Valerie Palmer

Following Her Bliss

   I was struck with curiosity and I never forgot it," said Valerie. "Joseph Campbell had this expression, 'Follow your bliss,' and I wish someone had said that to me when I was young. But people didn't talk that way back then; I grew up in an era where women were repressed."

Nevertheless, when she was in her 60s, Valerie decided she was going to find out just exactly how one goes about sailing around the world. She had been a single mother of four and was living in what she describes as "a big horrible monstrous Victorian house." If she was going to travel, it would have to be on a budget. So she looked into the matter and found that crewing other people's yachts was the way to go.

"It's very interesting. When you make a decision, the waters just part before you," said Valerie. "My only qualifications were that I've never been seasick and I'm very good-natured. But if you really want to do something and you focus on it, things happen."

A lot of things happened, as a matter of fact. The evidence is all filed away in a big wooden armoire where Valerie keeps three-ring binders full of notes and photos on her travels, each labeled with destinations like Guatemala, Hawaii and the British Virgin Islands. The area of the world that seems to fascinate Valerie most is the Eastern Mediterranean-Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus and the Greek Islands-places she describes as "open-air museums."

"As far as I'm concerned, traveling is a fantastic education," said Valerie, who considers herself a lifelong learner. "You get a global view instead of small-mindedness."

Sailing isn't the only way she has mobilized. Valerie has lived in Japan for two years, backpacked around Vietnam when she was already in her 70s, and set off alone for Acapulco armed with nothing more than the book Mexico on $10 a Day. And she's not finished either. Though she currently lives with her daughter in Spanish Wells, Valerie dreams of getting her sea legs back-she's looking into freighters and cargo shipping.

"I'm not what you'd call a bold person," Valerie insists. "But here I am at this age, and I still have a lot of things I want to do; so shake a leg and do 'em! It's funny-I cannot explain this about myself-but I have not been afraid, even when maybe I should be. Freaky things can happen, but you can't linger on those thoughts. And anyway, it's better than being in a nursing home!"