The Old Man in a Boat Tour is the culmination of a number of years of planning and several setbacks along the way. As a long-time and avid dinghy sailor I have often wondered if it would be possible to combine my love of sailing with my enthusiasm for environmental issues – you would think they could go hand-in- hand, wouldn’t you? Still – how to go about it?
A bit of background first – I am a retired mathematics teacher, but I have done other things too! I ran a sailing school in Hamilton Ontario for five years upon graduation from McMaster University in the early 1970’s. I served for 5 years in the Royal Navy as an Instructor Officer in the early 1980’s. But when I finally decided to grow up and settle down at age 40, particularly with the joyful company of my lovely new wife June and recently arrived beautiful daughter, Maya, I found that teaching gave me the most satisfaction and that I was good at teaching Mathematics in particular. My environmental interests grew from working with students at the schools where I taught in setting up recycling programmes and environmental groups. This was a very busy period of my life: raising a family; renovating an older house; working in the high-demand setting of private boarding schools and dealing with the concerns and care issues of my aging parents and finally their deaths; getting active in Green Party politics and environmental issues at the local level. I kept all these balls in the air fairly successfully for a number of years, but finally… (you know how this is going to end – don’t you?)
At age 56, I suffered what you could only call a severe nervous breakdown and went into a serious depression with several long hospital stays, ECT treatment, therapy… the whole nine yards. Finally, with the dedicated support of my family and the professional skill and empathy of several wonderful counsellors I recovered but not enough to return to work, so I took early retirement. And it was in retirement that I realized that I could become whole again by getting back to what gave me the most satisfaction: Laser sailing/racing and woodworking to start with and a while later to mathematics in the form of writing and organizing presentations for teachers. But some people just can’t settle for what’s good for them, can they?
I felt I needed a challenge and found it in the form of an 800 km. walk across northern Spain called the Camino de Santiago (all the way from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain). Here, surely, was all the time one needed to reflect on life and the meaning of things! Long distance walking and staying in crowded hostels not being my wife’s thing – I invited my sisters (both older, but game for a challenge! and terrific company as well). What better omen for the trip than the very stirring movie “The Way” by Emilio Estevan (starring his father Martin Sheen) which was being premiered at TIFF and June and I managed to get tickets!
Perhaps I’ll elaborate more on the Camino adventure at another time – suffice it to say I finished, we had a blast, and I came back with a vision that I needed another long-distance trip in Europe (perhaps not one with quite so many bed-bugs and blister-raising kilometers) but one that I could undertake as a solo challenge.
So the seeds were sown and the plan grew (after many variations) into a row/sail adventure and fundraiser along the rivers of Europe (beginning at St. Malo, France (Atlantic Coast) and ending at Travamunde, Germany (Baltic Sea) by way of the Loire, Rhone, Rhine, Danube, Vltava and Elbe Rivers! 1,600 km. give or take a few kilometres. I had the route, was choosing boats that I could pick up in Europe, practicing my French and had even planned to sail in Ireland before- hand at the World Laser Masters’ Championships in September 2018 and then take a jaunt over to St. Malo to begin the adventure. I did actually get to do the Laser Masters, but a diagnosis of prostate cancer and a scheduled surgery in November brought the rest of the plan crashing to earth.
Although cancer free now for two years, life after surgery has not been exactly problem free as I was left with chronic pain which the doctors couldn’t explain – it now seems to be a trapped nerve from the position I was placed in for the surgery! Enough about ailments… let’s get on with our lives shall we? Let’s do that trip we had planned before it all! And then this little thing called Covid 19 happened to the world…
So, while everyone else was being forced to “pivot” and to re-adjust to the new norm, I decided I could as well and a new trip was planned which has evolved in The Old Man in a Boat Tour.