11 May 2010



                           Compensating for Health Issues

Okay, we are on the downhill slide, but think of these as your “coasting years”, like with sledding or skiing, coasting, going with the flow, can be the easy part. You just relax, take the bumps when they come, but don’t stop going. You do have to dress for the weather, choose the easier path, and keep you equipment, i.e. your body, in as good shape as possible. All these things are related.

One of the things we do as active cruisers, always on the move, is practice “catch me if you can” medical care. We would drop in to see our doctor, and I can’t tell you how many different doctors in different places, tell him or her we would be in the area for anything from a week to a month, and let them give us a hurried up exam to make sure the sword of Damocles wasn’t hanging over our heads. If you are a likely candidate for a heart attack or stroke, something that would leave your partner or crew in a potentially dangerous situation, you want to know about it, and choose where you cruise differently, (the easiest path). You want to tend to things you can help, like joints that may make you more prone to falls, and for sure you want to get really serious about how much, and what you eat and drink. This is the voice of wisdom learned a bit too late. Be very serious about this; my favorite self help book on the subject, Mindless Eating.

 As you grow older, and if more things crop up, you will have to give more time to taking care of yourself, just like you do your boat, as it ages. But like the boat, know what your doctor is recommending you take, why, and what are its downsides. You are your own best defense, against bad work on the boat and bad advice from your doctor, especially if you aren’t on the scene for the follow up exams. It isn’t his entire fault when you are asking him to do things in a hurry. If things get more serious, you may have to cruise with a short leash, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still roam the world, just not all at once. The cruising life is by its nature about as healthy a life style as you can choose.

You have to think of medical issues even harder the further you go from home waters, especially if you go foreign, but as Dave loves to say, “You don’t fall off the edge of the world when you leave the United States.” All over the world you will find medical care on a par or even better than our own. If you are on Medicare, or insurance that will only cover you in the USA, you will find yourself weighing the decision of which costs more, a standard check up somewhere else that may be less than your air line ticket, or pay for the ticket and see the kids and grandkids at the same time. If it is an emergency, requiring long time care, it is very nice to have bought DAN insurance, an acronym that stands for Divers Alert Network. Look into what they have to offer, in terms of transporting you back, or what else might be out there. You have to think about these things, and be prepared for more things possibly going wrong; just think of it as part of the adventure. To quote from Ulysses again:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

I know you are familiar with “Use it or lose it”, and it’s true of our minds, our bodies and our boats.
                     Choosing the Easier Path

To get back to choosing the easier path, where are you going to cruise? I don’t think too many of you are thinking of motoring yourself around the world, and chances are very good, you shouldn’t. But that does not mean you can’t see the whole world. That is the function of yacht transporters, like Dockwise, or Yacht Path, to get you to those far off places, that are so fascinating, where you can see a whole other part of the world, while still staying in more protected waters, needing only short passage times. To me, short used to be 48 hours; last year I decided 36 hours was a long enough stretch. We can travel three hundred miles in thirty-six hours.  A lot of territory can be covered in these short chunks, more than is required in most of the great cruising grounds. That is what defines great cruising grounds, lots of places to explore, close together, minimal passage time between protected anchorages or harbors. We crossed the whole Med with just two overnights. We could get all the way to Trinidad without any passage being as much as twenty four hours, and only a few of those or do it the easy way; ship it down and come back with the seas behind you. Years ago a book was written about doing just that called Isles to Windward, the author, a great sailor, but still looking for that downhill sleigh ride.

As we get older and everything seems to take more time, a very simple day can be exciting enough.  We can keep the tire out of the re-tire-ment years. Unless we have company, we often lie in bed until eight, listening or watching the news, (our favorites, Morning Joe and NPR, then a leisurely breakfast, usually on the back deck, admiring our container grown flowers, and reading aloud a chapter in a book. Right now it’s one of our David Sedaris books, the second one this month. By ten we are ready to go to work on whatever projects are at hand. Today was a writing day for me; it was an all day Labor Day for Dave changing the watermaker membranes.  Yesterday it was a second round of coffee with old cruising buddies, and then some simple projects, and a lovely snorkel on the reefs on the outside of our island anchorage. The day before that was a minimal work day, fixing the wash machine for Dave so I could get some laundry done, and then a long afternoon’s lunch in a new and lovely setting ashore with a group of sailing friends, old and new. Each day has been a joy, in a quiet and relaxing manner. Mix these up with company weeks, weeks with children and grand children, and old friends, 18 people so far since the beginning of the year, when days are much more adventurous, seeing and doing whatever is interesting, wherever we are. Then there are the longer distance traveling days, the days spent playing motorboat captain and crew as we travel our usual couple thousand miles a year, and then the time spent exploring areas new to us.
In hindsight we realize we had a great winter just staying at the marina in Florida last winter, in spite of the health issues that kept us there, and the cold weather that made even using our heated pool impossible. There is just so much on offer in a larger, vibrant community, when just walking beaches hunting shells has lost its luster. No matter where we are, on a boat, life is always interesting.

