The Nobel Prize of Sailing [Sunday Herald, January 2010]
“Annie,” said Marjorie, “do you think hollyhocks would do well over there by the fence?”
Annie Hill laughed aloud.
“Marjorie,”she said, “I wouldn’t know. I haven’t had a home ashore since I was 19 years old.”
It’s true. At 20, Annie and her first husband, Pete Hill, sailed from England to the Caribbean and back on a 28-foot engineless catamaran. Back in England, they built Badger, a 34-foot junk-rigged schooner. In Badger they roamed the world — Brazil, Scandinavia, Greenland, Scotland, Africa, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the Falklands, the Antarctic.
Living at sea, Annie Hill developed a philosophy.What do you really want from life? Decide that, and go for it — and don’t be deflected by the economic and social noise around you. Annie is the consummate anti-consumer, a subversive philosopher, a living example of the rich and free lifestyle that’s available to anyone who understands the value of focus and discipline.
Radical simplicity is at the heart of Annie’s justly-famous book, Voyaging on a Small Income (1993). You can cruise full-time — or write, or pray, or paint, or back-pack — by saving and investing relentlessly. You can accumulate a pool of capital just large enough to yield a tiny investment income. Living carefully on their boat, with no house, car or utilities, the Hills slipped along for years on 15 pounds sterling weekly, well under $50 Canadian. As they continued to earn and invest, their income slowly grew. They achieved, in every sense, an almost fully-sustainable life.
Their philosophy was shared by an angular, bearded man from Western Australia who had built a 35-foot steel cutter named Iron Bark II in Queensland. Trevor Robertson is a geologist whose expertise is highly prized by oil companies operating offshore rigs. Living aboard, he worked a few weeks annually in places like the North Sea and Siberia, and spent the rest of the year voyaging to destinations like Antarctica, where he once spent an entire winter alone in his boat, frozen into the ice.
When he met Annie and Pete, he recognized in Annie the salt-water woman he had dreamed about. When the Hills separated, they were in South Africa, and Trevor was in Trinidad. He instantly flew to South Africa to pay vigorous suit to Annie.
She was not ready to marry, but she was willing to sail. She flew back with him, and in 2002 they sailed Iron Bark from the Caribbean north to Labrador. We met them that fall, just before they moved Iron Bark to Baddeck for the winter. Annie lived aboard, Trevor laboured abroad, and the following spring they were married at the Cape Breton Boatyard in Baddeck.
By now Annie had sailed across the Atlantic 16 times. Since she had things to attend to back in England, the two sailed again to England, then south to the Canary Islands, and back across to Trinidad for the winter. In the spring they returned to Cape Breton, stowed some gear in our shed, loaded the boat with provisions and sailed to Greenland, where they spent the winter aboard, frozen into the Arctic ice, their only company a curious Arctic fox.
Their many Nova Scotian friends saw them again for a few months after the Greenland adventure, and then they made sail for Trinidad, Panama, Tasmania, Australia and New Zealand. And there they may well remain. Annie wants to stop for a while, to see the same friends regularly, to end the constant process of saying good-bye which is the saddest part of cruising. Trevor, the only person in history to have over-wintered in the same boat in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, is still restless, and recently sailed alone to Patagonia. This time, Annie will fly out to join him. You can follow their adventures on her blog: http://anniehill.blogspot.com/
Trevor has now covered more than 140,000 miles under sail, and Annie more than 165,000 — and in March, in New York, they will receive the highest accolade in the sailing world, the Blue Water Medal of the Cruising Club of America. This is the Nobel Prize of sailing, awarded only to the greatest of small boat voyagers. The faint sound of applause carried on the north wind is coming from Nova Scotia, where Annie and Trevor will always be part of the family.
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