The Boating Retirees

Edited By Ann Dermody

Whether planned or by chance, these retirees have incorporated boating into their golden years in fun and unusual ways.

The Best Of Both Worlds

Donald and Seishu Bryden have found their nirvana on water and in the desert.

Photo of Donald and Seishu Bryden

We decided, when we retired, we wanted to be on the water and to travel, so we bought a low-maintenance house at Walker Lake, Nevada, about 4,000 feet above sea level. The weather isn't extremely hot in the summer or very cold in the winter, and the view from our house is of a natural lake in the desert. Beautiful!

To travel, we built a 45-foot ketch-rigged sailing boat and headed out of Oriental, North Carolina, in 2004. The first year we visited New England and the Canadian Maritime Provinces. The second and third years we spent in the Caribbean. In 2007 we passed through the Panama Canal, and slowly continued west. We're now in Borneo and have visited 49 countries and logged 27,560 nautical miles. This life isn't for everyone, but it works for us. We return to Nevada at least once a year. We like living in the desert because the dry climate preserves our possessions, and we don't have to worry about a lawn to maintain. When we come home, we wash the windows and maybe pick up a few things that blew into our yard while we were gone, and then it's just like we left it.

The Business Of Boating

For Barbara and Jim Carey, retirement is a new business in North Carolina.

A few years before retirement, my husband and I were in Hilton Head, South Carolina, where we took a dolphin cruise. Jim sized up the business and said: "I can do that!" And then he did. When we retired at 55, we moved to coastal North Carolina and created a small sailing charter business, which we called Endless Summer. We have a harbor tour out of Southport, which often includes spotting dolphins; we traverse the Intracoastal Waterway, Cape Fear River, and Atlantic Ocean during our sail. We've been doing this for 11 years now. In order to make this happen, Jim needed to get his captain's license, which he did immediately upon retirement. Then we needed to find a boat. After about a year, we settled on a 38-foot Hunter Legend sloop that Jim found in Miami.

We love taking people out, telling them about Southport and the local waters, and making contact with the freighters that come through the shipping channel on their way to and from the Port of Wilmington. Jim is an active retiree and volunteers in many ways, but sailing tops his list of things to do. I taught elementary school before retiring, and Jim worked in various positions for the federal government. I could never have imagined a retirement as wonderful as the one we have.

Optimism Can Take You Anywhere

That's been Bob Preston's mantra since his diagnosis.

Selling your successful business, retiring at 52, and sailing off into the sunset might seem like a dream lifestyle to most of us, but for Rhode Island native Bob Preston, it wasn't exactly part of the plan. The insurance agency owner and married father of two had been experiencing some unusual symptoms when he went to his doctor. After being tested several times for Lyme disease, he was finally diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in July 2007. He was 48 years old.

"I was scared to death, initially," says Preston. "Everything online was all doom and gloom. And the truth is it's not all doom and gloom." Bob and his wife Becky are living proof of that. Since Bob's diagnosis, the Prestons have taken their 37-foot Back Cove 11,000 nautical miles over three years to both coasts of Florida, the Abacos and Bahamas, and all the way up to Maine. This summer they took possession of a brand new 48-foot Sabre to help them continue their travels. Along the way they've raised more than $160,000 for Parkinson's research, and Bob does a lot of motivational speaking to spread awareness and demonstrate that staying positive is key in tackling this disease.

"I take the same attitude I did running a company for 32 years. I want to walk the walk and show that optimism can take you anywhere. It's all about finding something you can embrace, and going for it. For me that's being on the boat." Their boat is named Family Ties, an irony not lost on the Prestons. Michael J. Fox from the TV show of the same name also suffers from Parkinson's disease.

A One-Man Gilligan's Island

Boats and self-sufficiency are hallmarks of this Californian's retirement.

Bill Conner, 82, is proud to be one of the last true "river rats" on the California Delta. In the 1970s he and his ex-wife owned the infamous Lost Isle Resort there, catering to family houseboaters and a flurry of pet monkeys. After they sold it, Conner, a boater all his life, retired to his own version of Gilligan's Island by building a 60-by-40-foot barge (with a full workshop and pile driver aboard) and houseboat on the San Joaquin River in the Delta. To make fishing even easier, Conner carefully cut a hole in his pontoon houseboat floor for his version of fast food. On weekends, he visits his girlfriend, Mary Pelican, in Fremont, and to commute keeps an old car at Windmill Cove Marina and Resort just a few miles upstream. His water transportation is a small skiff with a 9.5-hp outboard motor.

