Cruising Life

Sailing into the Eighties

Germaine Beiser on ARDENT SPIRIT leaving Venice.

If this title conjures up visions of fighting off cold and polar bears in Svalbard, or the Northwest Passage with Jimmy Cornell or rounding Cape Horn you will be disappointed (although we have sailed around Cape Horn). The eighties in this article are years of age.

Arthur Beiser

My husband Arthur and I are each 83 years old and have seen no reason to give up cruising. The reactions to this from friends and acquaintances vary from surprise to wonder to sharp disapproval.

We live on an island in France which has a marina. Recently we were chatting with a couple who had just tied up. When I said “We live here but our boat is in Croatia” the female partner, shocked answered ” But surely you are not still sailing!” I guess we look pretty old!

So… how and why do we keep going? We are not risk takers and I am certainly not very strong.

A Bit of History

Arthur and I have cruised together since we were married more than 60 years ago.

Our first boat was 21 feet long, our second 27 feet and our third 33 feet. With these boats we sailed from Maine to Florida and the Bahamas, motored down and up the Inland Waterway, up and down rivers.


At one point we saw the yacht Minots Light, a 58-foot ketch, a boat to dream about. By a curious set of circumstances which deserves its own story an underpaid physics professor, his wife and three small daughters became the owners of this magnificent vessel.

Minots Light wasn’t happy with our style of coastwise cruising. “Minots Light wants to cross the Atlantic,” said Arthur and so we did.

The children didn’t come with us. Their friends at school told them their parents were going to die; transatlantic crossings in a sailboat were not at all common in 1963. We didn’t die but I was so seasick that seemed an option.

Our plan was to sail in Scandinavia, then England, next the Med and thence back to the West Indies…all in one year. Such touching naivete soon met reality. In fact we never did sail Minots Light back. Every summer we sailed, with the help of our children, 13 seasons in Scandinavia interspersed with periods in the Med to thaw out. During the winter they went to school in whichever country we were in.

In Venice in front of St. Mark’s Square

In 1966 we discovered Yugoslavia, a marvelous coast with very few foreign yachts and no Yugoslav yachts that we could see. During the next years we returned often. We experienced the beginning of the war there.

From Croatia it was easy to visit Venice. For me there is no cruising experience greater than sailing one’s own boat into Venice.

In Finland we had a SWAN built for us… very pretty and very fast, especially good going upwind. Unfortunately the layout below as well as on deck was not good for cruising, just racing. Also its 47 feet felt cramped after Minots Light.

The 58 foot cutter which we bought in 1988 from the builders, Moody of Bursledon, England was just right. We named her Ardent Spirit. In 2002 we took a berth for her in Croatia where she is now.



Now you can see why we keep going. We need to cruise every summer.

Obviously at our age there are problems. We can’t make long cruises like those of the past. Fortunately short cruises have their own pleasures. Sixty miles instead of 600 or 1600. Croatia is blessed with thousands of islands and some spectacular anchorages. We don’t have to go far to find places that are quite uncrowded. A luxury in the Med. If we do want to go far we do so…in stages.

Here are some of the ways that we cope with the lack of energy and strength that comes with age.

First: Stay as healthy as possible. Do whatever is necessary to deal with whatever physical problems arise. Make sure to take all the pills you need with you when you cruise as you cannot be sure of finding them everywhere. (If you are a live-aboard this is not a problem). The mantra of exercise every day: long walks or swimming, lots of fruit and vegetables, less fat, less sugar, turns out to be true. It is important to be able to maintain contact with your doctors as you travel as well as making an effort to find good doctors where you find yourself. This is not always possible.

Hire people to do some of the maintenance that must be done. Among these: cleaning and polishing the outside of the boat, antifouling the bottom, freeing the seacocks, taking the sails off for the winter and putting them back in the Spring. We are lucky in having skilled mechanics and a North Sails branch near us in Croatia.

There are breakdown services which tow disabled boats, deliver fuel, and help to start engines and so forth. I would hope that none of these events happen to us but it is nice to know that if there is an emergency there can be help. We subscribe to one of these services, have never needed it, expect never to need it but it is insurance.

As ARDENT SPIRIT is fairly big we have had electric winches from the start; we would have trouble handling her now if we didn’t have electric help. The jib furl is electric with radio control: easy peasy.

Next question: what to do if the electric winches fail. Well, they are all manual as well and if it means that we don’t have the strength to hoist the sails it is not a tragedy to use the motor to get back. And if the motor fails? Cursing is in order. A breakdown service? Towing with the dinghy? These events are really important if one is offshore but we do most of our cruising these years in coastal waters.

Some more electric aids: we now have converted two toilets to electric push button operation. In the past we had electric toilets which didn’t work well so we got rid of them. Technology has moved on and these work very well. And yes, we do have another toilet and it is manual.

Arthur likes to joke that because I no longer have to pump the toilet the muscles in my right arm have atrophied so I can no longer reach the shore when I throw a docking line.

Not really true but an excuse for installing something most boats seem to have nowadays: a bow thruster. We didn’t wish to give up space in our forepeak to retrofit one but two years ago a model appeared that is installed outside the hull. ARDENT SPIRIT now has one. Tying up is no longer the nightmare of the past .The “torpedo” is so well streamlined that our speed is diminished by only a small fraction of a knot.

ARDENT SPIRIT at anchor in Croatia off the island of Brac

Partly because marinas are hot, noisy and not private and partly because we used to have so much trouble tying up we anchor nearly everywhere.

By now we know many anchorages which we don’t have to share with a lot of other boats. Our anchor is good but as we don’t want any worries about dragging we have had 25 extra pounds of lead poured into the hollow behind the point in our plow anchor; it now weighs 100 pounds. We feel pretty secure.

Often we spend a week or more at anchor, swimming for exercise or taking walks ashore if that is possible. It would be hard to give up this pleasure.

As new problems arise we have to solve them. I now have trouble starting the dinghy’s motor. It is important from a safety point of view that I as well as Arthur can get the dinghy ashore. We are now exploring electric-start motors.

This poses the next problem: the new motor will be a lot heavier than the one we have so we’ll have to come up with an improvement on our present system for getting the motor on board. Perhaps we’ll simply leave it on the dinghy. But that is this year’s problem.

About Germaine Beiser

Germaine Beiser on the quay at Marina Kremik

Germaine Bousquet was born in Cambridge Massachusetts in 1931. She graduated from MIT where she had majored in physics. For graduate work she enrolled at Columbia.

In New York she met Arthur Beiser who was at that time an instructor at New York University. She then transferred to NYU. They were married and for 9 years they worked together on cosmic ray research. Soon after their marriage they began cruising.They have three daughters.

Germaine published 4 books meant for teenagers. In addition she has had articles published in Yachting MagazineYachting Monthly and Cruising World. Arthur has published 36 books; Germaine contributed to several of them.

Together they have sailed more than 140,000 miles including 2 trans-Atlantic passages. They cruised along the entire Atlantic coast and spent a winter in the West Indies. For 13 wonderful summers they sailed in Scandinavia and enjoyed very many Mediterranean harbours. A special thrill was sailing down the west coast of Chile and rounding Cape Horn on a friend’s yacht.

Now their 7th boat, Ardent Spirit, lives happily in Croatia, making occasional forays to Venice.

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