View Full Version : What good is an old Sailor?

11-15-2005, 07:29 PM
Having just made 50 (Just Barely), I've been reminded of an essay by E.B. White (yes, That E.B. White) on his thoughts on when to swallow the anchor. You folks are creative, what possible uses are their for an "off the water" sailor?


"When does a man quit the sea? How dizzy, how bumbling must he be? Does he quit while he's ahead, or wait 'till he makes some major mistake, like falling overboard or being flattened by an accidental jibe? This past Winter I spent hours arguing the question with myself. Finally, deciding that I had come to the end of the road, I wrote a note to the boatyard to put my boat up for sale. I said that I was 'coming off the water.' But as I typed the sentence, I doubted that I meant a word of it.

"If no buyer turns up, I know what will happen: I will instruct the yard to put her in again-- 'just 'till somebody comes along'"

-- E. B. White from The Sea and the Wind that Blows

11-15-2005, 08:03 PM
At age fifty????? what are you kids worried about. I venture that there are more than a few here well past the age of applying for social security that could work you to collapse and then carry you home on their back. :D

Wild Wassa
11-15-2005, 08:21 PM
Wind Hawk, What will you do instead of being tricky on the water Skipper ... sit in a rocking chair?

'Skipper' sounds good, 'Landlubber' or formally a Skipper, does not sound good Skipper.

The guys who I sail with and against, are all older than the average age of an Australian competition sailor, which is 45 years of age, if one believes a paper on the 'Demographics of Australian Sailing', published by the Australian Sports Commission (but no longer on the web).

I was talking to one of the Skippers last Sunday and I said to him, that I liked the thought of competing well into old age. I was thinking about 75-80 (looking at other club racing sailors) years of age, I told him, which is yonks from now for me hopefully.

He said, why retire so early at 75? and that he was older than me and he had just retired from being a Rugby Union referee, to put more effort into his sailing.

At 50 you should be just honing your tactics? and finally learning the new ISAF rules ... and making those impulsive whipper-snappers pay dearly.

Kick boat Skipper Wind Hawk ... don't go rocking yourself to sleep.


11-15-2005, 08:29 PM
Oh, I'm not quiting, not yet by a long shot. I was just trying to think of what I might be good for if/when I do head home.

Jump rope splicer for the school system comes to mind... ;)

John B
11-15-2005, 08:33 PM
Sadly, a friend of mine has come to this point just recently. He's either 78 or 9 as far as I can tell.
When the boat was on the hard this year, his boat was across the way. I heard someone calling my name and looked across. There he was, up the rig above the first spreaders. He wanted me to come across and help his mate get him to the top so he could varnish down.
Anyway, I went racing for 5 days and came back ( a few weeks ago) and there's a for sale sign on the boat. About 3 different guys came over to tell me he'd 'had a turn' and was selling.
He came over later that afternoon and explained that he wasn't worried for himself ( although he had responsibilities to his wife of course) but because all his old crew had dropped away , he only takes novices out sailing now . And thats what worries him,flaking out when he has someone who can't sail as company( for their safety).

11-15-2005, 09:37 PM
Maybe it's not really relevant......but....

My grandfather was a Choctaw indian; he hunted most every year of his life. He had to retire from work when he was 73 'cause of a heart attack. I went to see him and he was sittin' in a rocker waitin' for hunting season to start.

Well, season came and went but none of his five sons would come take him out to hunt; I 'speck 'cause they didnt' want to feel responsible for his death.

I saw him the next summer vacation, still sittin' in that rocker; the twinkle was gone.

I took my vacation and drove the 110 miles the second week of season to take him hunting. We went five or six times and I caught unmitigated hell from the family every time !

One morning I heard him shoot and I went over and he was sitting under a big ol' oak tree, next to a small buck, with my hankerchief balled up in his right hand, dead.

Old sailors shouldn't have to die in a rockin' chair.

11-15-2005, 10:12 PM
That's the way to go.

I have watched a lot of men grow old and die. And I have watch a lot of men that never grew old and died doing exactly what made them who they were, and given the choice I will die doing what I please, when and where I please and if anyone would find fault with that I won't have to listen to their droning voices.

[ 11-15-2005, 10:13 PM: Message edited by: ssor ]

Ken Buck
11-15-2005, 10:47 PM
If I recall, E.B. lasted quite a while, and even after he stopped sailing on his own, still used to go out with his son Joel. So I don't think he had much time left over to worry about swallowing anchors.