Fitter than many half his age, during the week he exercises on his boxing punching bag and putters about working on various projects. He's even gotten ordained as a minister and has performed many weddings in the Delta for friends. "Out here, you can't just run to Home Depot for anything you need," Conner says. "You have to be very self-sufficient." His life philosophy, he says, "is that my cup overfloweth." He's still friendly with his ex-wife, Georgia Conner, joking: "She left me out here to suffer."

Coming Full Circle

From childhood memories to retirement, Ray Bixler's heart has drawn him to Lake of the Ozarks boating.

My journey to Lake of the Ozarks began as a small boy. We lived in St. Louis where my father was an electrician at Anheuser-Busch. Every year we vacationed at the lake, first at the now-defunct Kalfran Lodge, then at dozens of other resorts. I met my first love, and had my first kiss, on a dock at that lake. I married and came back to the lake in 1992. My wife wasn't a boater, and by then I was a boater more than ever. I left the lake several times, boating on the Mississippi, then the Florida Keys, but as I approached 60, I knew where my heart wanted me to be.

Photo of Ray Bixler

Now divorced, my ex and my three children all live in St. Louis. I am retired and live in a one-bedroom condo in Camdenton. It's a low-profile and low-expense existence. This lake requires just the right size boat, and I now have a single-engine Doral Prestancia. Its two miles per gallon fits my pocketbook just fine. On dry land I spend my time restoring a 14-foot red Chrysler Mustang — the boat Elvis used in "Clambake" — that's been in my family for 50 years. My dad bought it when I was 17, eventually gave it to my brother-in-law, then to his son, and now it's come to me. There are always lots of things going on at the lake. Most importantly, life.

Friendships Old And New

Nelson Price has found introducing his boat to strangers is a great pleasure.

During my years as a corporate executive in a high-pressure New York City job, I found great respite in weekend and vacation sails. The stress and tensions of noise, traffic, and people peeled off my body when I stepped onto the deck of Wind Dancer, my 1975 Dufour 34. The goal was simple: to sail well and safely. We sailed from City Island to Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and Maine.

Retirement has offered me the opportunity to introduce strangers to the joys of sailing and my good fortune in owning a sailboat. A friend with terminal cancer, who loved the water, took a last cruise with me and revealed he wanted to be buried at sea. His son and I scattered his ashes a year later. A couple living below the poverty line in a cramped studio apartment found the wonder of the open water. An elderly man with dementia found he could still understand close-hauled steering. There's been time with my son sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, and with nephews and nieces who otherwise wouldn't spend much time with their octogenarian uncle.

I find I get to know people in ways I rarely do on land. The cozy cabin of a sailboat brings people more intimately together. We share life stories over glasses of wine after a hard day's sail — the humorous and fun times, the tragic and sad times, the victories and the struggles of our lives. The awe of a sunset overwhelms us and our friendships deepen.

Sailing appeals to so many — and so many who don't have sailboats. Introducing people to the boat has opened up friendships I would not otherwise have. I welcome them, and I'm blessed.

Long Live The Annie B

Their thoughts turned to a legacy on retirement, a 34-foot Legacy to be precise.

My wife's retirement present to herself was to truck our 34-foot power-cruiser Annie B to our Florida home at Fort Myers Beach for the winter, then cruise home the 1,280 miles via the Okeechobee Waterway and Atlantic ICW. The trip took four weeks, and we were still talking to each other when we arrived back in Annapolis.

Photo of the Thortons'

For those interested, the cost was $5,900 to ship the boat by truck, and $6,000 in fuel, plus another $2,000 in marina and food expenses for the return trip, burning 1 mpg at 20 knots. Ann wrote emails to her friends about the various parts of the trip, and merged them all together when she got home. I added photos and made a web page. We may do the trip again in several years. For now we're happy to take smaller trips every chance we get. We're just back from co-leading an Annapolis Yacht Club cruise, the "Southern Bay Wine & Golf Extravaganza," around the western shore of Chesapeake Bay. 

— Published: October/November 2013

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