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The good, the incredible, and the brilliant - Bill Hatfield and Jeanne Socrates

by John Curnow, Global Editor, 16 Jun 2021 21:00 UTC
Living Legends. Bill Hatfield and Jeanne Socrates © John Curnow

Ever since writing More Grit! I have been on somewhat of a Western trip. It was only further solidified after actually meeting both the incredible Bill Hatfield, and the brilliant Jeanne Socrates. To spend time with them over coffee talking and learning, was as profound as it was entertaining, and rewarding as it was informative.

Yes, I really did feel like I was in the presence of greatness with these two very softly spoken, incredibly humble, totally unassuming, and vastly experienced souls. The invitation to meet these two, at the very same time they were physically meeting each other for the first time was an opportunity that was never going to be missed.

Now I had never spoken directly with Bill previously, and knew so very little of his entire escapades of a completely fulfilled life. He's been at this caper for some time, which he explained some of it to me, "Oh I guess I started sailing on the ocean in 1974. I had a mid-life crisis; gave away engineering and sailed across the Pacific a couple of times, well there and back, then around South America, and after that my youngest daughter was born in Fiji on the way home. So I decided I'd have to actually earn a living, and became a fisherman. I fished the Great Barrier Reef for twenty years, catching trout and live coral trout."

"It was a hard business; you know keeping them alive and fresh and unmarked, but we got that sorted out. Then I retired from that, did a little bit of babysitting for my grandson for a few years. I'd sold my fishing boat by then, and my daughter and grandson went over to Canada for skiing. They said 'don't do anything silly while we're away', so I bought a boat..."

She was a Mottle 33, a Joe Adams centre cockpit design, "...but it was an original one-off. So I bought that and tried to sail Westabout non-stop, leaving from Sydney. I went around the Azores and got capsized Southwest of Cape Horn, and did a fair amount of damage to the rigging and what have you. I sailed into the Falklands and sold the boat there."

The question is why?

Of course, to a lot of people, attempting a Westabout circumnavigation is a little bit of anathema, so the question becomes, especially to the oldest person ever to have completed one, just what possesses a person to take it on? "Well I thought I'd go sailing, and then I'd heard that no-one had done it before in a boat under 40 feet, so I thought I'd give that a go."

OK. That makes it the old 'because it had not been done before trick', but Bill is an absolute treasure trove of stories. We talked a lot about safety, and in particular, heavy weather. Bill believes now that it's better to have the main right out, outboard sheeted actually, down tight, rather than the drogue, and risk they've been towed back into a wave, as opposed to having steerage over it.

"That's right, yes. I'm convinced. I've put out a series drogue, a Jordan, in quite strong weather. It was quite effective in the 33-foot Mottle, but then I sold her and got the North Shore 38." (Ed. A really well made and reliable Australian built vessel.) "I've known Hank Kauffman for many years through gliding, and I said to Hank, 'What's your best boat?' He said the 38, so I said to come up to Cairns and have a look at one with me, which he did and said, 'Yeah, it's a sound boat.' Later on, I was in quite strong winds in the Great Australian Bight, and I found a parachute drogue not terribly satisfactory, with a stern that the waves would come over and fill the cockpit and what have you. On the beam it was unstable, and it tended to, sometimes, when the bow went straight into this breaking sea, be very uncomfortable."

"Subsequently I'd never used that again, and had very little more strong weather, but when it did blow I decided to use a well reefed down main with the boom well out to the side. In my opinion, fairly limited though, is that is the best way to handle strong weather, to actually be slightly moving into the wave, as against lying a-hull."

Remember here that Bill's an engineer, and he's probably being self-deprecating a little bit, because water over the foils, which is what he would have been thinking about, even if he's only making, say two knots of boat speed, and maybe half a knot to a knot of actual headway, is probably what's going through Bill's head, I would imagine.

"I had a lee shore at the time and it was important that I not go and meet it. With the drogue you can tend to drift downwind at about a knot. I wasn't that far off South America, and it was the realisation you were making way off the lee shore. I was well clear, there was no danger, but just realising that you could do this was quite comforting."

What's it like?

