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.