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.