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Bill Hatfield set to complete historic circumnavigation

by Daria Blackwell 19 Feb 2020 21:50 PST
Bill Hatfield aboard L'Eau Commotion, 2020 © Daria Blackwell

On Saturday the 22nd February 2020, at age 81, Bill Hatfield is scheduled to become the oldest person to complete a nonstop solo circumnavigation.

"I have advised Border Force that my arrival at the Gold Coast Seaway is now planned for 12 Noon Saturday 22nd February 2020 (UTC +10)," Bill Hatfield posted on his blog on Wednesday 19th February 2020, Day 256 of his journey. At 81, Bill will become the oldest person to sail solo nonstop and unassisted around the world. It is his third attempt. As he cannot use his engine until he officially crosses the line, Bill is trying to time his arrival to coincide with the ebb tide. In light winds, he has been adjusting sail configuration to enable his timely arrival in the environs of Brisbane, Australia.

OCC member Bill Hatfield arrived home from his second solo non-stop circumnavigation attempt on the 12th September 2018 at age 79. He was awarded the OCC Barton Cup for this circumnavigation, which included a particularly difficult and protracted passage around Cape Horn. His voyage took him south of the Great Capes, with just one stop in the Falkland Islands after sustaining damage to rig and steering. That was not the first time that Bill had made the Falkland retreat as he had been forced to do the same in the voyage that led to him winning the OCC Australian Award in 2016. But he would not be stopped.

On the 8th June 2019, Bill was under way again on 'an (other) attempt to sail non-stop Westabout around the world', this time at the age of 80 years aboard his trusty L'Eau Commotion. Bill has been posting daily on his blog, which also has a tracker. It has been a pleasure to be a virtual participant in his solo journey around the world.

Although Bill mostly reported on his conditions and position, he also shared random thoughts while under way across the oceans. Returning to the same places on earth and experiencing the same conditions caused recurrent philosophical thinking. "At this latitude, I was thinking about the so-called Science of Climate Change and now I am thinking about the so-called Sciences of Theoretical Physics and Cosmology." On the 15th of June, he posted an essay he wrote exactly a year before titled "The Laws of Nature and The Laws of Man", an examination of the laws that govern the life of man on earth relative to those that govern the universe. It culminates with contemplating man's ultimate responsibility for destroying the climate that sustains us. Deep thought is what happens to sailors crossing oceans on their own. It makes for interesting reading and encourages contemplation of our place in this universe.

In other posts, Bill recounts the endless tasks and repair jobs on a never-ending list, and the challenge of constantly changing conditions to which the sailor must adapt his vessel. He describes using sticky tape and string to fix critical systems on more than one occasion. Or substituting a fan blade for a failed hydrogenator prop - pure inspiration. Out there, one has to make do with what is on hand.

Yet nothing compares to his calm description of going overboard without a tether on the 27 August whilst wrestling a sail that had dropped into the water, "...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 psychologist. 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 hydrogenerator. Piece by piece I managed to disentangle the sheets and stuff the sail and its furling gear in its bag and tossed 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!"

Having celebrated his birthday aboard on the 14th of January 2020, Bill will have finally succeeded in completing his dream voyage at the age of 81. On his arrival, Bill will become the oldest person to have sailed solo nonstop unassisted around the world, beating the record set just last year by OCC's Jeanne Socrates, who at 77, completed her journey in 320 days in September of 2019. While Jeanne had sailed eastabout, Bill will have sailed westabout ('the wrong way round').

Hats off to Bill Hatfield, a masterful sailor and extraordinary human being who does not give up.

For more information visit L'Eau Commotion Westabout blog.

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