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SanderO 09-13-2019 09:46 PM

Sailing as a senior
Most people likely start sailing and boat owning when they are perhaps in their 30s to maybe 50 or so? A poll would be interesting. I began at the age of 37 and closed on Shiva which I still owe... a new Contest36s. We've grown old together. I have to work more and more and harder and harder to keep her in shape... because stuff gets old and needs attention or replacement... and often items are no longer supported... such as the MD17D engine. So even if I have a pump that fails.... it may no longer be available. Just finding a solution/work around is a project! All boat owners who own older boats know this. New boats, new cars, they don't have THIS sort of problem.

Which brings me to the skipper / owners... They/we get old too. And not all our parts can be replaced and when they are work like what we were born with. Normal to aging are things like arthritis which caused problems with your joints... stiffness, limited range of motion... pain... lost flexibility and control. Balance is often slowly being effected as you age as you need good control of your leg muscles and feedback from the legs in your nerves to keep your balance without thinking about it. Older you get... the less steady you are on your feet. All you can do is be more conscious of your deficit and try to compensate.

Knee problems? You won't likely be jumping off your deck onto a dock. Single handing docking becomes more and more difficult when simply jumping from the dock is not possible. You will need to use more hand holds even when years before you didn't need them.

You can use helpers.... roller furled sails... electric windlass for anchoring.... an AP to steer.... and electric winches or a drill with a winch bit to hoist sails, OBs, dinks or anything heavy.

What are you doing as your body's old taken for granted abilities are disappearing? When is too much and time to turn in your deck shoes? How viable is it to sail with crew? Helpers to do boat maintenance.... Or do you pay mechanics? Do you sail less and evolve into a fair weather sailor avoiding the more challenges days out there?

Have you even a plan/exit strategy for ending your sailing and boat ownership?

Share your thoughts about sailing and owning a boat as a senior.

roverhi 09-14-2019 01:06 AM

Re: Sailing as a senior
I'm 75. Fortunately in good health with mostly just the aches and pains of aging. Balance isn't what it used to be but just move slower and make good use of the kneepads to lower the center of gravity. Have bought my downsized replacement boat, a Sabre 28. Way easier to maneuver though not much less to maintain. It's easier to take the Sabre out of its twin finger pier slip than the Med Moor of the Pearson in Hawaii so actually sail the Sabre a lot more. It's not a lot easier to actually sail from the cockpit but find getting around on the deck more of a challenge because of narrow walkways, curved cabin top, and quicker motion. Have set the boat up so that I can do most everything from the cockpit except set the spinnaker which has only been out of its turtle once in the little over a year I've owned the boat. Actual labor between the 28 and 35 isn't that much different until it comes to anchoring and changing sails. Actually for anchoring, the 35 is way easier because of an electric windlass. If I do more anchoring in the future will have to explore adding a windlass to the Sabre.

Still have my Pearson 35 that I've owned for nearly 20 years. Have to finish rebuilding the chart table/ice box before I can try and sell it. Not making much progress on it because we are spending half our time in our 40 year long time home in Kona, HI and a Condo in Carlsbad, CA. Haven't been pressed to sell it especially since the old boat market is so depressed. Have thought about donating it or finding an enthusiastic young person to make a deal on the boat.

dadio917 09-14-2019 01:15 AM

Re: Sailing as a senior
66 and wife is 64. just did Hawaii and back. no problem.

but that's nothing....we heard this woman call into the pacific sea farers net every day.

capecodda 09-14-2019 08:30 AM

Re: Sailing as a senior
My neighbor, now passed, single handed his 42' catch into his early 90's. He would go get the boat himself in the spring from a boat yard over in Buzzards Bay and bring the boat over to Vineyard Sound himself. I offered to go with him as he got older, but he always turned the help down, not for company, but somehow it was important to him to do it. An incredibly capable sailor.

He had in mast hood furl, and roller furling main, but the mizzen was conventional pull it up by halyard.

My other neighbor in his 80's still sails with his grand kids. He recently replaced his 130 with a 100 or so, we get a lot of wind around here in the afternoon, he's more comfortable going a bit slower with a bit less heal. His view is rig your boat for geriatric sailing and keep going as long as you can. He also has a hood furl main.

Ted Hood once said, most of what happens on a sailboat is more about planning and knowing rather than raw strength.

