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Downshift: The Secrets To Successfully Cruising Into Late Life

Bev Feiges, an octogenarian cruiser, shares her secrets for staying on the water no matter what the age.
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My story is not just for over-the-hill cruisers but might also be appropriate for anyone hesitating to begin a new life on the water, especially if they are hesitating because they think they aren’t ready for something so foreign. Dave and I are octogenarians who have been sailing, motoring and cruising for more than 60 years.

After many, many miles, and about 25 years of racing around lakes in small, fast, tippy boats, it hit me that I needed a more stable platform that could take us exploring over the horizon, with room for our large family, while still doing our favorite thing in life, sailing. That change in attitude was good for more than 21 years, when again I had an epiphany.

 Bev and Dave Feiges enjoy marina life aboard Cloverleaf in Fort Lauderdale.

Bev and Dave Feiges enjoy marina life aboard Cloverleaf in Fort Lauderdale.

It was time to make the cruising life easier and move to “the dark side.” It was time to move aboard a trawler. We have been aboard the latest Cloverleaf for 13 years, but we still follow our usual style of living at anchor and constantly exploring new harbors and even new countries.

Last summer we moved into Phase 3. We’re still on the boat, still cruising, but with a whole different attitude. We’re doing a different kind of cruising, something gentler and kinder, for someone who needs less stress, and this phase is probably as appropriate for a nervous newbie as it could be to other old-timers.


So what are the differences in this new cruising? At the top of the list is more time at marinas. What does this accomplish?

1. First and foremost, a chance to get off the boat and walk around. This is really essential to us. Endless days of sitting on the boat are simply not good on the body. Where I used to compensate by swimming almost every day, I no longer care to dunk in cold, murky, oftentimes fast-moving waters that are frequently laden with stinging critters.

2. A chance to more easily meet fellow cruisers. Ask any cruiser what is the best thing about the lifestyle and they will always answer, “the people you meet.”

3. A chance to explore what the area has to offer, whether it is a unique restaurant, a chance for local entertainment, learning about the history of the place, or visiting its historical sites. Have you been to Brookgreen Gardens south of Myrtle Beach, the Spoleto Festival in Charleston or the book fair in Miami? Have you seen the wonders of Washington, D.C., the Visionary Art Museum or the Aquarium right on the harbor in Baltimore? Have you experienced the theater in New York City or the great fishing that’s everywhere?

There is no end to the possibilities, but you have to stop and go ashore to smell the roses.

Cloverleaf is a 61-footer designed by Jim Krogen. Her 5½-foot draft was useful in navigating to places such as this, Warderick Wells in the Bahamas.

Cloverleaf is a 61-footer designed by Jim Krogen. Her 5½-foot draft was useful in navigating to places such as this, Warderick Wells in the Bahamas.

The downside for us is that anchoring is quicker and easier than hauling lines, shore-power cords and fenders. In the past, anchoring out in some remote place was more exciting, more adventuresome, more like really living the cruising life. But—been there, done that—thousands of times. Now I need the chance to relax, enjoy what’s ashore and take the stress level down.

If you are a wannabe, or about to change your boat, I must insert here how owning what we used to call a “marina boat” can simplify what the boat you buy must have. Marina boats, like the majority of sportfishing boats, even the larger ones, do not need the amount of anchoring gear, the size of dinghy and motor, the amount of storage space for food and parts, or even the number of guest cabins that a cruising boat that goes off the beaten path and spends the majority of time at anchor must have.

Marina boats can carry smaller anchors and smaller windlasses, smaller dinghies and engines. They can have smaller battery banks, and they don’t need watermakers. Food, parts and mechanical help are always available. Guests can always sleep ashore, so even a smaller boat is fine. We all know that smaller translates into less expensive and less in fuel costs, which helps cover the extra expense of staying at marinas. This brings me to big difference number two in the cruising life.


More time at marinas was the number one big difference. Number two is staying longer in one place.

1. If you haven’t learned this yet, you should know that staying longer is much cheaper. We have been in marinas where the price of five nights covered our costs for the rest of the month, where the whole six months’ winter rate was half to a third of what one month in Florida in the winter would cost. We aren’t going to take advantage of staying north for a whole winter, but we are doing the month or longer reservations.

2. By staying at least a month or more, we can relax and see things at our leisure, since we are really only good for one big thing a day, maybe every other day. We can get involved with the local scene and meet local people. We can afford to ship our car (the first one owned in over 10 years) to where we are staying longest in the first place, then move it ourselves to a second or third place nearby, if we choose to visit more places.

If our glasses break, or a tooth falls out, all of which has happened in the past two years, we have help nearby. We do not get out of phone contact.

We are again dropping the stress levels, enjoying what we can, but practicing the KISS principle.

3. By sitting still longer, we can also take more time to fix things (yes, it’s a boat and things still need fixing) without Dave missing meals or sleep over it. I also have more time to plan the what, where and when, and to read and write. It seems like a win-win situation to me.


As an example of how this played out, here are some of our highlights for July into October.

Dave and Bev have no plans to leave Cloverleaf alone on the docks any time soon.

Dave and Bev have no plans to leave Cloverleaf alone on the docks any time soon.

While on Long Island, we got to spend three afternoons at Brookhaven Labs, for their Science Sunday programs on the Synchrotron, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider and Functional Nanoparticles. Only yesterday I read about big advances in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, and they involved the studies we heard about at Brookhaven on our Nanoparticles visit.

The stand-out star in New York City was “Pippin,” with Patina Miller in the lead, and I don’t know if I have ever seen such a stellar performance. Was it because we were about 10 feet from the stage and we could see every sparkle in her eyes? We also went to the 92d Street, where we heard Martin Amis and Ian McEwan read from their latest books (cleverly introduced by Salman Rushdie). Of course, they all talked about their great friend Christopher Hitchens. Can you imagine the sparks flying from great minds like these?

Out on Long Island, we ran into some film festivals. My best picture award goes to “Disobedience,” a French-made film about Aristedes Sousa Mendes. I had never heard of the man and most of us haven’t, to our shame, because he was one of the greatest heroes when it came to saving lives during the Nazi era.

We ended our summer in Maryland, first at Annapolis, in a super marina called Chesapeake Harbour Marina, which had all the amenities of a country club. Being on the doorstep of Washington, we got to go to their big Book Fest on the Mall and had a chance to see an excellent production of “Miss Saigon.”


We ended with the Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA) Annapolis Gam on the Rhode River. Then, after our annual haul-out, we enjoyed our last socializing days at the Krogen Rendezvous at Solomon’s Island. Then it was back to heavy-duty traveling on our way to Ft. Lauderdale, but I hope I will be able to stick with the plan of stopping at marinas to take a break, take a walk and keep the pressure down.

Wish me luck.

A version of this article first appeared in the SSCA Commodores’ Bulletin. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission.