'Every day is a blessing:' Calgary solo sailor returns after year at sea

While many Canadians sheltered at home during the global pandemic, Calgarian Bill Norrie was alone at sea on the trip of a lifetime.

Bill Norrie faced equipment failures, massive storms while sailing Southern Ocean

Bill Norrie and his wife Cathy celebrating his triumphant return after a year spent sailing the world. (Cathy Norrie)

It's been one year since intrepid sailor Bill Norrie set off from Vancouver Island for a year-long solo voyage.

The Calgarian departed in September 2019, setting a course to sail from Port Renfew to the Southern Ocean.

Despite battling severe storms and multiple equipment failures, Norrie managed to conquer perhaps his biggest challenge, sailing Cape Horn — what some call the "Everest of Sailing," at the southern end of South America.

"It was a dream come true, it was spectacular," Norrie said on The Homestretch. 

"There's no one best day, there's so much time for just high quality sailing."

Last Week, Norrie's 28-foot Bristol Channel Cutter yacht, nicknamed Pixie, carried him back to Canada and his new home base, Victoria, B.C.

"[It feels] about as good as it gets. Very, very happy," said Norrie.

Norrie says his trip was fraught with challenges, right up until the end.

Pixie snug in the harbour after being sailed all through the Southern Ocean and surviving the waters around Cape Horn, considered the 'Everest of Sailing.' (Cathy Norrie)

Due to limp winds, his sailboat Pixie remained stranded just outside the Strait of Juan de Fuca — and had no power so he had to way communicate its location.

The strait is an international transit zone where large freighters can make it a dangerous place for a little boat like Pixie.

Eventually, the wind picked up with gusto and made the last league of Norrie's long sail no less exciting.

"It never tapered down. These last two weeks have been hair-raising and wild right to the very last.… I'm just so glad to finally be on land."

Circumnavigating the world was not Norrie's only claim to fame. He managed to be one of the most isolated people in the world during the pandemic, having left for his voyage last September before COVID-19 rose to prominence.

When he landed last week, Norrie got the OK from customs not to isolate, given he had left New Zealand 90 days before arriving in Victoria.

"I'm considered clean at this point, thank you very much," he said.

Calgary man Bill Norrie embarked on his 28-foot British Channel Cutter yacht Pixie for a solo circumnavigation of the world on Sept. 1, 2019. His goal was to sail the Southern Ocean beneath the world's five southernmost capes. (Cathy Norrie)

A year in reflection

Norrie, who is a doctor, estimates he dropped 50 pounds on the trip.

"I've lost a lot of fat, and at my age, that's a good thing. It feels good to walk around so lean like this," he jokes.

All that time on the water also gave Norrie the opportunity to consider his humanity. Though no stranger to long voyages, (he and his wife Cathy spent five years voyaging to 22 countries) this time he was unmistakably alone.

I learned that it's all good, every day is a blessing.- Bill Norrie

"For weeks on end, I realized one wave could have my name on it, this could be my last day. So I better fill this day with good thoughts and I appreciate life," he said.

"I learned that it's all good, every day is a blessing."

Always looking ahead, his next goal is getting to know his new home in Victoria, after his wife moved there from Calgary while he was at sea. He's also looking at getting an arts degree. Oh, and spending quality time with their great Dane, Daisy.

And he's not done sailing, either. He will just keep it a little closer to home now. Norrie wants to learn the ropes of competitive racing in his new locale.

"I'm going to race hard all winter in somebody else's boat as a lackey … learn the ropes, so to speak," said Norrie. "And then maybe we'll get another sailboat and compete locally on the weekends in the winter."

With files from Joel Dryden, Ellis Choe and The Homestretch.


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