That said, a health problem is a health problem, and some day it gets all of us. That age is different for all of us.

My personal plan is to continue to be active with exercise and healthy living for as long as I can. Some day I know I'll have to stop. Not yet.

JimsCAL 09-14-2019 08:55 AM

Re: Sailing as a senior
I started sailing when in my 20s. Now 73. I have been lucky physically so far, with only a few aches and pains and still good balance. I also began skiing in my 20s and continue to do that at a pretty high level. I ski over 60 days every winter and actually ski terrain I would avoid in my 40s. I think that keeping active with these two sports I love has had a lot to do with pushing back the effects of getting older.

SanderO 09-14-2019 09:45 AM

Re: Sailing as a senior
Another aspect of aging is loss of cognitive function. This is very slow, hard to miss and it is insidious. Everyone expects to become forgetful as they age. But what other cognitive (if any) degrade? Response time? There is also a difference between short and long term memory. How would short term memory impact on owning, maintaining and sailing a boat? Does this mean you can't find things you stowed? Does it mean that you forget little protocols?

My sense is that we accept and expect that we will lose our old physical capabilities less than the loss of cognitive function which may even be hard to see in ourselves. Here is what MAY??? be an example of this.

You have a garage with an remote controlled door operation. When you drive up to the garage you obviously realize the door has to be opened. So you press the remote and the door opens. You drive in. And then get out of the car. You KNOW that you brought of even bought some things to take into your home. It's second nature and obvious to take keys, phone etc. You KNOW this. Yet... you might grab the phone off the seat get out and realize you forgot the keys? Were you pre occupied thinking about something? But why would such a routine not go an "automatic" Why does it require more purposeful attention. Same for closing the garage door. You know it's to be closed but might walk away go into the apartment of house etc.... forgetting to press the remote and leave the garage open. You never look back because the system is reliable and makes some noise to tell you its closing which is processed typically almost subconsciously. Mind do management in the background.

This is not unlike balance. As we lose it in the background we are forced to be mindful of keeping our balance. The adaptive behavior is to get some "support" or sense of balance by holding on to things... making other muscles do the work of stability.

My sister has dementia. I had witnessed her cognitive decline over about 5 years. It is interesting because she was a brilliant, educated well read person. She might do something like this. I pick her up at assisted living to take her for a doctor exam. She brings her little shoulder bag... habit when going outside. I assume she has her ID's, wallet, keys and so on and say nothing. We get to the doctor's office and of course they request ID and perhaps a co pay. She opens her bag and it's not there... but she had put in an old "wallet" with nothing in it.


We return to her assisted living apartment and she takes off little should bag and places it over the back of a chair... something women often do in a restaurant. I think nothing of it. The chair was right there so why not. A few minutes later she is walking around the tiny apartment looking for something. What are you looking for? My bag she says... I put it somewhere. So look what happened. In her mind she knows normal people put things like hand bags somewhere. She couldn't find it because her mind was not only not reminding her where would TYPICALLY puts it... but it failed to see the bag which was in plain sight... or remember that a minute before SHE had put it THERE.

How often to I get up from my desk wanting a drink or a coffee... only to arrive at the kitchen and forget why I went there. My mind will semi panic and find some kitchen task to do... could be eating or drinking or washing dishes or taking something frozen out of the freezer to defrost for dinner. It's not hard to find some kitchen appropriate thing to do once there... but it may not be why we went there in the first place. Our mind will find some reason!

I am forever increasingly lately trying to remember where some things are stowed. Everything has a place... but it's place is changed by me from time to time probably thinking the new place is better for n number of reasons than its old place. It may be true but we may still look in the old place! And then not finding it there.... try to figure out why and then where we moved it. hahahahahaha (if we can)


For sure sailing involves lots of awareness of the environment. I would imagine that a fair amount of the information about the environment is being processed in our brains/minds subconsciously. It may only come into our consciousness when it exceeds some parameter. So may fail to notice wind changes without some other cues (tell tales, flagging sail, wave pattern etc.) Does old age impact our sub conscious minds ability to "perform on auto pilot"? I think so.

And I think people develop work arounds such as not having to remember where your keys are but having a key hook by the door. Routines don't require the same level of consciousness? But this can be dangerous too. It can lead to letting down our guard and not paying full attention.

