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Life After Work

Have you ever wondered what retirement will really look like? It’s hailed as the ultimate achievement after a lifetime of working, but can it live up to your expectations? For Mike Gragtmans, 61, who took the plunge, the answer is yes; in large part because of a boat.

In early 2020, Gragtmans was working for Mitsubishi Chemical, running worldwide operations for one of its divisions. A true road warrior, he traveled internationally for at least three weeks each month, often stopping in multiple countries within a single week. It was a fun job, he says, but it could be grueling. He was in a Tokyo hotel one night when his brother Jost called. “He said, ‘I think I found our boat,’” Gragtmans says. “A 2015 Jeanneau 37 was up for auction and Jost thought we could get her for a good price. I had sailed on small boats, but I’d always dreamed of owning something like that. Jost suggested we make a low-ball offer and see what happens. I called my wife, Anne, for her approval and then got back to Jost to say ‘let’s do it.’”

They bought the boat in February 2020. Because it had been partially submerged in water, it needed a good deal of work. “Covid had just hit, so getting the boat operational was a challenge,” says Gragtmans. “We asked the Jeanneau dealership in Newport, Rhode Island, for help and they did a beautiful job.”

The Gragtmans live in Greenville, South Carolina, but had always dreamed of sailing Newport. So, when it was time to find a home for the boat, they decided to keep her at the Safe Harbor Newport Shipyard. Jost had done some cruising in that area and liked the idea too.

Then the brothers’ plans took a tough, terrible turn. As the boat was being repaired, Jost was diagnosed with cancer. His battle began, and while he talked about the possibility of helming the Jeanneau on Narragansett Bay, Jost knew the dream was not guaranteed. He died in March 2021, just one month before the boat was launched. “That was my wake-up call,” says Gragtmans. “Jost reminded me that life can be fickle. You can be doing fine and then chaos descends. You never know when that might happen, so live in the best way you can. He told me to leave the job, take the leap and don’t worry about it.”

Gragtmans took his brother’s advice. He resigned from his full-time position and then packed up his truck with the gear he’d need for a summer of cruising. He drove 12 hours north to Newport, arriving after dark on a spring evening. “I wasn’t even sure how to turn on the boat’s lights,” he says. “Fortunately, one of the guys in the marina came over and offered to show me how to get things fired up. We’ve become friends since. There’s a great sense of community here.”

Last summer, Gragtmans spent about 75 days in Newport living aboard Voor de Wind. That was the name Jost had selected for the boat, a Dutch phrase that translates to “with the wind.”

“It means ‘everything is great,’” says Anne, who joined her husband aboard on summer weekends. “Each time we were on the boat, I felt Jost in the wind, on the sails. He made this happen for Mike, who is happiest on the water.”

Jeanne Craig

This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue.


A Father’s Greatest Gift

Recently, I asked readers of Soundings to share their memories of a person who introduced them to boating.