Bill Hatfield sails into the Gold Coast on February 22, at 81 becoming the oldest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world. PHOTO: Nick Halsey
Bill Hatfield sails into the Gold Coast on February 22, at 81 becoming the oldest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world. PHOTO: Nick Halsey

Bill’s epic voyage an age-defier

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 38-foot L'Eau Commotion.

It took him 259 days - about eight months - but 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.

 

A small crowd lines the breakwater under grey skies to greet Bill Hatfield in the final moments of his round-the-world voyage. PHOTO: Ken Tregeagle
A small crowd lines the breakwater under grey skies to greet Bill Hatfield in the final moments of his round-the-world voyage. PHOTO: Ken Tregeagle

 

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.

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 his agility, "bounding about the boat" on his return.

The fact that Bill had attempted the circumnavigation multiple times before only increases his achievement.

Rob said the substantial storm damage to the rigging that halted Bill's first attempt, in 2015 around Cape Horn, would have been enough for anyone else to call it quits, never mind setting out twice more.

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".

One of Bill's blog followers, Sheila Thorne, summed up the feeling of many, 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: "He has also shown you can do anything at any age if you put your mind to it."


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