Aging while Sailing
Sailing is a lifelong pursuit. If we are lucky enough to have the time, money, and skills to join sailing expeditions as we age, we find ourselves sharing the experience with younger, more active sailors. Our learning curves are often very different, and while this is not always a factor of aging, there are many things to consider when sailing as a 57 year old that were not so important under 30.
You may be the oldest on the boat, but you are not the skipper, you are not in charge, you are responsible for yourself first, then your crewmates. And often you are in roles where you work side-by-side with someone much younger who is never in doubt, and often wrong. You may listen well, and have a clear recollection of what the skipper said, only to be told you are mistaken, and until you can confirm with the skipper, you must manage to work with tolerance. For example you know the plan is to anchor in the bay, have the skipper and mate take the dinghy ashore to clear Customs, and be told with authority that we are headed for the dock.
You may be aware that each time you climb in and out of the hatch and up or down the stairway, you are accumulating fatigue. The heat affects you more severely than your younger mates. Your ankles swell (partly from high blood pressure medicine), your hands swell, and you cannot move around the deck like a dancer, or a mountain goat. You, in specific, have a spare tire or two on your waist, and while you have sworn to trim down, it is not easy, and this slows you also. You are sharp in your observation skills, but your eyes are not what they used to be. Sure, you have multi-focal contacts, and spare glasses, good sunglasses, and always wear a hat…you haven’t been set back by sunburn, you’ve learned that by now, and you are not always last to spot the distant boat in the glimmering sea, but your eye doctor says you may soon be a candidate for cataract surgery. Reading charts and electronic screens is often a challenge. Sometimes the pain in your back is so bad you want to grind a winch to get out the kinks, or just go for a swim, and yes, the best move is sometimes to lie down on a hard surface, with a little head support, and do some Alexander technique on your spine. While when you are home, you are fond of naming your problems as high-class problems, in reality aboard a yacht, some of them work on you in ways that are real, and you must face them daily, just as you faced working a tough job when your body ached when you were younger.
Nowadays it’s easier to wake up early…but also the afternoon nap can be crucial to staying balanced during the stressful moments. Keep in mind, you are on a sailing boat at sea, observing pelicans, magnificent frigate birds, cliffside islands, waves crashing, sailing at high speeds of ten knots, and wearing a PFD anytime you are under sail, and tethered to a jackline when on deck at night or alone. This is high adventure. The salt breeze is in your hair, and you feel the wind wrap around you as it flows through the hair on your arms and legs. There is something primal about living this close to the edge.