                                    DRESSING FOR THE WEATHER
By dressing for the weather I mean, keeping yourself comfortable. Another favorite Dave expression is, “To me, well dressed is warm and dry.” I covered a lot of this in section one, the need for heat of some sort when it is cold, and air conditioning when it is hot.  Your tolerance for weather extremes goes way south, as you should, when you grow older. You know how you used to make fun of the old ladies saying they have to change seats in a restaurant because they feel a draft? Well now, we are they.

We get by comfortably on our boat with a reverse cycle air conditioner, and a couple of heat cubes. Most times we are at anchor so if it is a hot, sticky time, we save our generation time, usually two to three hours daily, for the evenings, when we can keep the bugs out, (especially no see’ums) we get the boat cooled down and dried out, and often with the edition of fans, this will keep us comfortable most of the night. Most times when we have needed heat, like our winters aboard in the Med, we have been in a marina with power, so the reverse cycle worked great to give us a quick shot of heat in the early morning, and then our heat cubes would keep us warm enough during the day. The point is, if you aren’t comfortable, you are not going to enjoy the life style, or you will not want to live aboard full time. This is a perfectly acceptable option, and actually the choice most people make. Even my mother would never give up her condo ashore to live full time on their boat. It was her safety net.

Keep in mind the devastating effects of too much sun. Sunscreen, hats, sleeves and pant legs, (they also protect from bugs) are your friends. Also awnings, and mesh sunshades covering whatever windows they will work on, and as drop down shades on your covered decks. Please remember to put UVA and UVB blocking film on your large inside windows, even if they are tinted. You can’t believe the difference this can make, in terms of protecting you, your furniture, and just keeping you cooler.

Choose your clothes wisely. Keep them simple, preferably not needing dry cleaning or ironing. If at all possible, have a washer and dryer aboard. Impossible to calculate how much time and energy that will save you. Choose clothes that can be layered up and down, and as few as possible. The space you can save in a hanging locker can be used for that washer /dryer. Don’t forget to have aboard that one item that will take you to a funeral, a sudden meeting, or anything else where you won’t have time to shop but must make a nice appearance. Unlike shore life where you don’t want to be seen in the same thing over and over again, the same people will rarely see you over and over again, and they won’t care anyway. Forget the foul weather gear you associated with sail boating. You are going to be steering from inside some sot of shelter, whether up or down, and if up isn’t protected now, make it so.

Protect yourself from insects. Their bites may make you very uncomfortable and also spread some nasty diseases. Have screens for all openings, use bug repellant where you must, learn some tricks for keeping them away, like burning mosquito coils when you want dinner on the back deck, or burning a bit of coffee in a saucer as a deterrent to bees. Amazing how well this works. If you like to get in the water as a daily form of exercise, and you are going to be where there are “stingers” in the water, get s fully covering nylon suit, or “skin”. Mine unfortunately is not quite thick enough, and the nasty flies that like to attack me can bite right through it. I would also look for a lighter color, mosquitoes and flies like darker clothes.

Most of what I am saying applies to boaters of any age; it’s just even more important when your tolerance levels, and your energy levels go lower, and everything requires more effort. You are cruising for adventure, for a chance to see and experience and taste new things, and don’t forget, for the FUN OF IT. If you have to give up all the things that made life easier and comfortable back home, you may quickly lose the fun of it, and this is even truer in the golden years. Keep compensating, the Golden Rule, for what you’ve lost, so that you can keep on cruising, keep on enjoying, keep on living.

01 May 2010


                           CRUISING INTO THE GOLDEN YEARS

Who says there is a time limit to when you can start or must stop cruising? It’s like anything else in life, if you feel like doing it, if you are willing to compensate for whatever handicaps age has brought you, you can go cruising. You can do it well and comfortably, you just have to make the right choices.

