Living Stronger: Rod Johnstone's passion keeps him sailing at 80

Living Stronger is a "CBS Evening News" series celebrating the people leading the way to longevity -- and inspiring the rest of us.  


NEWPORT, R.I. -- To take to the open sea in a 42-foot sailboat is to risk it all.

Rod Johnstone and his nephew, Clay Burkhalter, are not only doing battle with wind, weather and water. They're also competing against 34 other boats in the legendary Bermuda Race, reports CBS News correspondent Don Dahler.

In this 40-year-old event, boats sail from Newport, Rhode Island, to the island nation and back.

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Johnstone and Burkhalter on their boat.

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"Sailboat racing is a lot of fun because it's competition," Johnstone said.

The 635-mile journey is difficult and exhausting; teammates exist on only 30-minute catnaps.

"You're dealing with the forces of nature. You're sort of back to your primeval self," Johnstone said.

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Rod Johnstone

CBS News

"You're how old? 80?" Dahler asked.

"80, right," Johnstone said.

"And you're still racing?" Dahler asked.

"Oh, I love it. Yeah, I'd never stop," Johnstone replied.

Johnstone has been sailing since the age of four, and as much as he loved his early boats, there was always the feeling that he could do better.

"My brain sort of analyzes what I like about the boat and what I don't like about the boat," he said.

Finally, in 1976, he quit his job to try building boats of his own design out of his garage.

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Johnstone building an early model of his boat.

Rod Johnstone

There are now over 14,000 J/Boats on the water. Known for their speed, stability and safety, they've become one of the most popular types of sailboats in the world.

His key to living stronger? Sharing his love of sailing with others.

"The thing that I really found out along the way is that I'm a much better communicator of this passion through my sailboat designs," Johnstone said. "I design the boats … and people love to sail them. That's my real satisfaction, is to be able to do that. It's like maybe the only talent that I have."

J/Boats is a full-time family business. But it still affords Johnstone time to test his mettle; man against sea.

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Johnstone at the wheel

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"What is it about it that you like so much?" Dahler asked.

"Well, I'm good at it," Johnstone replied. "When you're good at something, you always like to keep doing it, you know?"

Rod Johnstone, at 80, still likes to win, never forgetting that, with the life and career he chose, he already has.