Things Are Different Now

That was then…Phyllis steering across Upernavik Ice Fjord, Greenland

Soon after John and I got together some 20 years ago, his friend James, who had sailed with him numerous times in the past, joined us for a few days. When the topic of cocktail hour arose on the first day (we were daysailing; we don’t have cocktail hour when at sea), I intervened:

Things are different now that I am on board. Please join us on the foredeck for a yoga session instead.

Though I wasn’t serious (as I am a full-on participator in cocktail hour), it took James greatly by surprise, making it a very enjoyable prank!

But, all joking aside, John and I take the concept that “things are different now” to heart.

Applying “Things Are Different Now” To The Boat and To Voyaging

For one thing, it impacts how we approach boat maintenance and set up. Just because we had side deck jacklines for years and they are the “standard” in the sailing world, doesn’t mean we will continue to use them if reasoning and analysis suggest a better way.

And each time we do a regular job on the boat, like rigging the boom during commissioning, we try and analyze how we can do it more efficiently, more easily, and more safely.

“Things are different now” also affects where and how we voyage. For the last 20-some years John and I have referred to ourselves as full-time live-aboard high-latitude voyagers. But we are determined that we are not going to let that definition determine our future actions.

Not that long ago I shared the process we are going through as we make the transition from live-aboard to part-time cruising. It wasn’t an easy decision, and we miss living on the boat full-time, but it has allowed us to do other things during the winters, like spending a good chunk of time cross-country skiing, going on multi-day walking trips, and spending more time with family. Morgan’s Cloud, when she’s in the water, is pretty much all-consuming.

This is now…Phyllis beachcombing for sea glass, Trinity, Newfoundland

And the 2011 science project in Greenland, returning via Baffin Island and Labrador, was (unless something radically changes!) our last high-latitude voyage. Since then we have really enjoyed slowing down and taking the time to explore all those places that we used to rush by on our way north.

Aging Brings Change

These days, the concept that “things are different now” is gaining even more traction around here, as John and I acknowledge that we are aging and that our stamina and our interest in tough passages is waning.

For example, we recently arrived in Newfoundland after a passage from the Bras d’Or Lakes. We could have daysailed from the Lakes, but sailing overnight in effect gave us an extra week of cruising time at our destination (the Northeast Coast, all going well).

But first we did three daysails along the Nova Scotia shore—to get our “chops” back after a winter off the boat—before we did the overnight. (When we were younger, after a hiatus from sailing, we would just hop on the boat and go, relying on youthful stamina and years of sailing experience.)

Then, when we made landfall off the coast of Newfoundland mid-morning, we changed our destination from St. Lawrence to Fortune, because it meant that we would get into harbour four or five hours earlier, avoid a bash to windward around the Burin Peninsula to St. Lawrence, and it would give us time to get the boat put to rights and go for a walk before dinner. (Even so we slept 11 hours that night!)

In the old days, we would have continued on after the overnight from Nova Scotia to save an extra daysail and the extra miles it took to get up to Fortune and then back around the Burin Peninsula to St. Lawrence.

Don’t Let Change Catch Us Offguard

So, yes, things really are different now than when we were younger and, if we ignore this and continue to cruise as we did in the past, we are going to hurt ourselves or make a serious mistake, or not have the stamina to deal with unexpected tough conditions (weather forecasts are not prophesies; conditions are not always as forecast). Something that we really don’t want to have happen.

And this isn’t just philosophical ruminating. We have seen the fallout of not accepting the consequences of aging, in cruisers who are letting their boats disintegrate around their ears, who are making the same passages they have for years, but with ever-increasing problems and the ever-increasing potential for grave errors.

I’m writing about this because John and I are having to be very conscious about changing how we approach our sailing. Old patterns die hard, and not pushing on to St. Lawrence on the second day of the overnight took effort on both our parts, since that is how we would have acted in the past, and was what we “felt” was the “right” thing to do (even though in this case it wasn’t).

Morgan’s Cloud is a big heavy boat and we are cognizant that the time is approaching when we will no longer be able to manage her safely and enjoyably or wish to continue with the maintenance load she requires. That day isn’t here yet, but it’s coming, and we don’t want it to arrive without our being aware of it and making the appropriate adjustments.

That “things are different now” is sometimes a really hard thing to accept gracefully.

