Today is my birthday, and I am 61 years old in a culture that fears death and undervalues maturity. I relate to Tom Robbins' character Alobar in Jitterbug Perfume, who experienced a violent and overt form of ageism – in the book, Alobar's patriarchal culture celebrated the ritual killing of a ruler when he displayed his first white hair.
“Heretofore, Alobar had not considered this tradition unfair. After all, were the king allowed to grow senile and ill, would not his weakness infect his domain, interfering with the multiplication of cattle, causing beet crops to rot in the fields, disabling the men in battle, and generally perpetuating disease, delirium, and infertility among those whom he ruled?”
In the book, Alobar rebels against tradition, abdicates, runs away, learns the secret of eternal life, lives several millenia, and eventually decides to become mortal and die. A fascinating book of historical fantasy, ripe with insight for the modern world.
The Most Important Thing in Life
OK, so here I am, wise with the fullness of time, and what is the single most important thing I have learned?
Take care of yourself, then take care of others.
Without health, you do not enjoy life – instead, life increasingly becomes a burden as health deteriorates and you eventually wish for death. Without good health, accomplishments become rare and often lack meaning. Without good health, you are not able to effectively care for others.
I made the mistake of working too hard, and assuming that my body would rebound once I eventually got around to taking care of it. After years of neglect, my body suffered a cascade of failures. As any systems engineer knows, cascading failure is very common in improperly set up or poorly maintained systems, or systems under prolonged stress. Much to my surprise, I found myself unable to break out of my sendentary lifestyle, due to intense pain whenever I tried to move. For years I had not used my muscles in order to focus on work, and now I found myself unable to move. Opiates did not help; fortunately I did not become addicted because I rejected that course of 'treatment' rather quickly. Diagnosis was indeterminate, and it took 2 years of medical tests before the root cause was revealed: an uncommon manifestation of Ankylosing Spondylitis.
Once I had a diagnosis, my doctors prescribed some rather expensive drugs that got me moving again, and a virtuous cycle began: a little mobility exercise diminished the daily pain, which allowed more exercise, which further diminished pain, etc. Within 4 months I felt decades younger, and was swimming a mile three times a week. A few months after that I was consistently able to swim the mile in 35 minutes and not feel tired.
I was a vegetarian from age 19 to 35, when I became pescatarian as a result of living in remote areas of British Columbia on my boat. After spending a few months in ketosis most of the time (with time out to party occasionally), I'm down 55 pounds from the extra-large version of myself that you see on the videos I made several years ago. Looking great! In fact, I look mahvelous!
I'm nowhere near done contributing yet. My career path has been non-traditional, and as a result I have done almost everything that one might do as an engineer, including CEO, VP Engineering, VP Product Management, architect, product marketing, instructor, managing editor, author, publisher, video producer, sales ... but not finance. I've found ready acceptance with the title Distinguished Engineer, which could be considered as akin to a lifetime achievement award. My role is to lead by example and lift everyone else up, with grace and style, providing technical strategy and bringing appropriate tactics to bear in the face of changing circumstances.
Often the best contribution I can make is to ask well-considered questions, even when I believe that I know or can guess the answers. I am ready to fill in gaps with suggested technical details, policies and procedures as appropriate – but I have learned to wait until the person or people that I am communicating with is ready to make those ideas and actions their own. In no way am I implying that I am not technically capable or relevant any more, or no longer write code, and here is proof. I still do a lot of design and write a lot of code, and expect to continue doing so.
Five Year Goal: Another Big Sailing Trip
Anticipation is underappreciated. Without anticipation, there is nothing to look forward to. Instant gratification is the enemy of happiness.
Anticipation towards an audacious goal motivates preparation. In the mid-90s, I trained 3 years before embarking with one other person on a month-long kayaking trip around Haida Gwaii, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Several more years of study and training prepared me to become a blue water sailor, and I have since sailed between Mexico and Canada and in the Caribbean. For a few years I was a contributing editor to Practical Sailor Magazine.
I immigrated to the US from Canada by sailing my boat non-stop 1100 miles from Victoria, BC to San Francisco. In 2002 I sailed with one other from Half Moon Bay, CA to Hawai'i. The return trip, via Vancouver Island, was more difficult, so the return trip was done in two stages; during each stage I was accompanied by one other person. The gentle sailing in the British Columbia Inside Passage was a welcome relief from the stormy passage from Hawai'i.
In 2023 I want to undertake another voyage: south from the San Fransciso Bay area to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, through the Panama Canal, around the Caribbean, across the Atlantic, and around the Meditteranean. The adventure will be broken into many legs (a leg is the portion of a sailing trip between two ports of sail), and might take a total of 3 years. I intend to sell the boat at the end of the voyage. This is not a commercial venture. Starting today I am recruiting the crew.
This offer is open to any adult who decides that they want to make the time to gain the necessary skills and experience before we depart, and is able to spend enough time on board so they learn the boat well and become part of the crew. Unless you find sponsorship, you'll need to pay your own expenses and your share of common expenses. That means the crew pays for their airline tickets to the start of the leg(s) of the journey that they will sail for, returning at the end of that leg from another city or even country. For example, some crew might join us in Monterey, Santa Barbara or Los Angeles, and depart at San Diego. In addition to being a competent sailor and having current first aid certification by the time we start sailing together on a regular basis, every member of the crew must also develop at least one specialty, such as Morse code and navigation, engine repair and maintenance, rigging repair, plumbing repair, cooking, naturalist, etc.
There will some fantastic opportunities for diving, fishing, and maybe even a chance to assist oceanographic research... and there is also the opportunity to engage with various cultures along the way. As is my custom, I am never focused on getting from A to B at maximum speed, instead, I try maximize the experience, and consider the safety of the crew and vessel before any other consideration. The only times I have found myself in dangerous circumstances on the water are those times where I attempted to impose my schedule on Mother Nature. If the weather is not right, we don't sail, even if that means a crew member misses a flight.
This is a non-exclusive activity - just because someone might participate in one or more legs of this journey, they might also crew on other vessels. In fact, two early applicants own their own blue water vessels and have extensive sailing backgrounds.
Over time, the most important feature of a successful and happy team is the character of the individuals and how they interact. Specific skills, such as sailing, can be learned, and responses to situations must be practiced individually and as a team. (BTW, I like OSCS's instruction package the best in the SF Bay area, even though it is a nightmare to get there from Half Moon Bay.) So, if the idea of participating in some or all of a journey such as this interests you, don't dismiss the idea if you do not have skills or experience today. Let me know of your interest, we'll meet on board, and we can talk about how you might gain sufficient competance by the year 2023. Although there is never any need for more than 4 crew at any one time, I want at between 8 and 12 crew members so they can be present for the leg(s) of the journey that most interest them, and fit the experience into the rest of their lives. Only 2-4 crew (including me) will be on board any time that the boat is under way.
Blue water sailing is not just about knowing how to handle sails, or how to swab the deck. You need to be able to calmly handle cascading emergencies in adverse conditions, and at least one person on board should be able to deal with every kind of failure while underway, including problems with diesel engines, total electrical failure, ripped sails, a broken mast, missing gear that fell overboard, medical emergencies, electronic communications, fiberglass repair, rationing supplies, sudden flooding due to broken plumbing, and most especially ensuring that everyone's mental state is healthy. Fright is a leading cause of death, and not just when sailing is concerned.
If you are perhaps interested in one day buying a blue water cruising boat, participating in this adventure would teach you everything you need to know in order to survive and thrive. I would be open to selling minority shares in the vessel to participants after we all get to know each other. I would like sell my remaining share at the end of the voyage.