First thing is to be realistic about the changes that living long years have probably dealt you. In the words of my favorite poem, Ulysses by Tennyson

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
You are not going to be as strong, or as agile, or as indefatigueable, you are not going to see as well or hear as well, you will not tolerate extreme heat or cold, or too much sun. You want and need more of your creature comforts, so how do you compensate? Just like you don’t sleep on the ground in a pup tent anymore, but can still enjoy being in the great outdoors traveling in an RV. Forget you were passionate about sailing, unless you have a full time crew, or an occasional berth on someone else’s boat. I went into detail about this in an article in PassageMaker  magazine, but it boils down to your inability to handle a mast that fell over and is trying to punch a hole in your boat, or going up to the top of the mast to change a necessary light or repair a halyard, or scrunching into the essential mechanical places that always need maintenance and repairs. If you do scrunch and bend and spend long periods on your knees one day, you are going to be shot down for the next three. If you already own a sailboat, you can compensate by motoring, which is what so many sailors do anyway. My good friend Ruth, whose husband is ninety says, “Just think of us as a trawler with masts”. But what I am saying is, if you are buying a boat, BUY YOURSELF A MOTOR BOAT!

In cruising, it doesn’t matter how you got to paradise, and the great cruising grounds are truly paradise, it’s the fact that you are there. You could have sailed all your life, and loved nothing more than the “wheel’s kick, and the wind’s song”, but there is a life, a cruising life, a messing about in boat’s life after sailing. Most of us on trawlers are a case in point. You will have more space, at a time in life when you need more space, you will have more of the creature comforts, when these can become necessities, you will have a dedicated engine room, and don’t cheat on the size of the engine room or cram it full with more than you need in an engine. Remember scrunching days are over. You will not have to risk your life going out on deck to reef a sail in adverse conditions when your sense of balance is less than it once was, you won’t have to be wet, or cold, or too hot, or swatting flies. Instead, you will sit in your dry, heated or cooled pilot house, turning on the wipers if it rains, all your controls at your finger tips, and life, your cruising life, goes happily on. When it’s dinner time  you won’t have to dumpster dive into your top loading refrigerator, and when it’s bed time, you won’t have to hoist yourself up into a small bunk, or crawl over your partner if your lucky enough to still have one. Your engine room will be easy to get into, around and about and out of, as you do your daily checks, and you should be able to see all sides of your engine. Granted, you will have more of all the goodies, meaning not just a nicer life style, but more things to maintain and fix, but it will be so much easier to do.

I hope I have convinced you, that if you are into the ‘golden years”, over 65, to think only of what kind of motor boat  you are going to get. I know at 65 you can be quite capable of the sailing life, but if you look ahead, by 70 to 75, it will be difficult, and changing to another type of boat at that point is really tough. Don’t think a motor boat is necessarily simple. Generally speaking, you will have more mechanical features, meaning more stuff to learn how to use and to maintain, although the maintenance does not require strength and agility, just keeping your mind nimble.

