Dad was still relatively young when Alzheimer’s began to take him. At the point where they said he might have as little as a year left, I took compassionate leave to spend more time with him. I struggled with the injustice of it. He was being robbed of the long and enjoyable retirement he’d worked so hard for.
I was in my late 40’s and jaded after nearly a decade at the same media company, less in love with my work, working longer and longer hours and unhealthier for it. The need to spend more time with Dad was also a chance to exhale, de-stress, see more of my friends, pursue a few interests, maybe lose a little weight and hopefully start to redevelop a hunger for my work.
So I’d started singing and guitar lessons as well as a political blog and one night I watched a movie called All Is Lost. It starred Robert Redford as a single-handed trans-ocean sailor. Anyone who’s seen it might think it a very odd reason to take up sailing, but something about it appealed to me. Next day I checked out a few sailing schools and booked an elementary four-week crewing course with Pacific Sailing School, on their J24’s.
I loved it straight away. I’d always loved the water but the theory of sailing and especially navigation really engaged me. Best of all I met some terrific people from all walks of life among my fellow students, many who remain great mates. Within six months I’d graduated though helming, spinnakers and basic skippering certificates, loved being part of a racing crew and had spent a fantastic long weekend competing at the NSW J24 championships in Gosford, with a dozen of my new sailing mates.
I also lost a lot of weight over that year off which I put down to some gym work, a lot of swimming and healthier eating. Everyone back at work marvelled at the difference, and naturally I talked up my heroic diet and exercise discipline. When I dropped another 15kgs over the next few months and my weight fell to 67kgs I realised no amount of bragging could explain it. Something was wrong.
To cut a long story only slightly shorter, turned out it wasn’t the suspected cancer but my thyroid was off the scale and without medication I’d likely have suffered a stroke. But having been properly diagnosed in the nick of time not only could it be managed, it could be fixed. It was like a second chance. The message over that year was loud and clear. Life is short, enjoy it before it’s too late. Why bust my arse doing something I no longer enjoyed for a retirement that might, like dad’s, be taken away? All I could think of was ‘how can I make a living from sailing?’
I thought about a charter business. It wouldn’t make me rich but could still provide a healthy income and the lifestyle would be its own reward. It would also be something I could do well into old age, and help pay for a beautiful boat which I could sail away in the off season with my friends and family. That’s what I told myself four years ago when this was still something of a pipe dream.
I quit my job within a year of returning and started working as a deckhand with some charter operators, who couldn’t have been more encouraging. I worked on my business plan, getting my commercial qualifications and of course, finding the right boat for my needs. I looked very closely at the market, and test sailed just about every catamaran in the 40ft range. In the end the choice was clear. For the charter business, the Seawind 1160 was far and away the best choice.
I never imagined my first boat would be a new boat. But as Seawinds tended to hold their value very well even up to five years old, and the extra money needed to bring non-commercial boats to survey standard could be significant, a new boat built to survey started to make sense. When the Aussie dollar suddenly pushed upwards against the $US, it became an easy decision: I could buy a brand new boat with full warranty for not a whole lot more than bringing a secondhand boat up to spec. I signed on the dotted line.
Nine months later, my magnificent new boat arrived. I christened it Pegasus as a tribute to my dad. I Am Pegasus was his favourite song, a 1974 folk hit by Ross Ryan. Dad had recently passed away, having hung on a couple of years beyond expectations. I can still hear his voice, though, and his pride that I’m taking my future into my own hands doing something I love.
Because life is just too short not to start living.