Now we were at the Southport Yacht Club in Queensland, because there was a bit of a mission. Bill explained, "Well I got a call from the club saying that Jeanne Socrates was in Australia, and said she'd like to meet me. I said 'Wonderful, I'd love to meet her!' However, Jeanne's been in Western Australia and Cairns, and she said she'd be down here, so I've been telling everyone I've had the dream date to meet one of the great solo sailors of our time."

As it comes to pass, Bill would probably have to be the greatest gentleman I think I've ever come across, for he very, very, very kindly allowed Jeanne to take the Five Capes, picking up oldest solo and Westabout instead. What a great thing to do. What a man! Laughing, Hatfield simply says, "Oh no! She's an absolute legend amongst sailors, is Jeanne." Naturally I replied: You are yourself too, dude.

Now it was a planned thing for Bill not to complete the Capes, thereby allowing Jeanne to share the wealth, and is a real mark of the camaraderie shared by long distance sailors such as the two in focus here. What was also of note, distinctly, was both share a passion for continuing the journey, whatever that is, safety at sea and recognition of respect of/for the sea.

Bill said, "Yes that's right. Jeanne has had some pretty horrendous knockdowns and problems, but kept at it. I didn't know Jeanne's full story until I was well out at sea. Someone said Jeanne was well into completing her journey, and so I became very intrigued with her efforts."

With everybody taking to sea because it's such a beautiful place, especially now in a Covid era, what would be his words for those people heading out for the first time? "I say to anyone in Australia, they should go to Lord Howe Island. It's one of the most beautiful islands I've ever seen, and I've travelled the Pacific, seen the fabled Tahiti and Bora Bora and those islands, but for a person who wants to go to sea, I think they should try Australia."

The other side of the coin...

Of course Jeanne and I had spoken on Satphone for one Anzac Day, and mobile (cell phone) two years later, but what was it like for her to meet Bill for the first time?

"Oh brilliant! I've been really looking forward to it because I knew that we were kind of like-minded people. It's always nice to chat to another fellow sailor, and someone with the experience that he's had, which is way more than mine. I've been telling everyone, 'You know who I'm going to meet? In a week I'm going to be meeting up with Bill.' So I was looking forward to it!"

Of course the other thing is he did Jeanne a big one by allowing her to keep the Five Capes. As stated, the guy's an utter gentleman. What do you say about that? "Right, absolutely! I just tell everyone that one of the reasons I'm looking forward to meeting up with him was to be able to say thank you very much. Thank you for not going south of Tasmania and New Zealand."

As we know, Canada won't allow Jeanne back in at the moment, which is great for us here in Australia, as we're loving having her here. However, it is so good for her, nor so good for Nereida, which is waiting patiently up in Victoria, B.C. People go by and take snaps, showing she's still afloat, but at the moment it looks like flights won't be on until December, which is the middle of winter there, and not so good for working on boats. "When I do I've got a lot of work that she needs doing," explains Socrates. "She has had a dehumidifier going, so overall not too bad I think, but that list is still there, pretty well untouched."

Jeanne has been land yachting a lot, and Australia is a big ocean when you look at it like that, but is she going back up to Cairns? "Yes, I will be going up shortly, and then I'm supposed to be writing this book of mine, but with all the exploring of Oz that I've been doing, that's not been happening too well, but it will be happening. I've really enjoyed travelling around Australia. It's been amazing actually. I always used to think, there's the outside edge, which is partly populated in places because the population of Australia, of course, is just a little bit bigger than London."

"However, when I realised that it did make sense to me and I thought well there's a desert in the middle, there's maybe a bit of greenery around the outside where people are living and that was it. Actually going around Australia, as I did with the campervan last year, oh it was amazing. I was actually staggered with the beautiful places there are. So many of them! Really lovely!"

So back to FNQ to write a book? Do you think you'll get it finished before you go? Laughing, Jeanne says, "It depends when I go. Right!" She added, "I'll get my head down."

A soiree back up is all about taking in the places she has not seen, because "I've never been between Hobart, which I sailed into from South Africa, and Cairns, which I sailed into from Mexico in '07. I don't know the area in between so I'm looking forward to exploring."

