Never too old

The sea gypsy community is packed with odd, interesting life stories.

There are many unusual sailors out there and this is the story of one of them.

Tilly's Birthday

It was a spring day in the Netherlands and the sun warmed the air just enough for the party to be held outdoors. It was a big day,  Granma Tilly was celebrating her 90th Birthday!


As life goes, Tilly now needed some help with the everyday tasks and her son Humberto decided to leave his little sailing boat El Holandes Errante at anchor in Fiji and join her in Europe. After not too long she commented:

“I know you are much happier when you are in the South Pacific. Why don’t we go there?”

“Mum, my boat is waaay too small for the both of us.”

“Well, then I will sell my house and we will buy a bigger boat!”

After a few moments of hesitation Humberto realized that she was serious. She had never stepped foot on a boat before, but now she wanted to live aboard in the South Pacific!

And so they did it. Humberto showed her a few candidates and she picked their new boat, a St. Francis 44 catamaran.

They sailed from the Caribbean through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific. Tilly’s first ocean crossing took 45 days due to no wind, but she did not complain.

Superbabica in wahoo

She experienced many new things and was suddenly getting younger by the day.
Tilly and HumbertoTilly made many new friends, both in the Sea Gypsy community and on the islands they visited.



She adapted very well to the life on the sea, also thanks to Humberto, who made some modifications to make her life easier.

IMG_1219 (2)

Tilly’s elevator

See how Tilly’s cool elevator worksDSCF0108

It was interesting to listen to many of her stories, including a grounding in Tahiti when she was alone aboard. She really seems to be without a care in the world. She also explained why:

“All my life I took care of other people. Now finally someone is taking care of me. I love it.”

Tilly just recently celebrated her 91st Birthday, this time on a passage between Beveridge Reef and Tonga.  She definitely does not look one year older, maybe 20 years younger!

Tilly before and after

Tilly at 90                                            Tilly at 91

We met her and Humberto in Neiafu, Vava’u. They impressed us as happy and charismatic people, the kind of people that make our sailing community so very special.

They are now sailing around Fiji where Tilly is spending her days drinking fresh coconuts in turquoise lagoons. What a great way to live in retirement!

She made me think of one of my favourite quotes:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Hunter S.Thompson

You can follow Tilly’s and Humberto’s journey on their Youtube channel or check out Humberto’s website.

Tilly enjoying Bora Bora

Tilly enjoying life in Bora Bora




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32 Responses to Never too old

  1. Jo Birch says:

    I love this. Good on her. She looks fabulous

  2. Love this. We recently spent some time with Julian Mustoe who having sailed around the world on his 25′ boat “Harrier” lost everything. Undeterred, and with some help. He’s back afloat and currently single handed in the Baltic. At the young age of 87. These great folk are an inspiration in living life

  3. Love this story. This is how life should be. Not sat in a chair, being spoon fed in a nursing home.

  4. The sailing life keeps us young & strong

  5. When my Grandma turned 80 her Dr said she needed to sell her boat. I told her to get a second opinion!

  6. JAN HANSEN says:

    MY, FATHER is now 91 !!! I, taught, HIM, to sail at age 84! HE, is constantly calling, ME….”Let’s go sailing” !!! HE, claims, it’s the most exciting, thing, HE, has done in, HIS, life! This, is quite the statement–for, a, former stunt-flyer; war hero; sky diver; air line pilot; inventor, date-of-movie star
    Ester Williams; and, buddy of Howard Huges! (Dad was on the virgin-flight of the Spruce-goose with Howard; and, to hear DAD say, that, sailing with ME on the Great Salt Lake is the most fun in life,….well…..that’s, pretty fine indeed !!! GO! VINTAGE SAILORS !

  7. Ade Robinson says:

    What an amazing story and inspiration to us all.
    …. And I was worried we had left it too late. Clearly not !

  8. Skip Spires says:

    Such a wonderful story! Super happy for these great people. Blessings to them both. Hope to meet them in person when we sail there.

  9. Mike Santis says:

    What a fantastic story! Thanks.

  10. Linda Edeiken says:

    Great story! They say that “the time spent on a sailboat is not deducted from your lifespan”. May she have many more years of sailing!

  11. Karen Ward says:

    Amazing story, we will be following you soon… life to the full amazing change in her. Fabulous

  12. Thanks Jasna ,mom very proud of your article,you write very nice about her,we just arrived back to savusavu after our holidays (finally) in Fulaga atoll,hope your new engine is working fine ,just had the first look at your facebook and all very happy ,why not eh.. hope to meet again ,easy,because all our oceans connect bula vinaka humberto and tilly

    • Another great photo! 😊 It was a pleasure to write about your mom and you. I hope you keep enjoying life. Our new engine is wonderful, we are enjoying Tonga and some island time (finally for us too!) Keep in touch!

    • Theo Janssen says:

      Een bizarre geschiedenis, veel rumoer in de familie, maar ik zie dat jullie intens gelukkig zijn samen. Een behouden vaart en dat jullie nog lang mogen genieten van dit avontuur.
      Ik kreeg het bericht via Hannah. Kun je mij opnemen in de directe berichtgeving? Groetjes van je neef Theo en van Lieselotte.

      • humberto says:

        dat is het goeie woord intens gelukkig samen met onze nieuwe pacific familie,hoop dat we haar over de 100 kunnen brengen,maar het meeste doet ze zelf,komt van binnenuit dit wonder saludos

    • Mina says:

      Be on the lookout for mermaids, Tilly and Huub! One of them is Trui. ❤️

  13. Andrea says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story of love and strength 🙂

  14. Allan says:

    Tilly looks full of life. Unlike like my wife who is 73 only, unfortunately she has Alzheimer’s and lives in Aged Care the disease is draining her life away. I’m unable to anything but be with her
    Keep the inspiration alive

    • rick says:

      Sorry to hear that Allan. Good luck with everything.

    • humberto says:

      Later on my plan is to offer the boat for people who just have one more wish ,and sail them on this boat. They can bring their own nurse or family to help take care of them. I understand Alzheimer might be to difficult to cope with on a boat. Wish you a lot of streght Allan regard from Tilly and humberto

  15. Jaap Piersma says:

    I find this the most incredible story I have seen for a long time. As you can guess from my name Humberto I am a fellow country man.
    I turned 65 last year and it has always been my dream to sail around the world and never finish it. Stay in the Pacific for ever. I know what living on a boat is as I have lived on board for 4 years due to personal circumstances. Why do I postpone and find for excuses.

    To make a decision like this and take the step to sell your comfortable home and buy a boat is huge. Tilly, you are my hero and I will take the steps required to join you. Hope to meet you soon and share a coconut together. With all my love Jaap

  16. Marcy Babcox says:

    Wow!! I’m 68 and not the best sailor, and still working full time. But my son found a great boat in Houston, painted her and we are shipping her to Dallas area next week! I am thrilled to see this story!! And I EXPECT to increase my happiness, good health, circle of friends…starting with the launch of my Ericson 25… Phyxius! Congratulations for a wonderful story and inspiration!

  17. humberto says:

    Wow Jasna,just had a look at all the positive replies on the article you wrote. That is just what the goal has to be give all your readers the inspiration and the feeling never to be to old for a new challege. It doesn’t have to be that extreme as my mom decided,but just jump in the deep and get that feeling of floating on the clouds as relaxt as a newborn baby. Really hope to see people follow our steps. what a happy oceans we are going to have regards for both of you from mom Tilly & men

  18. Maria E Russo says:

    Absolutely love this story! Well done Humberto!

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