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Cruising: Solo Circumnavigators

Bill Hatfield at sea midway through his latest offshore adventure

Bill Hatfield at sea midway through his latest offshore adventure

There seems to be no age limit for solo-circumnavigators. Not so long ago we had Californian Jeff Hartjoy set a record for the oldest American to sail around the globe solo, nonstop and unassisted, at the age of 70. A few months ago, 77-year-old Briton Jeanne Socrates became the oldest person to achieve the same feat of skill and endurance, sailing eastabout from North America.

Now 81-year-old Australian Bill Hatfield is winding down yet another epic circumnavigation—westabout from Queensland, Australia, solo, nonstop and unassisted, against the prevailing winds and currents. At press time, sailing his Northshore 38, L’Eau Commotion, Hatfield was expected to make landfall at Southport, Queensland in mid-February.

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This is the gnarly Aussie’s third attempt at the record in quick succession—the previous two were stymied by knockdowns and gear damage, forcing Hatfield to stop for repairs, though in each case he completed the circumnavigation to become the oldest man to circumnavigate westabout solo. He set sail on his third attempt just a few months after completing the second. To give you an idea of just how tough this octogenarian is, here’s a recent excerpt from his blog.

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Day 81, 8pm Tuesday 27th August 2019, 225 Miles South East of St Helena:

“I was just settling down with a nice hot cup of coffee after lunch when suddenly everything became too peaceful. A glance at the speedo showing 4 knots confirmed my first thoughts, so up on deck I went to see most of the [asymmetric spinnaker] sail in the water, billowing up between the pole to starboard and the boom to port.

“It soon proved useless trying to pull the sail out of the water with the autopilot [windvane] still pointing downwind, so it was disengaged and the helm lashed hard to port. This encouraged the sail to further gyrations, and while I was trying to grab handfuls and to lash it down the combination of a lurch and a gust had me in the water with the offending piece of sail wrapped round my ankle.

“This was easily kicked free, and then here comes one for the psychologists. Instead of a gentle swim round to the stern, I handed my way along the gun’l, which was quite difficult; with the yacht beam-on to a reasonable sea and with no sail up, when she rolled to starboard it took some hanging on.

“I made it to the stern without that much trouble and surprised myself how easy it was to get back on board with all the clutter there associated with the Windpilot and Watt & Sea hydro-generator. Piece by piece I managed to disentangle the sheets and stuff the sail and its furling gear in its bag and tossed it in the saloon.

“Now here comes the interesting part. I put on my safety harness, clipped on and ran out the jib, took off the sail ties and hoisted the main to its second reef without once falling in the water. Safety pays!”

Indeed. Hatfield’s fellow solo-record-setting Aussie Jon Sanders, most famous for his triple nonstop circumnavigation in the 1980s, is also back on the water at the age of 80, partway through his 11th circumnavigation.

March 2020

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