without spilling when the boats hell and lurch on waves or in rough seas… which I am beginning to experiment with.
Another interesting side effect of the current pandemic and its lockdown is the reduction in pollution due to the halt in fossil fuel burning due to movement/travel/economic production. This is fantastic from an environmental perspective, (I hope we can all figure out solutions to keep what we are gaining during the shutdown with respect to our fight against global warming) but as a sailor who is passionate about astronavigation… well. The night sky in Antigua is always quite clear as light pollution is not a big factor here. But even on this small island its been amazing how visible the change has been. No planes flying in or out of the island mean clear skies. At night, due to the curfew, no outside activities are allowed past 6pm. This has created a lowering of light levels (and an early-to-bed mentality) that allows for the stars and the moon to be extra visible at night, even right at twilight, which is when we use our sextants to measure the angle of the stars. Constellations have become more visibile in the night sky. The satellites are so easy to track now. I have been spending some time learning the relative positioning of stars within minor constellations - from the dock! Normally, you would have to be quite far at sea to have this clarity. Which then has caused me to start reviewing minor details of the sextants that I have here, and again, learning more about different more obscure aspects of Astronavigation. Luckily I have a few star chart apps in my phone and iPad, as the standard star charts often do not go to this level of detail. Thank you technology.
I have also started learning a new language. At least 30 minutes a day, using an app. I was deciding between the following languages: Japanese (really want to travel there for at least a month or so in the next two years) Swahili (used to speak it a bit, lived for a year in a Swahili speaking country, but I have not had a chance to practice it at all lately) Russian (good for work, we have a large number of Russian sailors that come to the Med) Portuguese (would like to sail to Brazil and travel there and I love how it sounds) Icelandic (love the sound of it and want to travel there soon) and Gaelic (like the history and the sound). So right now the plan is 6 months of Russian, then 6 months of Japanese. After that, it will depend on where I travel to.. but plan on keeping on learning and improving the first two anyway.
I have been methodically taking apart the marine diesel engine that we have here at the base. System by system, piece by piece to figure out exactly how it works (ok, I’m already an instructor I have a pretty good idea, but… ) and how to possibly sort out a problem next time something happens. And something always happens on board. Its pretty fun. And greasy. And fun.
Making videos of how to splice lines, tie knots and other useful sailor stuff. The difficult part Is learning how to edit the videos. Working on that as well.
Well. Then obviously there are the boats. They are right there, right in front of the house, sitting idly on the dock . And they are a floating trove of potential work to be done on board.
I try to work on one small project every day. It's endless.
I wish I had a Ukulele. Would definitely like to learn how to play that…. Maybe I will find one once they reopen the stores."