[ Free ‘n Easy is the name of only one of our new boats at the NYC this year. Does your boat have a story? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org. -Ed ]
We are all likely to have heard the old adage “Boating gave me the best two days of my life, the day I bought the boat and the day I sold it.” Well, the day we sold our boat turned out to be a sad day. Fortunately, it also turned out to be a day that moved us towards a promising way of enjoying sailing in our senior years.
We all know that a time will come when we will have to pack up our sailing bags and move on. Our time came when my son-in-law Marc expressed an interest in taking over Sam, our 33-year old Alberg 30. To cut a long story short, the deal was simple. We settled on a ‘family price’ for the boat which meant that he would now be responsible for all the maintenance and expenses that go with owning a boat. Part of the deal was that my partner Lesley and I would be allowed to use the boat.
Selling our boat meant that we were no longer tied to the Toronto’s National Yacht Club’s rigid schedule of haul-outs and launchings. This was good for us since we both have family in England where we usually spend half our year.
Taking advantage of our new arrangement, Lesley and I immediately set out on a cruise of Eastern Lake Ontario. We moored in the Niagara-on-the-Lake Yacht Club and saw Candida and Heartbreak House at the Shaw Festival. After the plays, we were enjoying the magic of strolling back to our cosy cabin on Sam when it slowly dawned on us that Sam was no longer our boat. It just didn’t feel the same. Sam had been a big part of our lives. She now belonged to my daughter Jane’s family: there was no way to go back on the decision to sell her. What had we done?
We were surprised at the intensity of our sense of loss. More than ever, in spite of arthritic knees and hip-joint replacements, we wanted to continue sailing. But we were back to square one – we were boatless.
Almost immediately, the search was on for a new boat. Before I purchased the Alberg 30, I had considered a Contessa 26, so now it was natural for us to place a ‘wanted ad’ on the Contessa 26 website: “Looking for a Contessa 26 in Toronto area, diesel, cradle, John.” Four days later I received an email: “John, I have a great Contessa 26… if you are interested, call me, Brian.” From the attached photograph she looked perfect for us. We were indeed interested.
From the moment I saw her blue hull I knew she was the boat for us. Her low freeboard and the double life lines would be good for us senior sailors. We liked the anchor locker in the foredeck; the opening port holes and the in-mast halyards with all the lines leading aft towards the large cockpit. Through the signature keyhole companionway there are only two steps down into the cabin, which is a real benefit for my arthritic knees. The lack of standing headroom is largely offset by the cosy atmosphere, the gimbaled stove, the refrigerator, and the light streaming in through the plastic hatch covers.
There wasn’t much wind when we motored out of Whitby Marina for our ‘sea trial’ but enough to feel that familiar thrill of the sails taking over when the engine is turned off. We noticed that the Contessa’s 120 square foot main sail was significantly easier for Lesley to raise than the Alberg’s larger sail. On it’s long keel, the boat felt rock solid, and you begin to understand why Tania Aebi chose a sister ship, Varuna, for her exciting round the world adventure that she writes about in her book: Maiden Voyage. There is no doubt that this little Contessa can take anything that Lake Ontario can throw at her.
On our way home we reminded ourselves of our vow not to make decisions on any purchase for at least a day. It was not to be. We both decided right there and then that this was the boat that we wanted. We offered the asking price, Brian accepted, and we were sailors again.
We can now look seriously at the realities of enjoying our sport as seniors. A smaller boat means lighter sails and lighter tackle: it will be easier and safer for us to handle on the water and at dockside. From now on, all navigation and sailing functions will be done from the cockpit. We will be actively looking for ways to make our sailing life easier, calling on friends and family to help with routine maintenance, haul-outs and launchings.
The trend in yachting circles appears to be towards bigger and bigger boats. Not for us. As seniors we had downsized our homes so it made sense for us to downsize to a smaller boat. A retiring editor of a yachting magazine maintained that the pleasure of sailing increases as the size of the boat decreases. We are hoping that he was right.