Still, there's probably an argument for keeping track of your limits, whether you're young or old, experienced or not. There might come a time when you can no longer safely sail on your own, but can still do other things that bring you a lot of pleasure. As much as we may resist the idea, there are a lot of land-based hobbies that are almost as fun as boats.

On the other hand, I remember hearing an interview with a 100-year old woman who still got up early almost every morning to row her boat around the lake outside her front door. She didn't go anywhere fast but she was doing what she liked.

Rick Tyler
11-16-2005, 01:14 AM
My father doesn't own a boat right now, but he does live on four acres along a trout stream in rural Oregon. He heats his house with wood that he cuts, splits and stacks himself. Three years ago he dug a 100-foot trench three feet deep to run power out to his new shop. He grows most of his own vegetables, raises salmon hatchlings for the Oregon fish and game department, fixes his '73 F-350 (although he recently bought a 4x4 Ranger as his daily driver), and just built a new covered porch off his kitchen. Three years ago he bought his first PC and figured out how to make it work on the Internet -- refusing any help from anyone. There's no doubt he's in better shape than I am, and he had his 70th birthday two weeks ago.

Happy birthday, dad.

[ 11-16-2005, 01:15 AM: Message edited by: Rick Tyler ]

martin schulz
11-16-2005, 05:13 AM
Originally posted by Ironmule:
The other evening, I was challenging the crew on my assembly line to work harder, to try to throw more work at the "Old Man" than I could handle. :D They couldn't do it" :D

Jeff SmithSorry Jeff, but this sounds like the best example of a guy who is desperately trying to prove that he is still "the man".
Like a guy who is drunk and balances a beer on his head trying to prove that he is sober.

I admire the expertience of life in older men not the ability to challenge younger men. There will always be someone, who is stronger, fitter and faster, so those abilities will get a recognition but no admiration from me.

[ 11-16-2005, 05:32 AM: Message edited by: martin schulz ]

Andrew Craig-Bennett
11-16-2005, 05:26 AM
My favourite photo of my father shows him singlehanding his little gaff cutter; yard topsail set, ensign flying from the peak of the gaff, at the age of 83. Sailed until he was 85, when I persuaded him to sell the boat; he died the next year.

I don't intend to stop, but I can see amongst my friends many who will stop. They are already happier pottering in their workshops than out on the boat. If I follow my father's example, I have 30 years of sailing ahead of me, i.e. I am just halfway through my sailing career.

If I stopped sailing, I don't know what I would do. Drive my wife to distraction, for sure, but what else?

11-16-2005, 07:33 AM
My father retired from sailing at 86...Couldn't figure out why he needed a sailboat when he had two sons who had them...He could just go visit...No bills..
The again...couldn'[t stay away...
He jist went to power! A Dyer 29..and then went to something else.and when he died, at 90, had already put down a deposit on a Nordic Tug.

Henning 4148
11-16-2005, 01:11 PM
One gentleman in our then club was getting on a bit (in his 80's), so he took a few young ones along when he went sailing, to do the heavy and fast work.

It worked. Ok, when he was younger he probably ran his boat somewhat better (at least some people in the club said so), but what the heck.

Mind you, the young ones he took along for the heavy work were in their late sixties to mid seventies.

No reason to stop early.

11-16-2005, 02:18 PM
When my father was up there...I mean really up there...with a huge engine under him...he did cause some raised eyebrows.
Talked with the lady who signed him up for a Nordic tug ( at 87 ). Actually it was a funny conversation in a way...
She told me that she would hear him come into the boatyard...full steam and she would be afraid that he would hit everything that stood in his way...
She said it was amazing...He would power up...manuvre, swing around and put that boat right in the slip...without hitting anything at all...no piling...no other boat...nothing!!!!...Old but assured.
She was amazed and said that she still mentioned his abilities...even at that age to potential customers

11-16-2005, 03:13 PM
I had an older friend on the lake that I used to sail with. Any day he would call us up to go out I would change my plans to go sailing with him, even if it meant I missed the day on my own boat.

He needed the crew to run the boat, and going sailing with someone who had as much wisdom as he had made it worth while.

He died not long ago, but still tried to sail right up to the end.

David W Pratt
11-16-2005, 04:09 PM
A Shields sailor at the club used to go out with his supplemental oxygen, wearing his Depends.
An inspiration to us all.