Now what kind of boat will you buy, or what should you do to your present boat to compensate for those years? Let’s start with the second question first., what to do with what you have, to keep you cruising, because these are the same things you may have to add to any new boat you buy.
1.   Simplify: Dave’s usual answer when asked. “What does my boat need?” is short and sweet, “A dumpster.” Don’t make your boat a repository for everything you might possibly need someday. A cluttered boat, cluttered lockers, and cluttered workspace, only makes it difficult to move around, to find anything when you need it, and to keep your boat ship shape. You probably wear less than half the clothes you have aboard, use less than half the towels and sheets, have more books than you can read in a year or two, extra pots and pans that seldom or never get used, and enough food to keep you going for six months. Get rid of what you are not using, get rid of everything seldom used that will make it easier to find what you do need, and easier to keep clean and organized. Really assess your spare parts and tools; whittle to the essentials. Fan belts and hoses have a shorter life span than you think in a hot boat, don’t carry a life time supply. Assess what can break that will put you out of business, and have that aboard. In other words, carry what you need to get to the nearest port that has supplies or a Fed Ex, or a rental car. Chances are you will have no long off shore passages, you will not be alone in some deserted island, (try and find one these days), those were dreams of younger years. Don’t burden yourself as if you were going to be.
2.   Handholds everywhere. Put a grab rail everywhere you find yourself gripping at a wall, or at nothing, trying to gain some support. You may be able to do a balancing act now, even though that is always dangerous in a boat, but we are talking about carrying on when you won’t be able to get out of that dinghy bouncing around off the stern of your boat, without something to easily grab onto on the mother ship, and even to help you maneuver inside the dinghy. Look at my pictures of my “Granny Rail”, in an earlier blog. We even have a grab rail outside the head compartment to steady us as we swing onto and then off the seat.
3.     Get some simple exercise equiment, from bicycle like pedals you sit in a chair to push, to a simple to use swim ladder, rubber bands, even a dance tape you can keep up with. I used to use two canes, then went to Nordic hiking poles, after my second knee replacement and now the light of my life is a walker with four 8 inch wheels and a seat, and a carrying basket. Suddenly I can walk places again, enjoy going sight seeing and shopping, and being the “mule” who hauls home the groceries. We put as much as we can in the basket on the front, and tie one of our big canvas bags loaded full, on the seat. Amazing what I can carry now with ease, when I had trouble just making the walk in the past. You need what ever it takes to maintain physical movement, because like most people in the golden years, it’s a  couch potato life.
4.    To make sure you enjoy the couch potato part of it, I highly recommend a TV and some sort of a dish. Try to limit how much time you spend, never give up a social hour, or a chance to explore, or doing necessary or creative things to watch the tube, but it does compensate for the movies we never get to the theaters to see, and the news and weather, and all the other great programming that is out there. This, with computers for e-mail, Face book, and Internet, cell phones, sattelite adio  and Single Side Band Radio, (less important than it used to be)you will keep in touch with the modern world. You’re going to know more than you need to know, maybe even more than you want to know, but I still suggest, if you don’t already have these things, get them.
5.    Make sure your lighting is improved, not just more energy efficient, but more light. Did I tell you your vision will go downhill along with everything else? We just compensated by putting a long florescent tube above the area where our favorite chairs sit in the main salon. We can now read with ease any time of the day or night. Speaking of chairs
6.    Get yourself some Lazy Boys, or any kind of chairs that allow you to rock, recline and put your legs up. This last feature gets more important if you find your legs swelling, which is so often another gift of the golden years. You do what you can to compensate, remember?
7.    Protect yourself from too much sun. Put ultra violet blocking film on your interior windows where you spend your daylight hours. Ditto blinds; they will save you and the furnishings. Put sunshades you can lower to screen your outside living area, and a bimini top, permanent or retractable if you have open outside seating, upper or lower.
8.    Upgrade your navigational equipment, or if you don’t have some of the newer gizmos, get them. We don’t have one of these magic viewers that let you see at night, but then traveling at night breaks my cardinal rule, “never, never sail at night, always keep the land in sight.” I break the rules a few times of the year, but never plan night time entrances unless to a wide open harbor with no hazards, like Great Sale Cay in the Bahamas, where the radar will show me what I need to know-other boats. I used to use nav programs, but since using C-Maps with their own built in program, and now my touch screen Garmin, which is simplicity itself, I find my old Max Sea incredibly difficult. Get new equipment, you know how rapid the improvements come down the line, keep up with the times. On my wish list is one of the new generation radars that show targets that are up close, (the ones you are more likely to hit) and possibly replace the ten year old auto pilot. Unless you stay very close to home, like never leave the ICW, get an AIS.
9.    Unless your mattress is totally comfortable, get a new one, of either memory foam or one that incorporates a layer of memory foam into the top. If you have stools you sit on, make sure they have a back. Get rid of throw rugs that have any potential of being trippers, and if you have a hatch in the floor to access you engine room, be certain it is blocked off when open. Open hatches are as dangerous as missing man hole covers. A fall in the golden years is to be avoided like the plague.
10.                 Check over your appliances. If you don’t have a washer and dryer, find a place and put them in. Also a water maker unless you spend a lot of time in marinas. Actually spending time in marinas is another compensation to help carry on cruising into the golden years, but one we haven’t turned to at almost 80. One day we will.
11.                 If you are really having problems doing everything but really want to continue the cruising life, make a guest cabin into crew’s quarters and hire crew, maybe just for longer passages, maybe to deliver the boat, and maybe just to make life easier. I will never forget the Hatteras we saw in  Ft. Pierce, with a walker and a wheel chair sitting on the dock next to it. Good on them, I said. What ever you have to do to carry on, if it is your desire, do it.

I am sure there are more things, there are always more things, but this is a s far  as I can go now. I will carry on in my next blog, about what to look for if you are buying, and where to cruise, and dealing with medical issues.

Keep enjoying, keep looking up, as the star gazer likes to say.