I think that the insidious nature of the loss of cognitive function makes it hard to see in oneself, hard to accept, and could lead to "problems" operating a boat. So single handing makes less sense... not because the sailor can't single hand... but having another person there changes the mental and physical environment... so 1+1 is actually greater than 2 in a sense.

Minnewaska 09-14-2019 10:13 AM

Re: Sailing as a senior
I just had some restorative knee surgery, not a full replacement, but a tear and arthritis. It has me pretty focused on what's next. Thankfully, this round has all indications it will be successful.

It's always been intuitive that I'd get weaker as I age, that comes as no surprise. What eats at me is that ten years ago, I had no way of really knowing what that would mean today, so probably have no idea what ten more years will bring.

My doc tells me that my metabolic health is excellent. Perfect blood pressure, cholesterol, and on and on. It's my musculoskeletal system that is creeping up to it's use-by date.

Mentally, I'm 100% prepared to take it on and do what I must to keep sailing. Love the geriatric setup comment above, but so be it. I'll electrify or modify whatever necessary. Even today, while I get aches and pains that keep me from wanting to do anything else, the prospect of a cruise eliminates all interference. Let's go.

On a routine basis, I'm much more careful with how I stand, pull, lift, climb, etc. In the moment of crisis, however, I see little difference. It's probably adrenaline. This summer, we had our furling main bolt rope fully pull out of the track, while underway, in 15kts of breeze and offshore seas of a few feet. I immediately sprung out on the deck to deal with it, pulled it down and lashed it to the rails, with no reservation, nor sense of pain. Later, I was pretty sore.

I think the only way I can deal with the inevitable onset is to take measures to prevent as much of it as possible. The boat is a natural environment for exercising your balance and staying active. Not much more. I think strength training, especially core muscles and those around major joints, is critical. Aerobic secondary to strength.

We also need to better protect ourselves against injury. I wear knee pads anytime I need to kneel down. I wear hearing protection, eye protections, etc, etc, with significant diligence above what I did as a younger man. Funny, I even do a much better job of flossing my teeth today. Prevention is key.

Minnewaska 09-14-2019 10:23 AM

Re: Sailing as a senior
There are some physiological things one can do to prevent or slow down cognitive decline. I think the most relevant is oxygen availability. Sleep apnea is probably far more prevalent than we believe. Even snoring reduces oxygen saturation over night. Try to deal with it, whether by losing weight, get a CPAP or whatever. They also say one reason aerobic exercise is useful is that it increases oxygen saturation, which is good for your brain.

The other thing that I've recently read is potentially useful in staving off cognitive delcine is being a lifetime learner. They think that continually learning new things expands some neural capacity. You may lose some, but make new. Not sure this has been proven yet, but I've read some very interesting articles on the idea. Intuitively, I find many "old folks" are stuck in a rut. They just repeat everything they already know and do all the same things. They don't often take on new hobbies, learn new things, engage in serious intellectual curiosity. I think this atrophies the brain.

SanderO 09-14-2019 10:51 AM

Re: Sailing as a senior
great thinking/ideas in these last two posts.

How about "forgetting fatigue'? As you age you will fatigue more and perhaps sooner than when you were younger. You lift something that before never strained your muscles and even if you accomplish the task you feel it the next morning you feel it. You forget about your decreased capacity and become reminded after the fact!

We tend to be sedentary because of your work or life style... and as far as sailing and goes... it is not sedentary... So we forget and move lift, pull, stretch bend as we did when we were younger and more fit and feel it the next day!

Some things we learn... like not to lift the heavy things we did when we were younger. Lift the OB? Best to get help! Your machine aging fasting than what you think it is????? Or you know it and you simply forget?

Minnewaska 09-14-2019 11:56 AM

Re: Sailing as a senior
There was a time I had myself convinced I could mange my knee, by being disciplined enough not to do the things that hurt it. I’d make a mistake and then remind myself to focus. Took a while to realize it had nothing to do with my actions. A movement would set me back that hadn’t been a problem before. It was broken and needed to be fixed. That’s part of the deal too. I know many who’ve refused obvious needs for care. The excuse not to typically seems to be either fear or financial, both of which I understand. Not that you run to the operating room, as a first reaction. However, if you wait too long, the repair becomes more severe and the recovery less assured.

Next addition should be what stress does to ones overall health and vitality. Spoiler alert, it’s probably the worst functional disease.

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