Solo sailing with James Aiken

Sailor and filmmaker James Aiken has just completed a 28-day, single-handed crossing of the Atlantic Ocean onboard his boat, The Oaken Yarn, in partnership with Talisker Whisky. Now back on dry land, we caught up with him to discuss the challenges of sailing solo and why he enjoys pushing the boundaries of his mental and physical limits.

When did you start sailing and what drew you to it?

"I grew up around boats and the sea on the south coast of England. My summers were spent racing dinghies and cruising with my family and in the winters, when swell was more likely, surfing was the main pre-occupation – whatever the season I would be around the ocean. The draw has always been a total immersion in the real, natural world; an intimate connection with the simple forces that we have otherwise isolated ourselves from in modern society."

What does a typical day look like when sailing solo?

"I try to have some kind of structure but that’s not always possible given that you might be required to undertake any multitude of tasks at any given time. I follow an intermittent fasting diet, eating only from 10am until 6pm, as I’ve found that is best for maintaining energy levels throughout a full 24-hour day. I try to have one two-hour sleep a day, as you go through a full sleep cycle, and then 20-minute naps when I can."

How do you deal with the strains of sailing solo?

"As with many things, preparation is key. Being fit and resting well in the lead up to a journey is important. You really get to know yourself through these journeys and you can begin to predict the times you might find harder. I now know that if something serious happens, a breakage or if the weather is particularly bad, I’m quite matter of fact and unphased, but I can struggle during prolonged periods when things aren't flowing well."

What is it that appeals to you about adventure and exploration?

"I take great happiness from a closeness to the real world; an unfiltered immersion in nature. Taking responsibility for your own safety, logistics and navigation in any natural environment is hugely rewarding. I’ve been pursuing knowledge of the ocean my whole life and I still only feel as though I’m at the beginning of the journey. The more I learn, the greater the awe and the desire to explore and protect it."

James Aiken wears the Nimrod Cashmere Sweater. Photography by Ben Duffy.