Retired Manitowoc man spends 6 weeks crossing Atlantic in 37-foot sailboat

  • Article by: KELLY MEYERHOFER , Associated Press
  • Updated: July 14, 2014 - 12:12 AM

MANITOWOC, Wis. — With the abundance of free time that retirement offers, many people nearing this stage of life don't know what to do with themselves.

"The main job of retirement is to create a life worth waking up for every day," said James Iverson. "And it's a full-time job."

Well, Iverson is working overtime as he just returned from a six-week sailing trip across the Atlantic. He traveled with three other men in a 37-foot sailboat that took them to Bermuda, the Azorean Islands and Portugal, HTR Media ( ) reported.

Iverson has lived all over the country but settled down on Manitowoc's lakeshore four years ago because it was the perfect "authentic harbor town" for retirement.

While Iverson, a member of the Manitowoc Yacht Club, has 35 years of sailing experience, primarily on the Great Lakes, he never imagined a transatlantic voyage.

A longtime friend, Ken Smail, invited Iverson to be a crew member on the excursion in 2013. While Iverson initially hesitated about leaving his wife, Jill, for so long, the couple agreed it was a once-in-lifetime opportunity.

Preparing for the trip started a year in advance. Iverson built up strength and flexibility with a personal trainer at the YMCA. This would help him control the boat when waves were halfway up the mast and winds whipped at over 30 miles an hour.

The Sojourner set sail from Portsmouth, Virginia, on May 3.

After six days of sailing, the crew arrived in Bermuda only to learn the next leg of their trip was in the direct path of a storm. They adjusted their route to avoid the storm even though it added several hundred miles to the trip.

A different ship weathered straight through the storm; it went missing shortly after. For the next few days, Iverson searched for a life raft but never found one. He would later learn the U.S. Navy found it never had been deployed.

"I don't know if they never got the message on their radio or it was hubris," he said. "But all four British seamen died."

One was only 21 years old, another 23.

The youngest seaman on the Sojourner was 61.

"They died on what was essentially a pleasure trip," he shook his head.

The nuances of ship life seemed insignificant in comparison to recovering from that incident, but still required an adjustment.

To avoid being cast overboard, each sailor was always tethered onto the boat with two sets of pulleys. They also had to strap themselves into their bunk so they wouldn't get thrown out of bed.

Simple tasks people take for granted, like going to the bathroom, require a Herculean effort on a rocking boat when the toilet is at a 45 degree angle.

The crew's water maker, which converts saltwater to freshwater, broke shortly after leaving Bermuda. For two weeks, they did not shower or do laundry. Each seamen rationed himself to one liter a day.

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