May 2004
- by Carol Standish

Book Cover Call of the Ancient Mariner (International Marine/McGraw-Hill, 258pp, $19.95) is not just for the �ancient.� It�s a cautionary tale for the young whipper-snappers among us, a meditation for middle-aged sailors and a rip-snorting inspiration for the just plain old. (Ancient seems so pre-historic.)

Octogenarian sailor/author, Reese Palley, originally set out to write a practical guidebook on how to be an old sailor. But as he thought about it �there seemed to be much more than guidance needed. Sailor folk, young and old...need not only a �how to do it� but �why to do it at all.� � So, tucked in amongst a barrage of practical information, sources and techniques, is Reese Palley�s no holds barred philosophy of sailing, honed from very, very long experience. (In his sixties and seventies he made three transatlantic crossings and a circumnavigation.)

�People die these days as much from boredom and irrelevance as from disease...we must put aside the temerity of the young and accept the risk that it is a bit more dangerous to be an Ancient Mariner than a young and nimble one... Once we glance about us...our own handicap of too many decades turns into something akin to pride that we had made it at all... So, sans eyes, sans teeth, sans strength of limb...we have an obligation to our great age to keep putting our ancient asses into the wet and cold and endless tumult of the sea.�

All thisReese and Marilyn rabble-rousing is delivered in the introduction followed by sections full of short essays with titles like, �We Ain�t Dead Yet.� �In Praise of Irresponsibility� berates most retirees for not having the �sapient long-headedness to recognize this precious gift of freedom and turn away from the world, from progeny and from dulling friends toward the proper usage of time...discovery of a new life.�

The book offers hundreds common sense suggestions in deference to age, shortening sailing goals, for instance. Instead of going off to uncharted territory for an undetermined amount of time Palley says, �That�s it my old friends. Around the Atlantic basin on your own bottom, by your own ancient brain and muscle in a half a year. It will add swagger to your stride and a decade to your life.�

On choosing crew he says �abjure smokers, dopers and alcoholics� but �by all means take an animal as crew. They are, perhaps, God�s apology for all the human misfits in the world.� (Palley has previously provided practical advice on the shipboard care and feeding of such crew.)

He warmly extolsMorgan 38, Unlikely the pleasure of sailing down wind. �Sailing against the wind is an activity �best performed by loutish youths who compose the crews of racing boats...showy and vulgar. If you have the good taste and the good breeding not to wear argyle sox with a tuxedo (or perhaps anytime), then why in the world would old you want to sail against the wind... There�s a special kind of rapture associated with sailing with the wind. It�s a curious reprise of youth. Everything is soft, easy and non-threatening.�

On health, he says, �the lesson we learn as we sail into our terminal decades is that a sailboat is the least pleasant place to be, except for all the other possible places to be.� A long and humorous evaluation of the meaning of �comfort� is followed by a delicious paean to �luck� presented as a list. �My wife Marilyn, whom I dearly love, is a great sailor. Luck. At eighty plus, I�m still sailing. Luck, courtesy of the Great Genetic Lottery game.� And so on.

He suggests that the motion of a sailboat provides muscle tone, (you don�t need to build it, just maintain it). He also insists on a simple diet. �Never have a fridge on your boat. You�ll be using precious power for keeping foods you shouldn�t be eating anyway.�

ScatteredBill Pinkney among the chapters of advice and counsel are �portraits� of other ancient mariners, people from all walks of life who have been rejuvenated by taking to sail. Perhaps the most remarkable is Bill Pinkney whom Palley describes thus, �He had no money. He had never sailed in a deep ocean. He was totally deaf in one ear. He comes from a broken family. He was raised on welfare. He is Black. And, Lord help him, he is Jewish. At the age of fifty, when most men are dickering for cemetery plots, Bill decided to sail solo around the world.�

In theReese and Marilyn concluding chapter, �My Debt to Unlikely� contains the most succinctly expressed answer to �why� he keeps sailing, �She separates me from most of humanity. She allows me to be exuberantly different. She requires that I do my life, not merely view my life.�

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