October 25, 2021

Canadian man alone at sea for months returns to a changed world

sailor bill norrie

As the world has been rocked by the Coronavirus over the past few months one Canadian man has been at sea alone unaware of what is happening back on terra firma. Calgary resident and Sailor Bill Norrie departed Victoria, British Columbia last September. He planned to sail solo through the Southern Ocean.

An experienced sailor, Bill mapped out a course to sail from Vancouver Island to the Southern Ocean aboard his 28-foot Bristol Channel Cutter dubbed Pixie. Bill and his wife Cathy had sailed Pixie to over 22 countries so this journey wasn’t unlike adventures he’d taken on before.

The Southern Ocean

Heading south, Norrie sought to sail all of the Southern Ocean beneath the world’s five southernmost capes, the last of which being the South Cape on the south coast of New Zealand, before heading home in September.

The last time he made landfall was February in South Africa, where he picked up supplies for the next leg of his journey.

When he shoved off from his supply stop the pandemic had just barely begun. Compare this to today, where the world has seen millions of people afflicted with the Coronavirus.

The only connection he had to the outside world was through emails he received from his wife. She tried explain to him the new world he would eventually arrive in.

sailor bill norrie
Image Credit: Cathy Norrie

On April 25, near Tasmania, Norrie saw a massive weather event was heading his way.

Norrie didn’t want to go any further south, so he sailed just underneath the island. He was struck by its spectacular beauty, having not seen land for two months. While charting a course between some smaller islands waves began to build. Norrie was preparing to chart the course when he looked up and saw a massive wall of water headed for his sailboat.

He held his breath. Secured by a harness and tether fastened to padeyes he held on for the ride. Eventually, after being tipped over by the waves, the Pixie righted and he was able to assess the damage. The water had destroyed many of the electrical systems on board including his communications. He sailed on, aided by paper charts and a battery operated GPS.

Arriving in New Zealand

Finally he made his way to New Zealand where he arrived exhausted and battered. He was greeted by 10 police officers, though they were in good spirits and smiled when they greeted him.

While Norrie had been completely alone during the excursion, officials in New Zealand questioned him when he arrived in Christchurch. Eventually it was decided that “sailor Bill Norrie had endured enough quarantine to not be deemed a health risk.”

“By the time they did their research and looked up our tracker and whatnot, they were major fans,” he said. “They’ve treated me a little bit like royalty here.”

sailor bill norrie
Credit: Cathy Norrie

Heading Home

“I was the most isolated person on the planet, it’s ironic that they didn’t want to let me in,” he said, laughing. Though Norrie was thrilled to be greeted upon his arrival by beer, food and most importantly people, he’s already planning his trip back home. He is planning on sailing home in a few days time and local residents are helping him stock up on supplies for the long and arduous journey back to Canada.

“Compared to the Southern Ocean, she’ll be a lot warmer,” he said. “I’m just so relieved to be on ground and out of the Southern Ocean and on my way home. It’s a very emotional time.”

Some information for this story sourced from CBC

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