How to survive isolation? Solo sailor Abhilash Tomy shares his mantra

How to survive isolation? Solo sailor Abhilash Tomy shares his mantra
The French fisheries patrol vessel, the FPV Osiris, successfully locating and rescuing injured Indian Navy Commander Abhilash Tomy in the Indian Ocean. Photo: File/AFP

I had been isolated for 275 days. I was alone at sea, not in the comfort of my home. As I shut myself in my house along with my family, there are no storms forming in my mind. I view this time as an opportunity to ponder our future and plan for it.

I was alone when I sailed the oceans for 151 days as part of Indian Navy’s Sagar Parikrama 2 mission. I traversed the seas for 84 days as part of the Golden Globe mission before my vessel was wrecked in a storm in the Indian Ocean. Just before that I had sailed from the Netherlands to France for seven days.

Before all that, I sailed for 33 days from Cape Town in South Africa to Goa. That was my first experience of prolonged solitude. The setbacks started on the fourth day of the expedition. The generator on the boat went up in flames even before I drifted away from the Cape of Good Hope. The cooking table was on fire. Autopilot conked. An unexpected storm tore up one of the main sails. On top of all this, I was seasick and tired of throwing up. My thoughts went wild with no one to speak to.

I felt like meditating but I did not know how. I sat still, chanting a sound I separated from the growl of the sea. Eventually I mastered the storm within me. I learned to be content in whatever was left to me. I stopped thinking about the land. My mind and the boat started rocking in the same rhythm. It was a lot easier from then on.

On every subsequent voyage I relied on the confidence of surviving those days of isolation. I can understand very well the discomfort felt by most of us when asked to be at home. That is quite natural. Our freedom and opportunities have been limited. We can’t go out or work or hang out with friends or dine out. The stress will only mount if you keep on thinking about how long the lockdown will be in place. Thinking only about today will make it a lot easier.

The best way to survive solitude is to dream. Dream about future. Imagination knows no boundaries. Let your dreams transcend your limits. I lay on my broken back for 71 hours after the accident during the Golden Globe expedition. I had no idea when help will arrive or how long I may have to be alone. Yet I was thinking about days to come. I planned to buy a new boat and go on another expedition once I reached home and recovered. That is how I survived the isolation until my saviours turned up.

When the lockdown is finished, we must step out into a new world. Let us prepare ourselves for that.

(Commander Abhilash Tomy is the first Indian to circumnavigate the globe alone)

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