Posted in encouragement, theology

The First Forced Isolation & Cabin Fever: A Sailing Story

By Elizabeth Prata

cabin verse

I’ve been writing a bit about my sailing adventures here on the blog. People seem to really like these anecdotes. The Lord in His sovereignty allowed me to be a liveaboard sailor with my husband for two years, sailing from Maine to the Bahamas and back. It was before I was saved. I was in my thirties.

I see now with 20/20 spiritual hindsight, there are many lessons I am applying that stem from that time. Those essays are linked below.

The latest story I wrote was our experience being in the Storm of the Century back in the early 1990s. I’ll relate a postscript to that story now.

After the storm passed, and it passed quickly, it left behind strong winds. We were anchored in a large anchorage, so, relatively safe. But the winds were steady at 30 knots and higher, so getting into the dinghy with a 5 hp motor and bucking winds that strong AND plus the current, was unwise and unrealistic. Two joyriding teens got into a dinghy and were blown out to sea like a leaf skittering away on concrete and had to be rescued, which was dicey in itself for the rescue boat.

How long could the wind last? we thought.

A week, that’s how long. A solid week.

That meant that my husband and I were pinned down on a 37 foot yacht with about 175 feet of living space. Our boat was fairly roomy due to being wide (“beamy” in nautical terms) but it was still a small amount of area to rattle around in.

We are pretty self-sufficient and both introverts, so we didn’t mind at first. But as the days wore on, small irritations grow big. Petty concerns build in magnitude. Irritations are focused on. Arguments start. Soon, it’s cabin fever and all that comes with it.

Cabin Fever

Cabin fever (also called stir-crazy, from the use of stir to mean ‘prison’) is a claustrophobic reaction, manifested as extreme irritability and restlessness, that takes place when a person or group ends up in an isolated or solitary location, or stuck indoors in confined quarters for an extended period of time.

We were from frigid Maine, and we were used to being pinned inside for lengthy periods of time during the winter. However there is a huge difference between choosing to stay inside because we disdain the winter, and having to stay inside for safety reasons. A lifestyle of one’s choosing is very different than an externally imposed mandate.

Everyone was in the same boat, to use a familiar term, so we all tried different things to pass the time. One sailor on a nearby boat put elastic bands around his VHF radio speaker button to hold it open, and placed it next to his tape recorder and played audio books for anyone’s listening pleasure. Another hosted a poetry slam. Some gave point-by-point directions for how to knit. Others played bridge over the airwaves.

It was a tense time, because of the unusualness of strong winds lasting for so long, and the uncertainty of when it would end. It’s harder when you don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I’ve been thinking of late of another forced isolation on a boat: The Ark. Noah and 7 other souls were told to board. In obedience, they did. The LORD closed the door. They didn’t know when the door would open again. Then the rain began. The family no doubt heard the screams, perhaps their very neighbors clawed the sides in attempt to save themselves. They must have closed their ears and prayed loud. They, and the animals, stayed aboard for a solar year, about 370 days.

The Ark was a large boat. At 510 feet, it was roomy, but maybe not roomy considering all the animals of the world according to their kind were also on the boat with the 8 souls. There was no rudder, no steering wheel, and interpretations differ on the window issue. How the ark was illuminated is also at issue.

So you have 8 people living in close quarters, for a year, in the gloom, with a stress unlike any that has ever happened or ever will happen again. (Genesis 9:11). We by nature are sinners. Our sins are much harder to hide and suppress when we live in such close quarters. When Adam fell, the first thing he did was turn on Eve.

It isn’t any different for today’s people sheltering in place in obedience to stem the flow of COVID-19 infections.

Noah and his family stayed sane and emotionally healthy (fairly so, though Noah desperately needed a drink when he got off the ark; Genesis 9:21) by turning to God. Noah was deemed righteous and blameless (Genesis 6:9-11).

The second type of righteousness results from our sanctification. Even though we will not perfectly practice God’s law in this life, those who have been justified will live uprightly. We will bear holy fruit, loving God and neighbor, if we have true faith (James 2:14–26). This is the kind of righteousness that Noah possessed, one that comes from walking with God (Ps. 1). Source Ligonier

Did my husband and I have any chance to be anything close to righteous as we were pinned down for a week on the boat? Any shot at being sacrificial, loving, generous of spirit? No. We were not saved.

Our suppressed sins came out almost immediately. We bickered, gave each other the silent treatment, nursed wounds, threw old issues into each other’s faces. We almost broke up for good. The fact of our total depravity was hard to ignore, and indeed, for many years afterward I marveled at the “change in behavior” I’d exhibited so quickly. I’d wondered “which was the real me”. My puzzlement was resolved when I was saved and learned we are all depraved sinners in need of a Savior.

How about us today, if we are saved? Living in close quarters, kids underfoot constantly, uncertainty of what is happening ‘out there’, how long it will last. Financial worries, food worries, worries about the kids getting sick? No man had a harder time with these issues than Noah. He relied on His LORD. Hebrews notes this-

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith. Faith in Jesus is what will get us through. By faith your forced isolation and social distancing you will persevere. By faith financial worries will resolve. By faith anxiety can be curtailed. By faith illness can be dealt with. By faith in Jesus any issue can be handled, because even unlike Noah, we have the Spirit in us. The Comforter. Pinned down at home, you have eternity in your house. While sheltering within four walls you have the kingdom among you. Isolated in the house, you have the omnipresence with you.

When we live by faith, we have everything we need.

Blessings dear readers.

Further Reading

Storm of the Century: A Sailing Story

Dock Queens: A Sailing Story

Drifting Away: A Sailing Story

Night Passages: A Sailing Story

Following the North Star: A Sailing Story

The Tongue is a Rudder: A Sailing Story

In the Lee of Jesus: A Sailing Story

Buck the Current: A Sailing Story

Jesus is the Light of the World: A Sailing Story

Nautical Reminiscences


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.