Sailing a White Speck Across the Blue Sea, Billy Dunlop Breaks a Small World Record
Measuring just 9'1" from stem to stern, bobbing like an apple in the Atlantic, the Wind's Will seemed the ultimate ship of a fool as it set sail from Portland, Maine on a foggy morning in June. But last week, when skipper Billy Dunlop reached Falmouth, England after 78 days at sea and 3,400 miles, his tiny boat became the smallest ever to complete an easterly transatlantic crossing. He broke the record set only two weeks earlier by Briton Tom McClean in a 9'9" boat.
Still, the 41-year-old sailor, a former trucker from Mechanic Falls, Maine, could have thought his was the voyage of the damned. Three days out he lost all radio contact. On the 66th day a storm rolled his boat like a kayak in whitecaps. Once he drifted closer than spouting distance to an unblinking whale. Part of Dunlop's 200 pounds of canned provisions spoiled, though there was one consolation: the fruit cocktail fermented. "That put some booze in it and gave me a bit of encouragement I needed," said a grinning Dunlop who, on reaching land, was about 15 pounds lighter than his usual 220 pounds.
"It was a lot tougher than I expected," he said as he stumbled into the arms of his waiting wife, Pam, 40, and mother, Hattie Thibodeau. "The hardest part was not going anyplace, just floating about. There's a hell of a lot of water out there." Sailing by the seat of his pants created other problems: "I've got rashes and sores all over my rear end."
Previous to all this, Dunlop learned something about long-distance loneliness while driving his rig on the Maine-to-Florida route and courted danger on the motorcycle and stock car circuits. Two years ago his bravado carried him to sea, sailing a 35-foot sloop solo across the Atlantic. Last year he skippered the same craft to the Bermuda Triangle and back.
What now? Pepsi-Cola is paying Dunlop to present slides and lectures of his exploits in schools. His only child, Kim Dunlop Piper, 19, explains: "My father doesn't say much—you have to know him to understand him. He wouldn't do anything impossible. He's not on a suicide mission." As for Dunlop's next feat, Kim ventures, "I can't read his mind, but maybe it will be to sail around the world." She pauses, then quips, "Maybe on a surfboard."
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