We’ve heard a lot about various groups of mariners not quite fitting into the mold of expectation. ‘Women at the Helm’ is now an interesting monthly column. There are those who sail in ever smaller craft. Rowing across the Atlantic to beat records is becoming popular and high latitude challenges in racing machines are nearly always in the news. Younger and younger sailors single-handing around the world, often at the behest of parents, were regularly reported by the media until recognition was discouraged and the safety aspect highlighted. But what of the aging wannabees with their dreams of the cruising lifestyle – the septuagenarians, the octogenarians, perhaps even nonagenarians – we hear little about them.
‘Old sailors never die, they just smell that way’, or ‘Old sailors never die they just get a little ding(h)y’. Yep! We know you’re out there. John Smith, septuagenarian, of the Mermaid of Carriacou is still at sea living aboard his old wooden Caribbean gaffer. He’s not doing much sailing but he’s not giving up the lifestyle. Cap’n Fatty is not seventy yet but likewise he’s not giving up the wifestyle – oops, lifestyle. Small boat cruising sailors Lin and Larry Pardey have swallowed the anchor but enjoyed nearly 50 years of cruising their beautifully crafted small boats. There can be little doubt that when the sea gets into your blood it’s hard to get it out – and it’s got nothing to do with rum … well, there may be a few exceptions.
Long distance voyaging really captured the attention of the world with the Golden Globe round the world non-stop race in 1968. The event was the ultimate adventure of the day and it was exceptional in that the competitors covered a range of experience from almost none to just a bit more and nearly all the boats were small. The event required skills of seamanship and navigation very different then to now. Modern yachtsmen have electric winches, autopilots, GPS with multiple features – it’ll almost make your afternoon tea. I think it behooves all wannabee yachtsmen to read or watch one of the movies of that iconic race. Interestingly there will a 50-year anniversary race this summer with many of the conditions of the 1968 event, a requirement.
There are only four of the original contestants still alive: the winner, Robin Knox Johnston, Chay Blyth; John Ridgeway and Alex Carozzo. All are pretty long in the tooth but they all still have the sea in their blood. In 2003/4 John Ridgway (formerly an Atlantic rower with Chay Blyth) completed another circumnavigation – to investigate the plight of the albatross. Well, if you need an excuse to cruise …
The wonderful thing is that more and more retirees are finding peace and adventure in cruising. Charlie has introduced thousands of folk to the lifestyle. One of his all-time stars of cruising is 70 year-old Shirlz who single-handedly cruises the world in her 25ft junk-rigged yellow Vertue, Speedwell of Hong Kong. She has just transited the Panama Canal and is on passage to the Gambier Islands. Check out her fascinating blog: http://speedwelladventures.com/blog/
Julian Putley is the author of The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI; Sunfun Calypso, and Sunfun Gospel.