Never Too Old

Several months ago, I read an inspiring story about a couple who had recently sailed their homemade thirty foot sailing vessel across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean. Crossing the ocean in a small boat isn’t all that uncommon; what makes this particular story especially interesting is that the couple consisted of a 92 year old woman and her 68 year old son. Their voyage was inspired by a cruising dream the woman and her late husband nurtured more than forty years prior. The husband was in the process of building the boat that he and his wife planned to sail around the world but he died before the vessel was completed. Since the dream was as much the woman’s as it was her partner’s, she commissioned a boat building company to complete the project however the company went bankrupt before the boat was completed. Undeterred by this stroke of misfortune, the woman bought back the boat from bankruptcy trustees despite having paid in advance for refurbishing that was not completed. Several years later her son decided to finish the vessel and in doing so enabled his mother to live at least a portion of her dream.

I’m intrigued by stories like this one and like to reference them on those occasions when I hear someone lament ‘I’m too old to learn to sail…live on a boat…go cruising…’. When the spirit, heart and mind are willing, age knows no boundaries. It’s only when we succumb to limitations that are usually the creation of those around us that we succeed in convincing ourselves we are too old to pursue our dreams.

If you’re thinking, ‘I can’t move around as quickly as I used too’, I don’t have the strength required to operate a sail boat’, ‘my arthritis is too immobilizing’, or, ‘my knees can’t take the steep descent into the cabin of a boat…’ then move slowly – what’s your rush? Getting older doesn’t mean you stop moving; it simply means you move slower. If strength is a concern, consider electric winches and in-roller furling or, buy a trawler. Remember also the adage: ‘use it or lose it’. No one is ever too old to get fit; weight training and a regular exercise program will benefit your land life as much as your life afloat and alleviate many of your concerns about strength and endurance.

Today, once-debilitating arthritis can usually be controlled by medication and climate so pick your destinations carefully - head south. The Caribbean is a natural tonic for those afflicted with arthritis. As for your knees, don’t buy a boat that requires you to descend a steep ladder into the cabin or re-configure what you have. Alternately, consider knee surgery – it’s been perfected in recent years as have hip replacement procedures so ignore complaints from those who had either surgery a few or more years ago. And yes, you might have a year-long recovery period after which you’ll kick yourself for having waited so long to live pain-free and thinking you could never go cruising. If the heart and mind are willing, the body will comply. Yes, it really is as easy as all this or as difficult - depending on how you look at things.

It’s easy to succumb to age related barriers in our North American society; just consider for a moment how we segregate the old from the young and in doing so suggest to the elderly that their opportunities to realize their dreams have long since passed. Yet, hardly a day passes when we don’t read or hear about someone in their later years who has learned to read and write (at age 98), returned to school and acquired a university degree (at age 84), written a best seller (at age 87), paddled a canoe across Lake Superior (at age 72), climbed Mt. Everest (at age 78), and so forth. Realizing your cruising dream very much depends on how badly you want your dream to become a reality.

One of our cruising friends, André, personifies agelessness better than anyone we know. Recently turned 92, André lives on his forty foot ketch six months of every year in the Caribbean, and in the summer months returns to a home in the south of France. André is as radiant and self-sufficient as men half his age. By his own admission he moves slower than he used to and his reflexes aren’t as quick as they used to be. “So…” he says “I don’t put myself in situations where I might have to act quickly”. André did not learn to sail until he was 74 years of age. He explained: “Before that I was too busy…I had a power boat because it was fast and I was a busy man…I had to get places fast, something a sailboat cannot do…but when I retired [at 74] I had more time so I decided to get a sail boat…”.

We have met many men and women who like André are not letting old age prevent them from living their cruising dream. They live their lives a day at a time, and don’t rush from one port to the next, choosing instead to linger longer in many places and savor the moment. Consequently, they derive more pleasure from their discoveries than younger cruisers who are more inclined to hurry along from one port to the next. With age comes the belief that every day is a gift, and the journey becomes more important than the destination.

If you’ve had moments when you’ve wondered whether or not you’re too old to realize your cruising dream perhaps it’s time to rethink your decision. After all, every day that you don’t pursue your dream is one less day to live your dream – regardless of what that dream may be. Here are ten tips to inspire you that inspired the cruisers who shared them with me:

  1. Surround yourself with people who share your dream and believe in your potential to make your dream come true; dreaming is contagious!;
  2. Stay clear of people who constantly tell you that you are too old for anything! These naysayers use old age as an excuse to retreat from life and the living;
  3. Hone your sailing skills: join a club, and/or take a refresher course;
  4. Buy a GPS and discover how easy navigation has become;
  5. If your current vessel is more than 20 years old and in need of refitting, consider trading it in on a newer model that will require less maintenance;
  6. If your current sailing vessel is taxing your physical capabilities consider trading it for a trawler or other motor vessel that is much easier to handle;
  7. Arrange a bare-boat charter on a sailboat or a trawler to re-assess your skills and capabilities. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover just how capable you are;
  8. Focus on what you can do and not what you cannot;
  9. If you do not own a boat and don’t think you can afford one due to financial constraints, consider a partnership with another couple who share your dream and might be interested in cruising half time,
  10. Just do it!

If you want something badly enough, all the forces of the universe will conspire on your behalf. So…what are you waiting for? Go for it!