Another Life Ruined


I had no boating experience or background in boating from my childhood. Boating seemed to be a hobby for the “rich” yacht club crowd. I am certainly not a member of that group.
About 15 years ago, I went to a retirement planning seminar. The instructor indicated that this was “retirement planning” and not purely “financial planning” even though finances were discussed at length. He gave an example of a hypothetical person in his mid 40s, with 2 kids, 2 cars, a house, a wife, a mortgage, and a dog. Basically, the American dream. He is working 40-50 hours a week, and going to Cub Scouts, Little League, and Soccer with the kids. Those activities occupy all of his time and he likely had no hobbies to speak of. He may be dreaming of his retirement and plans to build a wood shop or buy a motor home, etc. Before you know it, another 10 years has elapsed, the kids are grown, and he retires. He builds the woodshop or buys the motor home. And then he discovers, he really doesn’t enjoy it. At that juncture, he would have such an emotional and financial investment in his chosen hobby, that he would likely sit down in front of the TV and become a couch potato.
The instructor recommended trying various activities to determine what you want to do. You should do this before you retire while you have the time; and emotional and financial ability to recover from a selection which was the wrong choice for you.
This made a lot of sense to me. He had described my life. I had no hobbies, and I had no idea what I wanted to do in my future retirement. I puzzled over this for over a year. One day I was watching the Travel Channel on TV. There was a program about a couple that was cruising the Caribbean on a sailboat. They were doing so on a minimal budget. I was very interested in learning more.
They had a very small and basic sailboat approximately 27 feet in length and very modestly equipped.  They had no car, car payments, car insurance, house, homeowner’s insurance, home mortgage, maintenance, utilities, taxes, etc. etc, etc, that just eat up most budgets.  Being a sailboat, it used minimal fuel, and since they anchored out most times, they didn’t pay expensive marina fees. Their biggest budget item was food, which they supplemented by catching fish.  Poverty is the one thing I can afford.  We all need to determine our basic needs.  I can’t live as Spartan as they did.  But I can simplify.  I’m working on that.
I had never been aboard a sailboat. I was intimidated by the unknown. It appeared they had about a dozen various ropes which had some mysterious purpose. It looked like more art than science. The people I had known that sailed were the “Yacht Club” crowd. They were taught to sail by their parents at a young age. But I was interested enough to take a sailing lesson. My first lesson was in Lake Pontchartrain. It was just OK. The instructor was a bit too interested in how fast he could go.  I was a bit uncomfortable with the degree of heel.  I took a second lesson the following year. It was a week aboard a 40 foot boat and we traveled from Ft. Lauderdale to Key Largo and back. It was simply one of those glorious days that were absolutely perfect, beautiful, sunny, clear blue sky, cotton-like white clouds, crystal clear blue-green water in which you could see the fish and seaweed 30 feet below as you passed by. Pelicans were flying overhead; dolphins were racing in the bow wave. The boat moved comfortably along with a warm gentle wind.
We docked at Key Largo. There was a Tiki Bar within feet of the marina. After showering, we entered the bar. It was constructed of bare poles and a thatched roof. There were bikini tops, flags, burgees, boat paddles, etc. and graffiti on the ceiling. There were people speaking a variety of languages and playing games such as Cribbage or Dominoes. There was also a Karaoke machine. When people were not
singing, the juke box was playing Jimmy Buffett music. I must add that I never cared for Jimmy Buffett because he sounded too much like country and western which is not to my liking.
We spoke to several of the cruisers. Several were Americans heading south, bound for the Caribbean Islands. And several were foreigners and had entered US waters for their first time. They were a warm, friendly, intelligent, witty, and adventurous group. I had too much to drink that night, but it was the most relaxing, enjoyable night of my life to that point. As long as I did not hit water on the way back to the boat, I had not a care in the world.
The following morning, we sailed 10-20 miles offshore into the Gulf Stream and turned north. It was another glorious day in paradise. We engaged the auto helm. My fellow students and I simply laid out on deck and recovered from our excesses the night
I was hooked. I had found my life’s calling. I love sailing and Tiki Bars. And I discovered Jimmy Buffett music. Since then, I have attended several sailing schools and completed most of the curriculum of the American Sailing Association. I sailed on a trip to Grenada and the Grenadines organized by Latitudes and Attitudes Magazine. I joined the Seven Seas Cruising Association and have attended their seminars. I am also a member of the New Orleans Power Squadron.  I am taking all the boating courses I can fit into my schedule. The instructors are excellent and the people are friendly knowledgeable people that are generous with their time and knowledge. I enjoy hanging around with “boat people.”  As I said previously, I found the cruisers I have met to be a warm, friendly, intelligent, witty, and adventurous group.  They are the people I like to hang around with, and aspire to be.
