When my husband Robert and I were planning our Atlantic crossing, one of the things I feared, among big storms, rogue waves, and shrinking bank accounts, was getting out of shape and specifically, lacking cardio exercise. I believe it’s important to be strong and fit before sailing across an ocean. I also wanted to stay in shape while passage making. A certain degree of fitness helps prevent accidents and comes in handy with the actual sailing of the boat. While there are ways to stay strong while sailing offshore, cardio exercise was a challenge.
I knew we would be out there for weeks, and this would be a long time to go without a good heart pumping workout. I know I am not alone. I have met several sailors who won’t even venture out there because they can’t go running. I have also met folks who won’t try sailing adventures because they can’t get their nails done, but that is another topic entirely.
Blog Entry: July 19,2011 37:34.00N 61:59.00W
North Atlantic Athletic Club
As many of you know I am (was) an avid member of the Annapolis Athletic Club (AAC). I think we should open our own gym out here called the North Atlantic Athletic Club. While not as nice as AAC, we do have some unique qualities. While we can't offer individual TV monitors with unlimited cable, we do offer a brightly lit GPS screen giving thrilling accounts on where you've been and where you're going in bright blue and pink. And while we can't offer clean hot showers, we do offer constantly moving trickle showers (a workout in itself) that compel you to brag about how little water you've used...
While we don't have freshly laundered towels, we do have the Delux Ever Damp Towel system, one per person in bright designer colors... we offer the recently patented exclusive King Neptune Ocean Spray Salt and Sun Skin Care system, keeping your skin damp and clammy, along with the King Neptune Ocean Spray Salt and Wind Hair Care System, always sure to frizz even the silkiest hair! And while we are not able to offer free classes like Pilates or Yoga, we'll give you a compass course and a wheel to steer and three hours to do it! Get strong core muscles in just days! Sign up now!
Early on in our planning, I explored several options for cardio. We own a few Pilates DVDs and these have limited cardio moves, but they don’t seem safe or easy in an open moving cabin in big seas. I worked with a trainer at my gym, and he came up with several high intensity workout routines that involved a variety of moves, such as jump squats and pushups. These actually can get the job done, but again, in an open cabin in big seas, they may not be efficient or safe.
It was a casual conversation with my friend Scott that changed the whole scenario. I was voicing my concern, and Scott said, “Just go buy yourself a mini elliptical.” Could it be that simple? It was! I searched online and found a mini elliptical, floor unit only, no arm handles, for only $75 and ordered it.
It was perfect. It fit under the dinette and tucked in a corner out of sight when not in use. It could easily be pulled out when needed. We glued felt pads under the base so that we could slide it along the cabin floor without scratching the varnish and placed it in front of a grab rail that runs along the length of our main salon. Whoever wanted to use it could hold onto the grab rail, prop up a book, and get a complete workout even while the boat was tossed around in rough water. If the engine was running, we could even run the DVD player and watch a movie just like at the gym!
In really heavy weather, the elliptical was not an option. But this kind of weather was short lived, and just getting around was a huge physical endeavor. During our Gulf Stream crossing, we all found that steering was a major workout. We would notice every muscle was sore after three hours of handling the helm. Even lying in a bunk was a core strength exercise.
Once past the Gulf Stream, when the sailing got smoother, we got into a rhythm of life at sea. Then I got into a steady routine of fitness as well. I would try to do a 45-minute elliptical session in the morning, after my watch. I found it easier to do the elliptical for 45 minutes than to do the high-intensity, mixed-up routines, because I didn’t have to think about it and knew that I would be safe holding onto the grab rail. In calmer seas, I incorporated hand weights and added moves like bicep curls and straight arm lifts while pedaling.
During my watch, I discovered the cockpit could be an entire gym for great strength training, working all the major muscles. If it was windy, steering required a lot of arm, core, and leg use. If the winds were light, I used workout bands, which are thick long rubber bands with handles. One of my favorite uses of the band was to double it around the bimini frame, holding both handles in one hand and pulling it across in front. This works shoulders and deltoids. Adding a twist will work the waist. Another one was to extend an arm straight down, holding the band and pulse back. Excellent for triceps. A good quad exercise out there was to brace my back against the mizzen mast and sit in the “invisible chair.” Rising up and down on my toes worked the calves.
Blog Entry: July 19, 2011 37:24.00N 59:53.01W
North Atlantic Athletic Club
This week at NAAC, we're featuring Cockpit Wave Riding in the Tenacity Aft Fitness Center. Experience hand steering down 10- to 12-foot-plus waves in 20- to 25-knot winds on the stern quarter. A real workout for calf and core muscles! Also try our Bucking Bronco Portable Elliptical in the main salon. Please follow the one hand on the Ballet Barre rule at all times. Also this week is Bunk Pilates, just lie down while the boat is flying down these waves and feel your whole body hold on.
Next week we will feature Thrashing Showers, Extreme Food Chopping and Weird Yoga. Thanks to our crew for making last week's "Boat Sails So Balanced You Don't Have To Touch The Wheel For Three Hours" session, a great two days.
Perkins the cat is our member of the month. Catch her on Facebook later this month when we arrive in the Azores, and I can get to a WiFi to download photos.
These moves, along with many more combinations of band uses, were not only ways to stay fit, but also tremendous ways to stay awake during long middle of the night watches by counting sets of 20 for each move. I must say, no gym can match being out there under a dazzling display of stars and galaxies surrounded by open ocean.
Armed with all the tools I needed, the addiction to fitness, and no excuses not to do the work, I actually felt stronger when we arrived in the Azores after 18 days at sea than before we left. We had one nasty storm, no rogue waves, and only a mild shrinkage of our bank accounts. I did get cardio workouts. Now I just have to figure out how to run a 10K out there!
by Cindy Fletcher-Holden
Bluewater Dreaming column sponsored by M Blue