11-16-2005, 07:04 PM
To get back to the original question, and try to refrain from adding to the "old gaffer" anecdotes:

Volunteer to teach kids how to tie knots. Your local Sea Cadet Corps or yacht club junior sailing program would be worthy recipients of your expertise.

Teach a course in coastal navigation through your local adult education organization.

If you can build a sailing dinghy, show others how in an evening course at your local high school woodworking shop.

Volunteer to sit on the board of directors of your local youth sailing program.

In short, don't let all that sailing knowledge and experience go to the grave with you - give it away!

Rick Tyler
11-16-2005, 07:09 PM
Originally posted by mmd:
Volunteer to teach kids how to tie knots.In the states you can call your local Boy Scout headquarters for some local Sea Scout Ships. The Sea Scout program is still alive and well, and is now co-ed. They would be glad for the help from an old seadog (as long as you can pass a background check).

11-19-2005, 09:45 PM
Worth noting; When I turned fifty I went to my family Doctor and asked for a complete physical. He wanted to know why, and I told him that I was fifty years old and was doing just great but that he should get a baseline on me so that someday when I came in with a complaint he would know what the machinery sounded like when it was running well. I have been going back every year since. And each time he tells me that if I don't go bad he will see me next year. There have been a few minor conditions that have been noted and treated with small medications. I don't have to look at the calander to see how old I might be. smile.gif

[ 11-19-2005, 10:17 PM: Message edited by: ssor ]

Old Sailor
11-20-2005, 08:03 AM
Last week some guy asked me how old I would be next month and I said "75"
"Gee, three quarters of a century", so I hit him.
Od Sailor

11-24-2005, 11:09 AM
Hey guys, I'll be 69 in Jan. and the thought of giving up sailing has never been seriously considered (except by SWIMBO.)

In Dec. I'll take delivery of my new WoodPussy) Cold molded Wood veneers/epoxiecomposite)from Colorado (www.AnglissBoats.com). I plan to sail the living he** out of it in 2006 while I bring my Able Poitin 24' (like a J-24 but beamier at 10") up another notch.
I'll also soon restore the 9' Dyer Dink I'll use as a tender in 2007. I'll re-launch the "Able" 1n 2007 and re-visit cruising. In 2006 I'll sail the WoodPussy in the waters of the Great South Bay and in Long Island Sound. I'll compete with it in a few regattas in NJ and Michigan where most of the world's remaining supply of these Phil Rhodes design Catboats (13' 6") are found. The WoodPussy class is undergoing a "re-vitalization" and the first of these commercially built in over 35 years will be sailing in 2006.
Me , give up sailing? --- you-gotta-be-kidding. Regards,

11-24-2005, 11:30 AM
Still driving them at 55


11-24-2005, 07:58 PM
I'm fifty years old and have a sixty year old Herreshoff 12 1/2.....when I cannot unstep and carry my mast home by myself I will retire...or get a lighter mast..never set limits for your love of sailing...it has already given you a better quality of life...how dare you not go down with the ship....i suppose one day you might know it's over...so then give your boat to someone younger on the agreement you get to be moveable ballast....

11-24-2005, 10:14 PM
From Bayboat via his son John: "I'm laid up temporarily so son John is doing the typing for me. I'm 79 this year, and as soon as I get back on my feet I'll be fitting out my 1930 Herreshoff 12 1/2 for next season. I did give a nod to being past middle age by giving my Hinckley Sou'wester (1947) to my two sons last year. But I will still sail & cruise her with them and will do so 'till...? When I'm not out with them the H12 1/2 will keep me young.
Old sailor? That's an oxymoron."

Dad teaches a boatbuilding class for Pier Wisconsin-Discovery World and was director of construction for most of the building of their 100' schooner, Denis Sullivan, 1994-2000.

[ 11-24-2005, 10:31 PM: Message edited by: Bayboat ]

11-25-2005, 08:59 AM
I was fortunate enough to accidently run across the Dennis Sullivan while she was being constructed in Millwaukee, and since it was in the off season (early April), we got a private hour-long tour with one of the workers. What a wonderfull sight to behold. Good job!

11-26-2005, 10:05 PM
FYI: See Call of the Ancient Mariner, Reese Palley (International Marine/McGraw-Hill). "A manifesto for all fellow ancient mariners."

Jake, Owen Sound, Ontario