Juan Perez didn’t let age affect his decision or performance when the sailor recently decided to return to his hobby of boat racing.
The 85-year-old longtime Arlington resident and retired mechanical engineer purchased a sailboat – a 28-foot tartan – then sailed alone for one leg of the recent Bermuda One-Two race, from Newport, R.I., to St. George’s, Bermuda. He was the oldest competitor and had the smallest boat, named “Bolero,” in the race – finishing fourth of four in his classification.
The grueling leg of some 757 miles took him six days and 11 hours.
Perez, who turns 86 in February, stayed in Bermuda a few days, then sailed to Norfolk, near where he docks his boat in southern Maryland.
Perez sailed in his first Bermuda One-Two (held every two years) in 1977, then did so each race– always just the one leg from Newport to Bermuda – until around 2004, then stopping and selling his boat for family reasons. When he retired from the race, the Sportsmanship Award was named after Perez.
As years passed, then his wife died two years ago, Perez contemplated returning to the race for the 16th time. The first stop was purchasing Bolero last fall. The he began prepping, readying and streamlining the vessel for the competition.
“His companion is his boat and I think the race gives him purpose and energy,” said Monica Grimm, his niece. “My uncle always has been someone who gives different things a try. Being a mechanical engineer, he has good gut instincts and can figure things out.”
Grimm theorized that Perez never made the return leg of the race because he likes racing solo.
Rules of the return leg require a second sailor.
Perez comes from a family of sailors, but also one who has raced Formula 1 cars, including at Daytona International Speedway. He is an immigrant from Buenos Aires, Argentina, moving to the United States in the mid-1950s, later serving in the U.S. Army.