WHEN most retirees think of a seachange, the big decision is choosing which beachside suburb to downsize to - and whether there's space in the carport for the RV and runabout.
But retired international event organiser Simon Fowler, 60, and his wife Carla, 55, took the term seachange literally - deciding to sell up everything in exchange for a life at sea. Here Simon tells us what drove the pair to spend their golden years sailing around the world on a yacht and how they made their retirement dream a reality.
IT SEEMS sailing is becoming somewhat of a retirement revolution. My wife and I are a part of this movement, as we decided to give up a normal life in the UK to live a life of serenity on the open ocean.
I started sailing as a child, first in a dinghy on a lake with my brother then later racing. In my mid-twenties I bought my first yacht: C Seven, a Trapper 500 (C&C 27). I spent every weekend sailing around the Solent and the Isle of White. From then on I only wanted to go further.
My wife, Carla, had never sailed before 2017, but she grew up in Angola with her parents who owned sport fishing boats. She would spend most weekends diving, line fishing, free diving, and spearfishing, so was very experienced in the water.
We met in 2015 and got married two years' later. Two days later Carla suggested we sail around the world - I thought about it for around two seconds and then excitedly replied: yes.
While our dreams were set in our minds, we needed to have a solid plan before we ventured out into a life on the open ocean. To raise money, we decided to flip houses - buying, renovating, and selling homes to make a profit.
Our plan was to leave in 2019, but we hit a crutch when the housing market in the UK flattened and we were not going to make the money that we expected. We then decided to sell up and use the cash from our house to fund the boat. By March, 2018 we were sitting on the Ocean Fox in Croatia wondering what we had done.
Since leaving Croatia, we have visited 31 countries so far, traveling almost 10,000 nautical miles. We are currently making our way through the Caribbean and recently passed through the beautiful Los Roques islands in Venezuela.
Learn to sail
Sir Frances Chichester was the first to sail solo around the world in 1966-67 - he was 66 years old. The lesson is that it's never too late to sail or even to learn how to sail.
A good way to learn and gain practical sailing experience is to spend a week in a sailing experience program. Here, you can find out what it is like to live onboard a yacht with a live, knowledgeable crew.
Carla had never sailed until she took a week-long course in 2017 and the next time she stepped on a yacht it was the Ocean Fox. You learn quickly that way. I would also recommend a few weeks of a sailing course in order to understand the basics of sailing, docking, and rope works.
If you still don't feel comfortable sailing by yourself, don't worry - you can hire a crew and boat and see how they go about all the ins-and-outs of the sailing experience. All of the major charter companies offer a skipper at an additional cost. Cater your trip to your level of experience and comfortability.
Buy your boat
The next step is buying your boat. Find a boat that suits your long-term sailing goals. If you're just planning on sailing locally, you can save money on a massive ship. But if you decide you want to plan a bold global circumnavigation, you're going to need something that has all the bells and whistles.
Once you have found the right boat for you, make sure you perform a thorough inspection - in the water and on dry land, together with a test sail. Just like buying a house, you want to know that your future asset is in top condition.
The two biggest dangers by far are the weather and collisions. However, they can be easily avoided with constant vigilance and a little planning.
While it may sound obvious, you need to plan your route around the world so that you are not sailing in cyclone or hurricane season. Constantly obtaining and reading weather reports are a must; learning basic meteorology will reap consistent rewards as well.
Even in the middle of the Atlantic, you can get up-to-date weather forecasts by satellite phone - make sure you pay attention to them. If you're doing a short crossing - say one to three days - plan your trip around good weather to make sure you don't run into anything nasty.
I'm no stranger to the potential dangers freak weather can bring. One night on the way back from St Marlo in France, a breaking wave hit our boat and turned it over - the mast lay in the water with me standing on the hull. Luckily, after a couple of minutes, the boat righted itself. Just be prepared for unpredictable nature to send you it's worst - it happens to everyone.
The second danger is through accidental collision with another ship or something in the water. Each ship uses a system called an automatic identification system (AIS) where each ship sends out a "ping" through the VHF (very high frequency) radio.
This is then received and displayed on the chart plotter on your ship, allowing you to know where other ships are around you, their names, speed, direction, and point of contact.
It's also mandatory under law to keep watch at night. We typically split our shifts into three hours on and three hours off. On our shifts, we watch the AIS and we keep a lookout for lights of other vessels.
Free of work, retirement becomes the perfect time for you to experience the earth's wonder. Australia and its surrounding oceans boast some of the most beautiful sights in the world, and viewing them through the freedom of a boat is one of the best way to experience them. Sailing is something that we personally enjoy, and we aim to inspire others to follow in our footsteps.
As I write, we're in Panama, Bocas del Toro. We have no regrets at all and are as happy as we could be. The best part is discovering places like Los Roques in Venezuela where the clouds are green and the birds are blue underneath. It is the most beautiful place in earth. The worst is unpredictable weather, no matter how many times you look at it will always be a surprise there.
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