Every year, South Pacific yachting aficionados must decide where to set their sails before the cyclone season arrives. For some sailors, the ideal adventure is enjoying a madcap week of pirate-themed camaraderie at the Musket Cove Regatta in Fiji's Mamanuca Islands before heading to the more frequented ports in New Zealand and Australia.
For Canadian retirees Martin and Angela Minshall, this week also took on special significance: It coincided with Martin's 65th birthday.
Upon planning for their retirement, the Minshalls had little desire to spend their retirement among books, tea cups and snow. They sought a different kind of future — one that involved white sand beaches, verdant shores of exotic lands and reefs to snorkel in and dive for their own fresh lobster dinner.
While the couple occasionally visits their Vancouver home, the adventurous pair spends much of the year sailing around the South Pacific islands stretching themselves in unforeseen ways.
"Embarking on this kind of adventure has been a growing experience for me," says Angela. "For my husband, it is a fulfillment of a life's dream."
The Seeds of Exploration
It's no surprise that the earlier a person begins to save, the more time they have for that money to grow. Retirement savings is, after all, a numbers game. But, when and how do these plans actualize to become an exotic yachting trip through Fiji?
For Martin, preparing for his dream retirement began at 14, when he began sailing with his family. He later shared that love with Angela, who learned to sail in her thirties. The pair started slowly, buying a small boat when their children were young that they could take on family day trips around the local coastline. As the kids got older, the Minshalls sold that boat to invest in supplies for Martin to build a larger yacht.
It took Martin over eight years of hard work beyond his regular 9-to-5 hours, but in 1998 he had his dream boat — the SV Katie M II — and was finally ready to hit the open waters in the way he always envisioned. The trips on the SV Katie M II began local, but eventually took on a global flare.
"It was a bit of a surprise in my late fifties to discover that my husband wanted to take our boat, which we had happily sailed up and down the British Columbia coast for twelve years, across the ocean to New Zealand through the South Pacific Islands," explains Angela. "I thought it was going to be a lifetime milestone, like climbing Everest [where you go once] — he would complete the challenge and then life would return to normal, sailing around the Pacific Northwest on our vacations."
Instead, Martin had other plans for his wife and SV Katie M II.
"We sailed together to Tonga, then on to Suwarrow in the Cook Islands, American Samoa, Western Samoa, Niataputapu," Angela says with excitement. "By the time we hit New Zealand, Martin had no intention of returning to coastal cruising around Vancouver and the BC coast."
As it turns out, it was only the beginning for Angela, too: "I had also fallen in love with cruising and wasn't ready for it to end."
A Budding Adventure
New yachting friends from New Zealand convinced the Minshalls to join the annual Musket Cove Regatta from Fiji where the week is full of costume contests, pirate challenges, local tribal customs and a fair amount of Fiji Bitter ale.
On their journey, one evening challenge involved a competition for the best national anthem whereby Angela and Martin belted out "Oh, Canada" with eight fellow countrymen.
And while a few boats each year are competitive, most treat the trip as a fun five-day race to Vanuatu, the final South Pacific island stop enroute to their winter harbour. The mass crossing to Vanuatu serves as a safe way to flirt with the edge of cyclone season.
"It has been an incredible ride," says Angela. "It has taken me out of my comfort zone and made me realize I can do things I never thought I had the mental or physical strength to do."
Friends and family following the Minshalls sailing adventures on Facebook cheered them on while becoming inspired to look at their own retirements as a second chance at adventure rather than a winding down.
Like Angela and Martin, more Canadians are looking at retirement as a way to permanently celebrate the teasers of the life they've experienced on vacation. The question for many then becomes not only how to fund these costs, but also how to prioritize retirement expenses.
For the Minshalls, the cost of adventure is similar to what it would be at home. Day-to-day expenses are restricted to nominal mooring fee at some yacht clubs, small entrance and exit fees when entering a new country and occasional boat repairs they do themselves or barter among other yachties. The only out of pocket cost is travel supplies, which means the Minshalls are free to splurge when adventure calls.
Of course, the ability to maintain this lifestyle comes from years of retirement saving and smart decisions while on the water.
"My advice for those wanting to look at this lifestyle in their retirement?" says Angela. "If you have the desire, don't shy away from things that scare you. Just make a plan and then go for it."
After all, the Minshalls could use a few more voices in the "Oh, Canada" chorus next year.