So yes, she's off with the land yacht (campervan) once more to make it back to Cairns, and then Jeanne also hopes to get to Longreach in rural Queensland before she flies home to take in more of the sheep side of her Falkiner family heritage.

In other words, what we're really saying is that there's going to be more tales to come with just the next little jaunt, which is from the Gold Coast back up to Cairns. Accordingly, stay tuned. Signing off Jeanne said, "Absolutely, I'm looking forward to it!"

Whilst you're there...

May as well make the most of it, huh?! During my time bringing the very likable Excess 12 down from Pittwater to Sydney recently, I also got to speak with Flagstaff Marine's Graham Raspass about another of the brands they represent, and one of my true faves: Amel.

France's totally boutique builder gets away about 25 vessels a year, with the bulk of them being the 50 over the bigger and ever so slightly younger 60. The ketches of the past are gone, with the fresher overall look making them even more appealing to the dedicated true bluewater cruisers who aspire to them.

Retained are all the de rigueur items, such as the central cockpit with all controls for things like the electric winches and furlers coming into the one place, the sturdy stanchions, one set of which carry the liferaft, encased engine room, and straight shaft out of the keel for the screw.

At any rate, Flagstaff clients have been very active in securing positions in the queue. Raspass said, "It's been really pleasing. We sold our first Amel 50 to an owner from Sydney's Northern Beaches, and it's now on its way, arriving mid-year. However, since November 2020, we have also sold another four. Two of those hope to be able to cruise the Med in their new craft, with the other two coming Downunder."

"Covid has certainly made people look at their choices, and really commit to boating. We've also got a couple of other customers who are equally as keen, but one of the challenges now is because of the lead time, we're needing to get people to think ahead. We're already into 2023, but yes, it's certainly really exciting to have five Amel 50s sold so far."

Check it out.

Saw the Dufour 470 from The Yacht Sales Co at the recent show in Sanctuary Cove. There were three sold before one even arrived in Australia, and if you're super keen, this particular could still be available, but do get a wiggle on. She is voluminous, accentuated by the light oak finish, and huge through hull ports, well fitted out, and looks to have a powerful hull form.

There's a huge Master Stateroom for'ard with a separate wet room to port plus en suite to starboard, For'ard galley that spreads athwartships (prep area to starboard with optional configurations, then port is the cooking area, with stainless steel sink and optional deepfreeze. Two generous staterooms are located aft, with the shared large head to port as well. Settee and nav desk to starboard.

Two keen Aussie sailors have purchased one and it leaves France in September, bound for Brisbane, where after her new owners will take her South. Could not helping thinking about how the new craft's transom (4.7m max beam) would be at least three times the width of the S&S 39 the owners are moving up from. They are presently living on the S&S, whilst one of them works on for a couple of more years. They will do some cruising around Bass Strait and her glorious islands, as well as Tasmania for a bit as work allows, and then it's off into the wild blue thereafter. Now that's a great plan!

North Sails Open Day in Sydney

In finishing, just a quick note to say that the North Sails Open Day is being held at their Sydney loft in Mona Vale on July 3rd from 10am to 3pm. It's an informal gathering to show people how sails are made, there'll be several dinghies displayed, like Finns, and OKs, North Sails kiteboarding gear, North Sails technical gear, and some talks - OD panels and cruising seminars, as well as big names dropping in to add further colour.

There's also sail repair demonstrations, including vacuum bag 3Di sails, and sailmakers talking directly with interested parties as they move about the loft, all in a low-key manner. Even food trucks and other amenities have all been organised. RSVP to secure a place.

So you see, there are stories, lessons, inspirations and history to regale yourself with. Please use the search window at the top of the home page if you are after something specific, as only the latest news appears on the website as you scroll down. We enjoy bringing you the best stories from all over the globe.

If you want to see what is happening in the other Hemisphere, go to the top of the Sail-WorldCruising home page and the drag down menu on the right, select the other half of the globe and, voila, it's all there for you.

Finally, stay safe, and ready for all that 2021 will offer,

John Curnow
Global Editor,

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