I really enjoy my virtual check ins with friends, as we used to meet at the yacht club. Thankfully, my world is coming back to life, and I hope the club will reopen in time for the start of the boating season.

This past week I asked my friends whether they preferred staying at home or would they rather be confined to their boat. It was a joke, of course, as boat people always want to be on the water. Or so I thought.

One friend, a lifelong sailor who only came over to the 'Dark Side' when he got older and his wife demanded more comfort, said he was happy to remain in his townhouse. He felt his home on land was better than being aboard his lovely, 55-foot motoryacht. We were all taken by surprise.

He went on to explain that while he and his wife loved the boat, and really enjoyed their roundtrip to Florida a few years ago, he thought his townhome was just easier...and more reliable. He did admit he would probably be more stimulated on his boat, even at the dock, more attuned to the natural world and what was going on around him. But in his townhouse, he did not have to deal with systems not working or having a pump fail. The systems on his boat can be challenging, he said, and not something he relies on.

The Magic Decade

His comments brought me back to the Florida Keys, and a somewhat parallel conversation I had with a wonderful couple from Virginia. Tom and Margaret were aboard their 64-foot motoryacht, a beautiful new cruising boat that was their home while they spent the winter in the Keys. And Tom was particularly articulate in his explanation for why they bought this boat, a splendid yacht that had everything.

The couple previously owned a classic Fleming 55, which they kept at their dock in Virginia’s Northern Neck. They loved it for cruising the Chesapeake Bay. The Fleming was all they ever wanted, and it looked so beautiful in an anchorage. (Steve Zimmerman maintains that if you don’t feel pure joy when you approach your boat in your dinghy, you own the wrong boat. So true!)

(Seen below: Similar to the Fleming 55, the Northern Marine 57 offers exceptional cruising abilities, performance, and accommodations.)

northern marine 57

As Tom explained, when he turned 70, he made some hard decisions. He reasoned (as have so many others) that he and his wife had perhaps 10 more years of active living ahead of them. Not that they would pass this mortal coil at the end of the decade, but rather they would reach a point where they could not comfortably handle a big boat.

While they loved their Fleming, it was getting older, and required more frequent maintenance and repairs. Hoses, switches, and all the many components on a cruising boat, just wear out. It happens with every boat, big or small, sail or power. Boats get old and need the eventual and expensive refit of systems, teak decks, and fiberglass.

Tom figured that if he bought a brand-new boat that was fully equipped to enjoy life as they retired, it would give them 10 reliable years of service and enjoyment without worry. And he was right.

Take any new boat of your choice. After the initial sea trials to reveal faulty or defective equipment, controls, or wiring done wrong, one can expect that boat to perform well for years with proper maintenance and care.

(That strategy, by the way, is behind many successful cruisers I know who bought their new boat in the Pacific Northwest. Rather than load up personal gear and provisions and head off into the sunset, they spend a season cruising locally as if on an extended sea trial. While they may explore remote surroundings, they are not far from parts and service when there are issues. There will always be the occasional faulty weld, or defective stove, or plumbing done wrong. It is a great idea to sort things out before leaving for the rest of your life.)

As we sat talking in the covered aft cockpit, I was struck by the honesty and clarity of Tom’s thinking. He had no intention of going offshore or making long passages. He just wanted a safe and comfortable cruising experience without drama.

I once sat next to a guy on a flight out of Ft. Lauderdale. Turned out he was an engineer with Naiad. We were soon deep in conversation about his company’s continued refinement of its stabilizer product line, and how much they improve life aboard the modern powerboat. The exchange struck gold when I mentioned I had been aboard one of the Nordhavn Yachts that took part in PAE’s rally across the Atlantic Ocean.

While things aboard our boat went well, other boats in the fleet experienced problems and failures, notably their fin stabilizers, on the way to the Azores.

He was one of the Naiad technicians who flew to Horta to repair the boats with Naiad stabilizers. And this conversation really impressed me with the reality of cruising on an older boat.

He explained that these boats had lived lives of casual coastal cruising, hopping from one port to the next. It simply was not reasonable to expect equipment of this vintage to then operate flawlessly 24/7 for weeks at sea without prior major service to prepare them for the significantly increased usage demand.

Even if an ocean crossing is not in the plan, old boats demand higher maintenance and there is no way around that. Plastic and rubber hoses and parts get brittle from age and UV exposure, seals fail, switches and wiring corrode, prop shafts suffer from crevice corrosion.

That is not to say that a high-quality boat can’t be maintained in Bristol condition for many decades. It is just that to do so requires ongoing, and sometimes expensive, upkeep to preserve that condition. If that is something you are willing to accept, that is great. But people like Tom are more interested in the cruising life than boat projects.

While trading an older boat for a new one may represent a financial issue for some, it is often feasible to find a new, smaller boat that will fit your cruising needs. Bigger is not always better.

(Seen below: American Tugs offer strong cruising capabilities in a smaller size than your traditional long-distance trawler.)

american tug boats 

Another point to consider is that many boats are not easily adaptable from seasonal recreational use to full time mode. Tanks might not be large enough, and insufficient storage, to fit the requirements of a cruising retirement home.

Embracing the concept of the 'Magic Decade' is not just for seniors planning a glorious exit strategy. It is highly relevant to anyone looking to embark on a lifestyle in a safe, more reliable chariot to explore the world in comfort. My friend isn’t even aware of how much more he would enjoy life if his boat were newer and not a source of constant, low-grade anxiety.

Buying a new boat is absolutely an appropriate solution when owners take a step back and realize they have lost some of their boating mojo.

I am quite certain he and his wife would much prefer being out of their townhouse to enjoy some nibbles with wine in the aft cockpit, gazing at the sunset, hoping to finally see the Green Flash.

There is no time like the present to make dreams come true…at any age.

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