‘Plan ahead’ advice given to sail into an early retirement

Yacht sailing into the sunset.

Image: De Visu/Bigstock.com

You need to plan ahead to retire early. That’s how John Wick sees it. He retired at the age of 51 to set out on a five-year yachting adventure in 1996.

‘I’d worked for 30 years and now I plan to be retired for 30 years,’ he says. I recently talked to him and his wife, Alison, in their suburban Melbourne home. Both were born in England.

John started sailing from a young age and graduated from small craft to yachts. As a family, they and their three children often sailed their yacht in the Mediterranean for holidays.

‘We always had adventurous holidays,’ John adds.

They had no plans to sail beyond this until a golfing holiday in Portugal was washed out. They’d brought a book with them—Sell Up and Sail—and, because of the rain, they had plenty of time to read it.

John became excited by the thought of selling up and sailing. Alison was onside, with one condition—that it would be for no more than five years. John agreed. Retirement and a new, bigger yacht beckoned.

The Australian connection

In the 1970s John was after some adventure (adventure is a theme when you talk to John and Alison) and planned they would go to Uganda to work. They sold up to go, but before they left England, Idi Amin came to power.

That changed their plans and they came to Australia instead and stayed for five years. John worked as a vet in Sydney and then in Port Macquarie where he bought the vet practice he worked in.

They loved Australia and became citizens, but returned to England to live, work, and school their children. Life was stable and routine—except for the occasional adventure—until they read Sell Up and Sail.

The ocean adventure

John and Alison both use that word ‘adventure’ often when they talk about their five years of ocean sailing. Alison does remind John of another word—‘parties’. It seems that whenever yachts and yachties meet—on the ocean or on shore—there’s always a party.

They sailed the Mediterranean for a year then joined the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, starting in the Canary Islands to sail to St Lucia in the Caribbean. After that, most of their time they sailed the Atlantic.

There were scary moments. John’s serious food poisoning after leaving Ecuador was one and, on their last trip, rough weather wrecked their self-steering gear. That meant the boat had to be steered manually 24 hours a day. This was difficult with only two on board. Fortunately, a couple of crew members from another yacht helped until repairs could be made.

In 1998, they became a part of the Millennium Odyssey. This was a group of about 15 yachts and 13 different nationalities carrying foundation lamps lit at the Tomb of the Saviour in Jerusalem.

Most of the yachts would circumnavigate the globe dropping off lamps at various ports where there were civic or cathedral functions. The final lamp was given to the pope in the Vatican on Easter Sunday, 2000.

John and Alison signed up with the Odyssey for as far as Australia.

How early retirement was possible 

‘It comes back to planning,’ John emphasises. Three things were important for their plan.

1. Finances: Alison had been a nurse, but she had quit to help as office manager, and they had three veterinarian practices (one in partnership) that they were able to sell and be financially independent. This allowed them the option of retiring early.

They also sold their house, car, and furniture because their yacht was their only home for five years.

2. Timing: The timing was right because their children were independent, which freed them from family responsibilities. And both their mothers had died the year before (their fathers had died earlier).

3. Agreement: ‘As a couple, you both need to have the same dream,’ says John. ‘When you retire, couples spend a lot of time together. For us, we’d worked together and then we sailed together. There were no fights despite not being able to be more than 40 feet (12 metres) away from each other.’

John adds some retirement advice: ‘It’s not only about preparing for retirement. You need to make sure you’ve got something to do in retirement. With our sailing, we had five years of excitement and pleasure, and a tremendous sense of achievement.’

But when they stopped they followed his advice and became busy volunteering in the community. John was a volunteer guide at Healesville Sanctuary for a time. And they both remain active in their community with the Probus club. John also took up playing the bagpipe and is president of a local Pipe Band.

Then there are the grandchildren . . . they all live nearby.

Back in Australia to stay

They joined the Millennium Odyssey in London and had the rare privilege of having London Bridge open for them so they could get to the starting line. Then the bridge was opened to let the yachts out. About 18 months later they sailed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. They were home—in Australia.

‘Sailing is the slowest, most expensive way of coming to Australia,’ says John, ‘but it’s the greatest fun.’

Bruce Manners, author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retire.

Category: Lifestyle

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