As he tied up Pixie, his faithful everlasting steed, and awaited his greeting from New Zealand Customs, he thought back to his last step off the dock in Cape Town, South Africa. What a different scene he left compared to the one in front of him now.
After the scrutiny of PPE-plastered Customs officers, Bill and Pixie were led to their public berth in the marina, where a small welcoming party’s cheers urged him on for the last hundred metres or so.
“The wind got so bad and the water kept getting shallower and shallower, so I was kind of stuck there between Tasmania and these little nasty islets which I had to weave in and out of,” he said.
“I hand-steered for hours and hours, from about 11am to probably 5pm, but I was focusing so hard and was getting more and more tired, so I went down to grab an energy bar. When I came back up there was a wall of water waiting for me and all I could do was duck into it as it flooded the inside of the cabin.
“I instinctively held my breath in the wave, and when I looked up the boat was over on its side. I managed to get her back the right way up and didn’t bother going back into the cabin for hours because I knew how bad it was going to be! I finally went in and all my electronic equipment, the satellite phone, the emails, nearly everything was unusable,” Bill said.
He found he had lost satellite email, the weather link, and his satellite phone in one fell swoop, cutting off his primary source of communication with the outside world and restricting his knowledge of a pandemic growing nastier with each passing day.
Rounding the fifth and final Cape
Undeterred, Bill powered on towards the land of the long white cloud, the place where he completed his medical internship at the University Hospital in Dunedin in 1977-78. There he met wife Cathy, who was working at the Dunedin Teachers' College Library and living on the Otago Peninsula.
Leaving Vancouver Island, Bill’s plan was to dock in Dunedin where Cathy would be waiting for him, having flown from Canada. After a tiki tour of the South Island with Cathy, the idea was to take his time restocking supplies and fix any broken parts before Cathy flew home and Bill continued onwards to Canada.
That plan was in ruins. COVID-19 made sure of that. A revised plan had to be made on the fly, when Christchurch sailor Viki Moore answered Cathy’s desperate plea through a message in a sailing group on Facebook.
Viki put Cathy in touch with Environment Canterbury’s Regional Harbourmaster Jim Dilley, alerting him to Bill’s new plan, stating only that he would be there sometime in May, and would need to berth at Te Ana Marina. Once there, Viki could help provide the resources to get Bill on his way again, and perhaps even provide a warm meal or two.
“The community behind Bill, the Lyttelton community, is what has actually made this happen – in my eyes,” Harbourmaster Jim said.
“We have all these lovely groups of people coming in to fix electronics, to bring him food and supplies. Viki and her massive circle of friends has somehow made it all happen over a week or so.
“She’s pulled it all together to help – effectively – a complete stranger. It exemplifies what we can do as Kiwis, when the chips are down, we all come together to help someone in need,” he said.
Bill’s Kiwi lifeline
Viki Moore first heard of Bill’s remarkable journey when Cathy messaged her Facebook page ‘Women who sail New Zealand’ asking could they meet some local members when Cathy and Bill were in Lyttelton.
That plan was quickly disrupted however when Cathy learned international travel was to be no more, at which point the messaging changed from ‘looking forward to meeting you’ to ‘please can you help Bill?’
“Originally I said, ‘of course I can help, would you like to talk at an event at the yacht club I’m the president of when you get here?’,” Viki laughed.
“But of course, Cathy couldn’t make it in the end so she asked could I help Bill out, so I’ve been picking up all sorts of groceries – including three packets of yeast which were hard to come by! All sorts of other things though; electronics; people to come in and fix parts of the yacht; things to make life easier for Bill.
Bill puts Lyttelton on the map
Word spread of Bill’s arrival into Te Ana Marina quickly amongst the small Lyttelton community and before the night was out, he had already been invited to several rums, beers, and dinners from moored members of the yachting clique.
“From here on out the weather is going to get better and better the further I go north, which is fantastic,” he said.
Bill expects a further three to four months’ travel before he reaches his home on Vancouver Island.
“It’ll be about a year all up, some can do it in 300 days but on a boat this small a year is realistic. I want to be home by Cathy’s birthday on September 8, but I need to be back by October 1 at the latest to miss the really bad weather,” he said.