The healing power of floating holidays
Imagine an ever-changing landscape, where your holiday promises dynamic scenery, a shift in perspective and a truly remarkable spiritual connection.
Professionally, I’m someone who’s spent much of the last two decades reviewing luxury hotels. It’s a privilege to be reminded regularly how special it is to stay a world away from my every day. It’s more than escaping to environments which are nothing like home. It’s about how these forays makes me feel. Time in characterful hotels can be a treat thanks to the change of scene or because you’re immersed in original, imaginative interior design. Or it can simply be a tonic because there’s no clutter reminding us of the many things we have to do. It’s all the more delightful if the soothing and uplifting space we are spending our precious time away is thought-provoking — and even better, floating.
Just being on water has a tranquillising effect: stress is washed away, our minds are cleared to think more creatively. As we disconnect from real life and reconnect with nature, we are free to enjoy a much-needed rest. The sense of intimacy through a fellowship of folks being brought together on a boat surely also has cognitive and psychological benefits. Something our busy modern lives so often lacks is a precious sense of community. Nelson Mandela subscribed to the African philosophy of Ubuntu; when translated from the Nguni Bantu word this means ‘humanity’. In essence, it represents a sense of belonging and consideration for each other. By eating, sleeping, laughing and sailing together, time together aboard a yacht nurtures this in the most extraordinary way.
Recently I took a river cruise along the Nile. The trip had appealed as I’d be able to drop off my bags on the boat, unpack only once in my cabin, and then wake up with a new view every morning, with new wonders to explore. We’d dock at new destinations daily. I could tour bucket-list monuments in the soft early morning light, reboard to enjoy a delicious North African lunch on the deck and have a swim as we sailed during peak tourist time, then pause at another otherwise-hard-to-reach town. We’d drop anchor just long enough to dip into an evening market as it was bustled in the golden-hour glow, then sleep as we segued to the next chapter in our micro-voyage. Producing a blockbuster movie can take a full day of shooting to generate a mere minute’s worth of screen time. Yet, there in Egypt, every day our eyes were taking in so many filmic moments that we built up a library of mental images to last a lifetime. As guests, we would return to the boat and swap stories, and forge meaningful friendships as we boosted our archives of anecdotes.
My fondest recollections of time on a motorsailer around off Sardinia’s Emerald Coast are less of historical facts learned or archaeological and anthropological observations exchanged. Recalling how we could dive into dazzling, clear, green waters certainly evokes a warm fuzzy feeling. As does evoking those exceptional afternoons spent with the warming Italian sun on our skin and the sensation of that salt-kissed sea breeze tickling our faces. But what truly makes me yearn to relive that holiday is my memory of mealtimes in the galley. The gung-ho spirit of everyone living cheek by jowl 24/7 and the camaraderie among the crew. It would be hard to remember suppers in a cramped, windowless dining room in the basement of a hotel with such feel-good fondness. For us, being thrown together in this way for our yachting life meant we were able to live how humans were first meant to — as a collective.
“For us, being thrown together in this way for our yachting life meant we were able to live how humans were first meant to — as a collective.”
Since our species has existed, people have relied on the world’s bodies of water to feed us, transport us, and enable us to do business and make progress. Waterways have been our life force. Being together on a boat also allows us a sense of togetherness that has been enriching since the beginning of time. The words that Barack Obama spoke at Mandela’s memorial, recognise just how valuable this connection can be, ‘There is a word in South Africa – Ubuntu – a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye. That there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.’ And I’m grateful to the floating holidays I’ve had which have helped me find Ubuntu.