Further Reading

Things Are Different Now, Technically:

Things Are Different Now, Voyaging:

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Meet the Author

Phyllis

Phyllis has sailed over 40,000 offshore miles with John on their McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, most of it in the high latitudes, and has crossed the Atlantic three times. As a woman who came to sailing as an adult, she brings a fresh perspective to cruising, which has helped her communicate what they do in an approachable way, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

15 comments… add one
  • Bill Bowers Jul 21, 2018, 8:07 am

    Thanks for sharing your wise takes on shifting cruising gears Phyllis!
    Linda and I and our family and friends crewing are living that reality with you and John this summer as I write this from dockside at Lewisporte YC in Notre Dame Bay. We are 4 weeks out of Marion MA bound to circumnavigate Newfoundland clockwise and return by late Sept. Linda slipped and spiral fractured her distal fibula just as we were ready to depart Marion. The Xray showed no dislocation and she was fitted with an air boot and told to avoid weight bearing for 6-8 weeks. Our crew to Cornerbrook included our two adult children Dory and Tai and our dear friend and offshore gourmet chef extraordinare Dr David Bangsberg. We relalized that we could actually care for Linda better in the stbd settee sea berth than in our three story home. We have several crew changes planned.
    The passage was magical. We cleared into Shelburne to allow a northeaster low to pass and hove to for dinner in the Cabot Straight to time anchoring in Harbour le Cou in daylight. Enjoyed fresh capelin gifted by two local couples who came out to welcome us. We then explored Bay of Islands, Harrington Harbor and Towles Hideaway and Havre les Belles Amoures in Quebec, and Red Bay in Labrador.
    We were blessed with a 25 k SW wind and fair flood to cross the dreaded Belle Isle Straight to round the North cape to anchor in magical Maidens Arm in Hare Bay. Then on to Notre Dame Bay via Conche and Little Bay Island, a beautiful outport on life support with 20 last fulltime residents.
    We plan to continue hopping down the eastern shore the last week in July and would love to speak Morgans Cloud if your plans allow.

    Cheers
    Bill and Linda Bowers
    SV ConverJence
    J42 #3

  • Jim Evans Jul 21, 2018, 8:37 am

    How right you are, Phyllis. I’m going through the same thing, especially as I just did overnights up to the Magdalens and back from my mooring here in Murray Harbour, PEI.
    The trip up was delightful – calm seas, a wonderful sunset, gentle sailing – but I was still wiped on arrival and the return, with headwinds, remarkably cold and a miserably choppy sea had me turning the motor on and simply bashing it for the last 25 miles, something I’d never have done a few years ago. And it took me a couple of days to get over it.
    Although my Freedom 28 is hardly labour-intensive either to maintain or to sail, when you’re the only one doing everything it gets to you. I can see the day when a little shoal- draft boat I can bring home on a trailer for the winter will be all I need.

    • John Jul 25, 2018, 9:18 am

      Hi Jim,

      Yes, I think that’s a lot of the key, making decisions like motor sailing that make things easier and less tiring as we get older.

      The other day we had a lovely reach in 20-25 knot winds out of one of the bays here in Newfoundland, but when we turned the corner into the next bay with the wind right on the nose, instead of beating into it for hours, as we would have even 5 years ago, we furled the headsails, double reefed the main, and motor-sailed. Result: in at tea time in fine fettle, instead of supper time really tired.

      I used to get the guilts every time I made one of these calls, but I’m getting over that!

  • Trevor Robertson Jul 24, 2018, 9:26 am

    Phyllis
    I empathise when you say that things are different now and it is something that can be hard to accept gracefully. In my case the problem of sailing to odd destinations as I age divides into two parts:
    The first is that with increasing physical frailty these voyages become physically difficult, where previously they were merely uncomfortable.
    The second problem is that it is becoming harder to maintain a vessel capable of long, challenging voyages.

    For a few years now I have been aware that these problems are looming for me – I am a couple of years older than John, so this is not just philosophical speculation. Every time I set off on a difficult voyage I am aware it may be the last hard passage that I can undertake. And, like you and John, it takes me longer to recover after these voyages. It also takes me longer to bring ‘Iron Bark’ back to full seaworthiness after a long voyage than it used to.

    Earlier this year I sailed from New Zealand to Antarctica. It was summer and I had 50 litres of fuel available for heating. Despite that my fingers took more punishment than they ever have in the past. Some of the problem with my fingers was due to ageing, some to the cumulative effect of repeated minor frost damage. Whatever the cause, the result was that it took 5 months for my fingers to fully recover, by which time I was incongruously in the tropics. Twenty years ago the same conditions would have resulted in a minor nip to one or two fingers that would have repaired in days.

    Since arriving in Ireland in June, I have been working on ‘Iron Bark’, chipping and painting (she is steel), overhauling the many fathoms of running rigging (gaff rigged), sewing sails (poverty makes it essential to extend their life as far as possible) and all the other jobs to be expected after a long, hard passage from New Zealand by way of Cape Horn with two stops along the way and minimal opportunities for maintenance. Once I would have had the lot done in 3 weeks, now the work is unfinished after twice that time.

