The Island’s first baby boomers turn 70 this year. Our 65-plus population is growing far faster here on the Island than in the of the rest of the U.S., and by 2030, they will represent nearly a third of our population. So who are these folks, and what do they mean to the Vineyard? Over the coming year, we’ll be taking a closer look at people who are in “Act III” of their lives, and as you’ll see, they’re far from a monolithic group.
It was a bright and clear April morning, but the northwest wind was blowing in straight off the harbor, and even with a wool watch cap and hooded jacket, Lynne Fraker was feeling the cold. She was in the Gannon and Benjamin yard working on getting her 34-foot Alden sloop, Ena, ready for the upcoming season. It’s a ritual that she has been performing with Ena for over 20 years, nearly a third of her life. Lynne turns 65 in October.
There was brightwork that needed sanding and varnishing, as there always is on a classic wooden boat, but this year Lynne also needed to install a new fuel tank. So there was no shortage of work to be done, but that onshore wind made it feel more like winter than spring, so when I asked her if she wanted to grab a cup of coffee, she was all in.
Boats have played a big role in Lynne’s life for as long as she can remember. She grew up on Long Island, and summered at her grandmother’s house on Fire Island. “We lived right there on Great South Bay,” Lynne said. “There was fishing, hanging out at the beach, and boats were all around. In the winter all we did was think about what we were going to do the next summer.”
In seventh grade, Lynne’s family moved to a house on a canal in Amityville, and Lynne finally got a boat of her own, a little outboard, and she spent endless hours fishing, crabbing, and just puttering about.
But boats took a backseat for Lynne after graduation from high school. She went to work for the telephone company on Long Island, got married in 1971, then, after a couple of years of living in the city, she and her husband moved upstate, where they raised dairy goats and rabbits. When not tending the animals and making cheese, Lynne found time to get her degree in occupational therapy, and soon got a job with an association for retarded children, as they were called back then. She loved the work. She and her husband also raised two sons, but after they had grown up and left home, Lynne and her husband divorced in 1991. And Lynne needed somewhere to reboot her life.
“In 1991 my sister called and said, ‘I think there’s a job for what you do on Martha’s Vineyard,’” said Lynne. “So I came up for an interview, and once I got on the ferry, it really brought me back to my days on Fire Island. I remember thinking, I’m staying here whether I get the job or not.” But Lynne did get the job — working for the school district.
“I moved up about two weeks after Hurricane Bob,” said Lynne, “and I found a great place to stay in the winter, but I needed somewhere to live for the summer. Someone suggested that if I had a boat, I could live on it. I talked to the guys at Gannon and Benjamin, and they said there was a beautiful schooner, Lana and Harley, that needed a lot of painting and varnishing, and if I did the work, I could stay on the boat.”
This was the arrangement Lynne was looking for, and to make it even sweeter, she got to crew on the boat that summer. Lynne also became assistant harbormaster in Tisbury, a position she would hold for five years. By this time, she was totally hooked on sailing; when in the fall of ’92 she was offered the chance to crew on a sailboat delivery to Bermuda, she jumped at it.
“I thought it would be a dream,” said Lynne “but it turned out to be quite an experience. We got to Bermuda and then decided to head toward the Caribbean, but we got caught in a storm and the boat sank, and we had to be rescued by a Polish freighter.”
After returning to Bermuda and a brief recuperation, Lynne hopped another charter to St. Thomas, where she spent the winter working on various charter boats. The following spring, Lynne returned to the Vineyard, and she started looking in earnest for her own boat.
“In the winter of 1994, I was in Maryland, working as an itinerant traveling occupational therapist,” said Lynne “when I heard from a Vineyard Haven yacht broker. He sent me a picture of Ena, and he said, Make an offer — a very low offer.” The boat looked beautiful, and Gannon and Benjamin gave it its stamp of approval. The only problem was that Lynne had very little money. So she offered what she had — $10,000. And to her delight, the offer was accepted. “I bought Ena without actually having seen her in person,” said Lynne, “but when I came back in April and looked at that hull, I fell in love.” It was the beginning of a long and wonderful relationship.
Of course, now, as the proud owner of a classic 34-foot Alden Malabar Sr., Lynne wanted to take her for a spin. So in the fall of ’94 she and Ena headed to Annapolis and then to Norfolk, picked up a crew member, and sailed straight for Fort Myers, where she spent the winter working in a program to teach women to sail.
When Lynne and Ena returned to the Vineyard, things started to fall into place. Now that she had a place to stay in the summer, she could start building a life. She would continue as assistant harbormaster until 1997, go on to become dredge administrator in Edgartown for ten years. and later work as a dredge permitting consultant for Tisbury, Falmouth and Oak Bluffs. There was scalloping in the winter, and in 2001 she began building a chartering business around Ena that is still going. Today, Lynn has a year-round apartment, but there were many summers, and even a couple of winters, where Lynne lived aboard Ena.
Retirement, in the traditional sense, is not something Lynne thinks about very much. Not that she wouldn’t like to, it just doesn’t seem to be in the cards right now.
“I’ll be the first to admit,” said Lynne, “I never thought I’d be in this position when I was younger … but you know, I like what I’m doing, I have good friends, and I live in a great place.It’s all right.”
Lynne Fraker on priorities:
Everything is for my boat. I hardly ever go out to dinner. If I have any extra money, I’d rather buy a gallon of paint.
Retirement doesn’t mean anything to me, because I really can’t afford to retire. So I really don’t think about it all that much.
On growing old on the Vineyard
You see some people come here and they say, Oh, this is so nice, I want to spend the rest of my life here. The Vineyard is a fine place to grow old if you have a support group, but otherwise it can be lonely. Of course, the other thing is, it’s so expensive.
On leaving the Island
I’ve thought about leaving, but it seems that every place I like is another resort, so it tends to be expensive as well. I really don’t want to leave: I love the Vineyard, my life is here, but if I’m forced to leave, I will.
On a typical day
It all depends on the time of the year. In the summer I’m usually up around 4:30 or 5 checking the email to see who made reservations, and then I walk my dog for about 45 minutes. In the scallop season I’m out on the water by 7, and in the winter I’m consulting on dredge permitting.
On staying fit
I laugh when I think about going to the gym — are you nuts? Between working on the boat and scalloping, I don’t need a gym. It does take a bit of a toll; my shoulders get a little stiff, and I suppose I don’t have quite the stamina I used to have, but it doesn’t keep me from doing what I have to do, and I love being outdoors and working.
I love to sew, but only during the winter. Two years ago I bought a sewing machine and made a mainsail. I also made some cushion covers and pillows. I don’t do it just to save money, I do it because I really like it.
I find that as I get older, it’s harder and harder to remember names. A friend of mine said that it should be a law that everyone is required to wear name tags. Sounds good to me.
As I get older, I think I’m actually getting a little wiser. I’m growing as a person. I never used to speak up much, but then I went through a period where I guess I spoke up too much. Now I’m learning how to get my point across without turning too many people off (laughing) — I’m not always successful.
I’m more spiritual now than I ever was, but it’s not a huge part of my life. I believe in meditation. If I’m going through a stressful time, I just remind myself to sit down, close my eyes, and chill.
What makes me happy is to be on my boat with my dog, and if my best friend Ray is with me, that even takes it up a notch. Being on the water has always made me happy, but I think when I was younger, I took it for granted. I don’t take it for granted anymore..
The problem with getting older is that it reduces your options, and that can sometimes lead to anxiety. I guess people look at me and see me as 64. I just see myself as who I am. There’s no number attached.