January 20, 2013

Life doesn't end at 30

 THE OTHER DAY I read a blog written by a young woman in Georgia. She has a lovely home, two handsome kids, and a good-looking husband. But when you read her posts you get the feeling that  she seems (against all the odds) vaguely dissatisfied, vaguely unfulfilled.

Maybe she feels trapped. Maybe she feels she’s not getting all she should be getting out of life. She certainly seems unduly concerned with the fact that she will be turning 30 later this year. She has a large countdown clock on her website, and it’s ticking over seconds and minutes as you look at it.   

She has the word “Wanderlust” tattooed on her foot. And somewhere along the way, I believe, she has been entertaining thoughts of escaping from it all by sailing away on a yacht. But she is stuck in that tide in the affairs of mankind that sucks them swiftly away from the sea and boats, and strands them for the best part of two decades on the reefs of Marriage, Career, Home, and Bringing up Children.

This a dilemma faced by many adventurous souls, and the message is plain: you have two realistic choices. You either do it before you settle down and raise a family, or you do it afterward. It’s true that there are a few couples who go cruising with small kids, but for obvious reasons they are few and far between.

This young woman’s problem is that by the time she and her husband are free to fulfill her adventurous dreams of cruising and voyaging under sail, they will be 50-plus and faint-hearted.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Somewhere this young woman has gotten the idea that life, any decent kind of life, ends at 30.  I can tell her from my own experience that it doesn’t. One of the best days in my life came when I was 35 and a policeman called me “Sir” for the first time. I felt grown-up at last. The decade of my 40s was terrific. When I was 50 I packed my wife and youngest son on a 31-footer and sailed for six months from South Africa to America.

I know it’s hard for a 29-year-old to believe that a 50-year-old can feel as fit as he or she did at 21, and enjoy life every bit as much, if not more, but it’s absolutely true. And the extra years bring many compensations, not the least of which is a larger cruising kitty that enables you to lead a fuller life while you explore.

At any one time, hundreds of couples in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s are cruising around the world in small sailboats. A friend once met a yachtsman in the British Virgin Islands. He was in his early 80s, and he was battling to free a rusted shackle from his anchor chain.  You or I would have taken a hacksaw to the shackle and bought a new one for a couple of bucks. Not him. He was determined to get it working again.  “If this old bitch of a boat didn’t give me so much trouble I would have died long ago,” he said.

So I would counsel the Georgia woman to cultivate patience. The good life is not as short as you seem to think, ma’am.

Today’s Thought
If time were the wicked sheriff in a horse opera, I’d pay for riding lessons and take his gun away.
— W. H. Auden

Teacher: “How many times can 2 be subtracted from 6?”
Pupil: “I’ve done it 10 times and it always comes to 4.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Mike Taylor said...

The ‘Georgia woman’ need only look at all the over 50s competing in the Vendée Globe single handed.

Bertrand de Broc; Age : 52
Jean Le Cam; Age : 53
Mike Golding; Age : 52
Marc Guillemot; Age : 53
Dominique Wavre; Age : 57

Tillerman said...

60 is the new 20.

Anonymous said...

"It was the potency of what lay behind me that was my concern. Something might yet reach out and drag me back. I could not burn my boats fast enough. I was ready to face anything the future held for me; anything--rather than go back."

Frank A. Wightman, author of THE WIND IS FREE yr. 1955 Last chapter 'The dream and the reality'.

A very wonderful book I just finished reading early this morning. And then I read your Blog today!

Sara said...

As a 30-something mom myself who just sailed across the Pacific with my two (under-7) daughters and husband I say Option 3 is definitely realistic and the way to go. Why on earth would we wait until 50?

Sara Johnson
SV Wondertime
Currently Auckland, NZ

John Vigor said...

Hi Sara,
Good to hear from you and thanks for pointing out that there are many more families cruising with young kids than I had imagined. On your blog you list nearly 30 other sailboats that you know that are cruising with kids aboard.
And you're quite right: Why wait until 50? It's not for everybody, but if you personally can deal with the extra work and responsibility of looking after kidlets, I can't imagine anything that would knit a family closer.
I also can't imagine any better kind of bringing up for the children, giving them a wonderful background to the varied people and places on this earth that they will spend their adult days with.
Nice work, Sara. And fair winds and good landfalls to Wondertime.

John Vigor said...

Anon: The Wind is Free, by Frank Wightman, is the story of a man who waited almost all his adult life to set off and find adventure on a yacht of his own. It is one of my all-time favorite sailing books, beautifully written and heart-rendingly sensitive. It's worth tracking down a copy at www.abebooks.com or somewhere similar.

John V.