    Eventually I will have to restrict my sailing to more temperate climates and shorter voyages. It would be convenient if that coincided with the time that I can no longer maintain ‘Iron Bark.’ This would let me change boats to something easier to sail and maintain but also only suited to less ambitious voyages. Unfortunately the gods are unlikely to treat me so kindly. Either I will end up with a boat that is easy to look after but cannot barge ice and carry provisions for 15 months, or with a vessel that can make voyages where this counts do but one that I cannot sail or maintain effectively. Neither option is attractive.

    The safest way ahead for me (and this is a very personal choice that is unlikely to be the same for anyone else) is to change boats to something that may curtail my wandering in the near future but one that I can keep seaworthy and sailing for another 10 or 12 years. However it seems a pity to quit while I can still push on so I will defer the change for another year, giving me the option for another one or two more ambitious voyages with ‘Iron Bark’ before retiring to the coconut milk run.

    Conclusion: I will put off for as long as possible going gentle into that good night, and continue to rage against the dying of the light (with apologies for misquoting Dylan Thomas).

    Trevor Robertson
    Yacht Iron Bark

    • John Jul 25, 2018, 9:31 am

      Hi Trevor,

      Well the first thing I would say is that you are still doing voyages that I would have found beyond me even in my prime, so good on you for that. An example to all of us. And also, I think that keeping going is probably more about mental toughness than physical and you seem to be mentally tougher than most of us, particularly at this age. I have certainly noticed that I just don’t have the drive and willingness I once did to take on things that I know are going to be scary and uncomfortable.

      And yes, I too have noticed that my hands are much more susceptible to cold, both sailing and Nordic skiing, than they once were. I guess, like you, the combination of age and damage done by past frost nips.

      Also, on the physical side, I too am finding the maintenance of the boat the hardest part. I can still do all the tasks fine, and still enjoy many of them, but the problem is that I can no longer work 12-hour days for weeks on end without exhausting myself, so getting ready for a season just takes so much longer.

  • Phyllis Jul 25, 2018, 9:09 am

    Hi, Jim and Trevor; Thank you both for your thoughtful comments. You both touched on the very question this all raises, which I didn’t address in my post: What about the next boat? Which is exactly what John and I are wrestling with: Do we move to something easier to manage now and hopefully get a number of years of more aggressive voyaging with that boat (though several years without a boat in between – we can’t afford to own two boats! – and a huge project to find and debug the new boat) before we downsize again when that boat gets to be too much? Or do we stick with Morgan’s Cloud (after 27 years of working on her she suits us very well and is very much our home) for as long as we can manage her – we figure at most 5 years, with increasingly less demanding itineraries – and then downsize to a Herreshoff Bullseye (or some such) and stick to Mahone Bay’s smooth waters? Hmmm! Fodder for many hours of discussion during daysails, of which we are doing many more than we used to!

    • Marc Dacey Jul 28, 2018, 3:53 pm

      I would imagine there’s another consideration, too, relating to maintenance and upkeep: MC is a rather large and specialized vessel which I suspect reflects the mindset of its owners. The next five years of wear and tear will be, one suspects, more easily handled with a coastal regime rather than high-latitude passagemaking, just as I can stagger the painting maintenance of a steel boat in fresh water in a way I dare not in salt.

      So any consideration of this would have to include the looming prospect of a sale. On the downside, the market for Good Old Boats of any provenance is soft, and those wanting an expedition-grade, tricked-out aluminum cutter are a subset of that in a world where Bendytoys rule. On the other hand, the small number of people likely to be interested in your boat, should you sell it, are likely to be very aware of what they are getting, as this site is about one-third the longest ad ever seen in Yachtworld. If Andy Schell and Mia Karlsson’s “Isbjorn” was not only seemingly very fit for their purposes, I could see a couple like them interested in a capable, proven vessel like “Morgan’s Cloud”. I guess time, health and enthusiasm will tell…she’s a beautiful vessel.

      • Charles Starke MD FACP Jul 28, 2018, 5:16 pm

        Hi
        We have another viewpoint. It takes approximately seven years to learn a new boat and longer to be sensitive to what the boat is telling you needs to be done in upkeep. I am 71 and hope to keep and sail this boat, a Trintella 47 sloop, for my lifetime. The most difficult job is taking off the 9.5 oz main and bagging it. But we got help on the dock this year and it only took one hour compared to previous three or four hours.
        Underway, it’s easy to handle with roller furling, self tacking jib, leisurefurl main, electric winches, bow thruster, generator, and anchor windlass with 99 pound spade anchor.
        We hope to sail her “forever”, while staying aware of things to keep us safe. I had a previous Trintella 45 for sixteen years so I am comfortable and knowledgeable with her systems.
        I don’t mind powering if the situation warrants, and feel the burden of switching boats and learning a new one is too much.
        Best wishes
        Charles L Starke MD FACP
        s/v Dawnpiper

        • John Jul 29, 2018, 7:54 am

          Hi Charles,

          That’s certainly another way to look at it, and pretty much where we are now too having owned MC for 27 years.

