Updated: Apr 16
Staying fit before I started living on a boat was a matter of going to the gym. However, this is not generally possible when living aboard. I have had to adapt my fitness plan to what is practical in, on and around the boat.
Seagoing life can often be harsh and challenging. This, coupled with long hours of work during times of heightened tempo, creates an environment in which the crew will be subject to increased levels of tiredness and stress. I believe, and have found, that maintaining good fitness enables me to conduct tasks professionally when under such conditions.
Long periods of healing over at 40 degrees, rain showers and big seas. No space. No privacy. The idea of maintaining fitness at sea was always a daunting challenge. But looking back, I am surprised at what I have achieved in such a small and and often unstable space.
Finding the motivation to work out in such conditions can be a test, so it is necessary to get creative! If the wind and sea state becomes too high, then a yoga session will always be more sensible and convenient - staying closer to the deck and incorporating the healing of the boat into the stretches. However, should the conditions become too severe, then I wouldn't hesitate staying safe and missing a workout.
A workout mid Atlantic is a pretty amazing experience. Being set up on the aft deck or bow of a small sailing yacht, with no visible land in any direction, was very therapeutic.
After a long distance passage, the crew arrives and collapses from exhaustion, caused by the incremental effect of a lack of sleep and long watches. I underestimated how hard your body muscles have to work, whilst trying to maintain balance on board a continuously rolling sailing yacht; they even have to work when you are asleep to keep you in your bunk!
My TRX strap has been an ideal piece of equipment for me as a sailor. If you don't want to spend the money on one, then find a length of one quarter inch surgical plastic tubing, with handles and a piece of webbing that has a grommet to attach the band to something on the boat - it is just as good! I have used this for a wide variety of arm and back exercises by anchoring the centre point to something on the boat or by standing on the tubing. You can also adapt the lead from scuba diving belts you may have on board to make hand weights.
You can use your boat as a gym: I can do dips and hip circles in our companionway and have used fenders as a makeshift exercise ball. I have also used a variety of exercise programs that I follow on my phone.
When I don't feel like exercising on the boat, and when the opportunity arises, I try to take long walks or go running to explore my latest destination - it was one of the main reasons why I started working on yachts; to travel and see the places I sail to. When at anchor, I often kayak to shore early in the morning, with my trainers, socks and a towel in a dry bag. I drag the kayak up the beach and rid the sand from my feet with a towel, before putting on my trainers and finding the best place to watch the sunrise. Being prepared the night before has enabled me to slip away quickly in the early morning and be back before the guests are awake.
As a chef, I often spend long hours on my feet working in a small galley. This isn't particularly good for me, so it is important that I keep stretching and moving when I can. If I need a pan from the bottom locker, then I squat down to get it. Getting creative with my everyday movements helps me to challenge my muscles and keep them active whilst I work.
I have always been a keen long distant runner. I find it to be a fantastic way to explore new destinations: Running along the waterfront in Mallorca, or up the hill to the castle, Bosc de Believer. There you can watch the sunrise stretch over the beautiful architecture of the city and the marinas. Then take a pit stop at ‘Ziva To Go’ in Santa Catalina for a smoothie, juice or homemade cinnamon granola with almond milk on the route back to the boat yard. Sometimes I rent a bike from one of the shops on Calle de Joan and cycle east along the cycle pathway towards El Arenal. I also love to stop off in Fibonacci for a coffee, or take away wrap, and continue towards the small rocky beaches - a perfect place to sit and eat lunch.
Buying good boots and decent socks has set me up ready to go hiking. Venturing up Mallorca’s mountains, to the famous lamb restaurant, Es Verger Alaro. Setting up camp in the forests between Valdemossa and Deia, where I can journey up the valley to a point where you can view the whole of the island stretching from North to South.
I have heard crew say that, during charter they find it difficult to slip off the boat for a run or swim, or find an opportunity to fit a workout in on the aft deck. It can be particularly difficult if the only space on deck is above a guest cabin (you don't want to be jumping around completing a set of burpees immediately above sleeping guests!). I try to set myself a standard. I approached the captain from day one and explained how important it is for me to maintain my fitness. With the right approach, the guests and crew have become used to my antics and I am no longer embarrassed to be covered in sweat, jumping around on the aft deck whilst someone is on watch.
Since the Mediterranean season I have really started to enjoy my swimming! There is nothing more satisfying than jumping in the ocean after a long day spent hidden away in the depths of the boat.. Swimming has become a regular and enjoyable part of my daily routine, particularly when we are set at anchor.
During charter, my typical morning starts at six o’clock with a quick jump off the boat. I loved this as it gives me a morning kick-start, often needed after a late night working. If I’m lucky, we will be at anchor in a secluded, beautiful bay where the water is clean and crystal clear. I find it always satisfying to break the surface of flat, undisturbed water that flickers tinges of orange and pinks as the sun comes up. Swimming in tropical waters can be an incredible experience. The first signs of light in the morning can set off a mesmerising display of fish jumping as they hunt for their first meal of the day, you may see stingrays gliding or turtles breaking the surface of the crystal blue water to take a look at today’s sunrise.
I find the trick is to fit your routine around the routine of the boat. Assuming the crew or guests wouldn’t be up until later, I would do a deal with the Captain to cook dippy eggs for breakfast if he drops the swimming ladder when he hoisted the ensign at 8’o’clock. Perfect! This gives me two hours where I can swim to the nearest beach, stretch, walk or just sit and enjoy being off the boat and away from the galley.
There are plenty of places to swim, hike and run in Antigua. However there are only so many times you can walk the Goats Trail in English Harbour. In the past, I’ve hired a car and driven to the south coast - just up from Cades Bay, by the famous Antiguan Black pineapple plantations, the World’s sweetest variety of pineapple, and walked up Mount Obama through the Caribbean jungle. Its a steep climb, I followed the rocky trail through soaring thick bamboo, millions of spiders webs and then tackled lemongrass fields. After working up a sweat, I drove straight to the nearest beach to cool off in the sea!
I am learning to adapt to my environment and try to make the most of all the places and opportunities that arise as I travel the seas – opportunities that could so easily be missed when you have your head down working in the marine industry.