Sailing into the record books
WHEN Bill Hatfield cruised quietly into the Gold Coast Spit last month to become the oldest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world, it was a triumph for him, but also a statement about seniors’ abilities.
The 81-year-old Queensland grandfather not only beat the record set last year by 77-year-old British woman Jeanne Socrates but did so by taking the more difficult westbound route in his 38foot L’Eau Commotion.
The voyage, which took him 259 days – about eight months, was the culmination of a dream held since he was seven years old.
Former Southport Yacht Club commodore, journalist and author Rob Mundle (OAM) was there with Bill’s friends and family to greet him, and said: “The guy’s determination is just stunning.’’
He described Bill’s route as “like walking up Everest backwards” in terms of difficulty.
“The minute you put the age into the equation, it’s even more incredible,” Rob said.
And Rob has been there and reported on some of sailing’s biggest moments for about 50 years.
That includes live international coverage of Australia winning the America’s Cup in 1983, and writing the bestselling book Fatal Storm, about the tragic 54th Sydney Hobart Yacht Race.
After months at sea, with rarely a moment when the boat would have been still, and the resulting constant stresses on Bill’s body, Rob was amazed by Bill’s agility, “bounding about the boat” on his return.
That Bill had attempted the circumnavigation several times before only enhances his achievement.
Rob said the substantial storm damage to the rigging that halted Bill’s first attempt, as he rounded Cape Horn in 2015 would have been enough for anyone else to call it quits, never mind setting out twice more.
He pointed out that planning and preparation alone would have been a momentous task.
Even this trip was not without its dramas alongside regular chores and repairs. Bill slipped overboard while trying to retrieve a sail in late August.
Rob said Bill deserved far more than the small crowd who had cheered him in, but “that reflects the man; he’s very humble, and he wasn’t doing it for the promotion”.
“He’s a totally unassuming bloke who went for a sail – that sail just happened to be around the world.”
One of Bill’s blog followers, Sheila Thorne, summed up the feeling of many by writing: “You are truly a reflection of what it means to never give up! … You will definitely go down in Australian history as being an incredible advocate for ‘age has no barriers’!”
Rob said what Bill did showed in an uncompromising fashion that sailing really is a sport for all ages.
“In the last Sydney Hobart you had guys in their teens sailing beside guys 60-70 years old,” Rob said.
“It’s a sport for all seasons, all sexes and all ages … and is truly international.’’
Rob said: “He has also shown you can do anything at any age if you put your mind to it.”
WHAT A FEAT: Sailor Bill Hatfield, 81, has become the oldest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world. LEFT: Bill sails into the Gold Coast on February 22. Picture: Nick Halsey, Regional Rear Commodore NE Australia