          The drawback of that approach, that we need to balance in as we age, is our ever decreasing ability to handle the situation if any of that automation breaks. And this in turn influences how far we go and how remote the cruising grounds. At 50 or even 60 I had every confidence that we could handle most any potential failure using our extensive spares and tools, and our experience, even in a remote place far from help like East Greenland. Now at 67 I’m less confident and at say 75? Well who knows, much will depend on the health lottery.

          So we did look at electric winches etc, but in the end decided that we would stay manual to insure we could handle the boat without the automation, and then sell when that was no longer the case. Not saying that makes us right and you wrong, just that how to handle the failure of automation is something we all need to be aware of, and that in turn will influence how far we go and where.

  • Rob Gill Jul 25, 2018, 9:31 pm

    Hi Phyllis,
    Thanks for sharing your dilemma, one we hope is some way off for us.
    Why is it that we agonise over boat decisions in a way most wouldn’t with a car or a house? Is it that yachts become family? Like a beloved pet or treasured retainer, one whose best service (for our current needs) is passed, but one we keep on, even when we wouldn’t hesitate to change our car or even house that no longer served.
    Is this an irrational response? Or does it reflect the complexity of our future and present needs and wants? A decision that confuses us so we postpone it, hoping for circumstance to intervene – which as you say can have consequences.
    I doubt we will find changing boats any easier than you guys, and look forward to future updates!
    Rob

  • RDE Jul 26, 2018, 12:42 pm

    Hi John,

    So what is the best inexpensive motorboat for a retired sailing couple who have left expedition voyaging behind but still enjoy occasional sailing and want absolutely minimum maintenance?

    A Macgreggor 65 Pilothouse equipped with retractable bow thruster!

    Comfort and speed+economy under power far superior to any $150,000 pure motorboat.
    Better sea keeping abilities than any $150k trawler.
    Unlimited get-home capabilities under sail .
    Proven capability to sustain 10 knot impact with a rock with no damage.
    Small,easily handled sail area when the spirit moves.
    Fiberglass RV style interior easily cleaned with a pressure washer.

    If anybody thinks one of these is flimsily built, look at the 3″ hull thickness underneath the keel bolts and chainplates! Or the exterior hull/deck flange fastened with stainless bolts on 3″ centers.
    http://www.webworldinc.com/heritage/brochure/800cover.htm

    • John Jul 27, 2018, 9:08 am

      Hi Richard,

      Yes, I agree. That’s one of our options as we age: keep Morgan’s Cloud, a boat that motors as well as the Macgreggor, albeit not quite as fast. As you say, both our boat and the Mac are better motorboats than than most motorboats: https://www.morganscloud.com/2013/07/19/a-sailors-motorboat/

      The drawback of this approach is that we still have a rig to deal with. All good at the moment, and I hope for a few years to come, but no where near as easy as the right pure motorboat, particularly maintenance wise. I have had long chats with Steve Dashew about this, and getting rid of the rig and the associated issues was most of why he and Linda transitioned to Wind Horse from their last sailboat, even though she was a great motorboat too.

      Anyway, all first world problems!

      • RDE Jul 27, 2018, 11:17 am

        Hi John,
        Speaking of first world problems, just across the pass from where I live the median price for a little scrap of land to build on is about 4 million$ USA— the most unequal economic distribution in the Western Hemisphere.

        If I could be a bit snarky, the solution to the rig problem is to move to Western Canada where you can just leave the rig in place where it belongs! And when you go on your summer cruise up to Alaska you will find so little wind you will rarely need worry about handling the rig.

        With the Mac 65 my suggestion was to evaluate it as a powerboat. Therefore the sail rig would only be there for sunny day nostalga and as the world’s best get-home back up for the motor. As I look at video of the similar length flat bottomed Artnautica hull under power and the kind of wake it throws at 10-12 knots I can’t help but think that the Mac is a more efficient motor boat. But that’s only a short video— a side by side comparison would come closer to the reality.

        For me, I could never live in that rotomolded Mac interior— but I’d say the same about most 2018 production sailboat interiors.

        • John Jul 28, 2018, 7:43 am

          Hi Richard,

          Yes, western Canada certainly has its benefits and is a loverly part of the world. We did consider sailing MC around, but in the end decided that for us the community we have built in Atlantic Canada made annual hauls worth the effort, and then some.

  • David B. Zaharik Aug 1, 2018, 10:57 am

    Hi all,

    I loved reading the comments and the wisdom behind them. The sooner one comes to grips with one’s mortality, the sooner one can look forward and make these difficult but necessary assessments. If change needs to be made it is far better to make it though a proper assessment than to be forced to make it and feel the heart break or suffer a tragedy. Very wise. Thank you.

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