Bill King enjoys champers and a jig

Solo circumnavigator Bill King has celebrated his 100th birthday at his castle home in Galway, Ireland. His daughter Leonie, son Tarka and four grandchildren were there for the party at which Bill enjoyed lobster, champagne and a jig.

In 1968 Bill entered the Sunday Times Golden Globe solo round the world race which included Robin Knox-Johnston, Bernard Moitessier, Chay Blyth, John Ridgeway, and Donald Crowhurst. Bill’s specially designed boat was the 42ft, junk rigged schooner, Galway Blazer II, designed by Angus Primrose after consultation with Bill’s wartime friend, legendary solo yachtsman Blondie Hasler. She was built by Souters of Cowes.

When 1,000 miles south-west of Cape Town, Bill found himself in a hurricane which capsized, rolled and dismasted the boat.‘It was the worst mistake I ever made at sea,’ says Bill, ‘I was steering downwind, but as the storm continued, I thought I’d get tired. So I lay ahull, putting her beam on instead of end on.’

Using two alloy poles – already stowed on deck in case they were needed – he made a jury rig and limped into Cape Town. Luckily an old submariner contact in Cape Town worked for a shipping company there and he was able to get GB II shipped home for nothing.

During 1969 Galway Blazer II was refitted at Souters. While she was at Cowes, Blondie Hasler designed a newer, high-peaked junk rig in an attempt to get the boat to sail closer to the wind. Later that year Bill set sail from Plymouth for a second attempt at a solo circumnavigation. However in the Atlantic he discovered the rig was not a success and diverted to Gibraltar. Back in Cowes Blondie installed Galway Blazer II’s original rig and in September 1970, Bill set sail once more.

Down in the Southern Ocean cold polar air caused his finger tips to peel off leaving him with raw hands. He was forced to divert once again, this time to Fremantle, Western Australia. Armed with turtle-oil cream, surgeon’s waterproof gloves and a pair of Antarctic explorer’s gauntlets he set sail again. Seven days out he was rammed by a great white shark which holed the boat on her port side.

‘Seeing that blue water through my hull was definitely my worst moment at sea. It was time to ring up God, but I didn’t have the number,’ said Bill. Instead he immediately put the vessel about and using a spare sail and 13 lines, made a patch on the outside of the hull. On the inside he used a piece of timber braced against the shattered plywood skins which pushed them back into place. ‘It made the water squirt in instead of pour in,’ said Bill.

Back in Fremantle a Yugoslav shipwright, Marko, repaired her for £50. ‘You’ll never be a millionaire,’ Bill told him. ‘Friendship is more important than money,’ came the reply.

It was December 1972 that Bill finally left Fremantle bound for Cape Horn. This time nothing else held him up and he arrived back in Plymouth the following year finally achieving his dream and is awarded Royal Crusing Club medal and the American Cruising Club’s prestigious Blue Water Medal for his circumnavigation south of the inhabited world.

In 2003 Bill had his last sail: aboard Gipsy Moth III. Her owner, Roland Machin sailed Sir Francis Chichester’s former yacht from her home port in La Rochelle to Galway to celebrate Bill’s 93rd birthday.

Bill was decorated with the newly created Arctic emblem in 2007 by the Ministry of Defence for service in the Arctic regions during World War II.
He has written four books in co-operation with his late wife, Anita a biographer: Adventure In Depth, The Stick and the Stars, Capsize and The Wheeling Stars. Anita Leslie wrote a poignant biography of Sir Francis Chichester and also a book about her Caribbean cruise with Bill: Love in a Nutshell.