After spending months alone at sea, Calgary man surfaces to new reality

Last September, Calgary resident Bill Norrie embarked on a mission.

The seasoned sailor set out on an ambitious route around the world – aboard his 28-foot Bristol Channel Cutter yacht, nicknamed Pixie, Norrie would sail away from Vancouver Island to the Southern Ocean for a year-long solo circumnavigation.

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It was an ambitious goal, but not unlike other journeys that Norrie had undertaken with his wife, Cathy. The two had sailed together to 22 countries around the world in five years of travel.

But this time, Norrie would be alone. Cathy would stay to spend time with the couple's new grandson.

On September 1, 2019, Pixie embarked at Port Renfrew, passing the west coast of the United States.

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Bill Norrie and his Pixie boat boarded Port Renfrew on September 1, 2019. (Cathy Norrie)

"[Good day] from the western US, "wrote Norrie on a blog three days later." It's all right. "

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Heading south, Norrie sought to sail across the Southern Ocean under the five southernmost layers of the world, the last of which being the South Cape, on the south coast of New Zealand, before returning home in September.

But while he was on board the boat, away from civilization or any human contact, the world changed.

Here are dragons

Norrie and Cathy have a joke – whenever the two experience knockdowns, loss of equipment or major storms at sea, they call these events "dragon attacks", named after an alleged medieval practice of drawing mythological creatures on map areas that thought to represent danger.

The first of these dragon attacks on Norrie's journey took place near the Falkland Islands, located in southern Argentina, forcing him to sail to South Africa in early February for repairs.

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Soon after he left, the world would begin to feel the serious impacts of the pandemic and the global blockades would take effect.

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Bill Norrie sought to sail across the Southern Ocean under the five southernmost layers of the world on a one-year trip. (Cathy Norrie)

Cathy did her best through texts and e-mail to keep Norrie informed of the latest developments, but, isolated and isolated from the media, it was difficult for him to understand.

He received a sentence or two from Cathy every day, and slowly began to realize to Norrie that what was happening was important. But the experience was surreal, as Norrie spent months without seeing another human.

And then, south of Tasmania, Norrie found another dragon.

A huge storm

On April 25, Norrie saw a huge storm approaching.

He didn't want to go further south, so he sailed just below the island. He was impressed by its spectacular beauty, having not seen land in two months.

But scary waves soon started to form and Norrie needed to make a route between small islands to get around Tasmania.

Norrie went up the stairs to chart her course – and froze.

Coming towards him, he saw a wall of water. It completely enveloped him.

He held his breath. Protected by a belt and a rope attached to padeyes (rigid rings to which the lines can be attached) in the cabin, he was safe – but soon the boat fell over.

He continued to hold his breath, long enough for the waves to dissipate and for Pixie to turn the right side up. When the chaos subsided, Norrie climbed into the cockpit to try to find out what had happened.

It was bad. Norrie discovered that the flood had effectively soaked and destroyed the boat's electrical equipment. In addition to the ability to send a few words through a tracking application, your communication with the outside world was effectively interrupted.

He left. But as the days went by, he wondered the worst – would he go home to find the unpopulated world?

Finding dry land

Norrie was aided by a GPS backup battery and a magnetic compass to aid navigation. Her soaked paper letters turned to tissue paper.

Severe weather conditions continued, with Norrie and Pixie fighting the wind all the time.

To compound the stress, New Zealand was initially reluctant to welcome Norrie into the country, especially as the country abandoned most of its blocking restrictions on May 13.

But when New Zealand followed Norrie's journey and determined that he was not at risk of spreading the virus – given his months-long self-imposed isolation – things changed.

Exhausted and soaked, Norrie pulled Pixie to the pier on Thursday night. In the dark, he saw 10 policemen approaching. Norrie said that everyone was smiling.

"When they researched and searched for our tracker, they were huge fans," he said. "They treated me a little like royalty here."

The GPS of Bill Norrie's yacht followed the route of the Calgary sailor, which started at Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. (Cathy Norrie)

Climbing on dry land for the first time in months in Christchurch, Norrie was greeted with beer, cookies and freshly baked goods. The media interrupted his arrival and he soon became notorious – an international traveler who arrived in the country after a long blockade.

"I am a spoiled and lucky man," said Norrie. "I'm almost hoarse to tell my story … I can't walk down the main street, people stopping me, wanting to take a picture with me. I'm going to a restaurant, there's a crowd around me.

"I'm not used to it. I've never had that attention in my life."

And although he is far from the rest of the world in the midst of the pandemic, the journey is not over yet – Norrie plans to return to isolation for the next leg of his journey, going north and eventually home.

"Compared to the Southern Ocean, it will get much hotter," he said. "I am so relieved to be on the ground and out of the Southern Ocean and on my way home. It is a very exciting time."

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