In 2001, I purchased a 1990, Island Packet 32 sailboat, the S.V. Pure Pleasure. I put myself on a 5 year plan of further boating education and outfitting to go cruising immediately following my planned retirement date in 2006.
There is a saying, “If you want to make God laugh, make plans.”  That was true for me.  Pure Pleasure was declared a total loss due to damages from Hurricane Katrina.  I have also had what was then believed to be a heart attack, surgery on my lower back to repair three ruptured disks, and a second surgery on my neck to repair a ruptured disk, broken vertebrae, and remove a bone fragment from my spinal cord.  Fortunately what was believed to have been a heart attack turned out to be caused by the bone fragment in my spinal cord.  In addition to losing the boat in Katrina, one car was flooded, my home was damaged but not flooded, and I had to take in elderly relatives into my home because their home was flooded.
In spite of Hurricane Katrina, I am a very fortunate man; I did not have a heart attack.  My back and neck surgeries appear to be very successful. Insurance covered the loss of my boat promptly and fairly.  I retired from my job in October of 2006.  I have a modest pension income and a benefits package for the rest of my life.  I am currently taking college courses at Southeastern Louisiana State University.  I had the fortunate opportunity to get to know my sole surviving uncle much better.  He was a World War II Bomber Pilot and is a very interesting man. 
And lastly, I purchased a used Island Packet 35 which I renamed “Far Horizons” in December of 2007.  I am the third owner.  The first owner named her “Far Horizons” and successfully cruised her.  The second owner renamed her “Sand Dollar.”  He intended to go cruising but couldn’t due to health issues.  I chose to rename her to the name in which she was successfully cruised.  Hopefully, this will provide better luck.  Since the purchase I have completed an electronics and electrical refit.  The battery banks were rewired and batteries replaced; new electrical cabinets were built to accommodate expanded electrical panels, a wind generator was installed; solar panels were installed; a new DSC capable VHF radio was installed; a DSC capable SSB radio was installed and connected to a computer modem; new chart plotters, depth indicators, speed indicators, and wind instrumentation were installed at helm station and navigation station; and a new auto helm system was installed.  I also replaced my headsail roller furling unit and most of my running and standing rigging.  I installed a Lighthouse Anchor Windlass and upgraded and over-sized my ground tackle. The only big project on my “to do” list is to install a watermaker which I can do until after I depart.  The water here is unsuitable to run a watermaker. I’m still undecided about installing a genset.  Plus I need to do a haul out to repaint the boat bottom and install a ground plane for the SSB.  Then I need to subscribe to an internet service provider such as SailMail.  Other than that, I’m good to go.
I am planning to attend the St. Petersburg Boat Show later this year (2012).  I will be shopping for one additional bigger anchor.  I am also looking for some good ideas for rigging “lee cloths” and improved storage of all my stuff.
My cruising plans were initially delayed due to Hurricane Katrina and delayed again due to the current financial meltdown.  My latest planned departure date is November or December of 2013.  I was able to pay off the boat mortgage earlier this year.  That was a big barrier eliminated, as my pension alone was insufficient to fund our planned cruising adventure.  My original departure date in 2006 was based upon taking an annual distribution from my 401K plan and bridging myself to SS.  I thought I had enough to do that on interest alone and not touching the principle.  But with my diminished account balance, I don’t feel comfortable doing that.  The bright spot is my wife and are both just 13 months away from Social Security.  The SS combined with my pension should provide enough income.
I am currently living aboard most of the time even though we still maintain a terrestrial home.  I’d prefer not to maintain a house, but ya’ gotta’ make some compromises with the wife.  Anyway, life is good.  I’m going to get “out there” soon.  Please try not to drink all the rum.
S.V Far Horizons,
New Orleans, LA

Previous articleO’Day Rendezvous
Next articleMoving Up To The Big Time


  1. Glad to see you have not lost the dream. My fiancé and I have been cruising since 2008 we live in Alberta Canada and cruise the winter months usually from December to April then head back home to go back to work. We are both electricians and we work the long hours in the summer so we can enjoy the winters off. We no longer own anything on land other then our vehicles and we have given up a lot of Stuff. Once you have been out there you realize how little you need to live and we find the less we have the happier we are which comes down to being stress free. Keep your dream alive and hopefully we will see you out there.

    S/V Thar be Dragons

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.