by Darren Dobson
Derek Hatfield sailed single-handedly around the world and is about to set sail on his next challenge.Derek Hatfield is only one of two Canadian men to have accomplished the monumental feat of racing around the world. When he moved from his small town of Mactaquac, New Brunswick to Whitby, Ontario in his mid-twenties; Derek had his first encounter with sailing. A friend took him out for the first time in a twenty-two foot sailboat. From that point on, Derek competed in one race after another; improving his sailing ability and competing in different races around the world.
In 1994, Derek won his first series on Lake Ontario and two years later went on to win a major north Atlantic competition, the 1996 Legend Cup Transatlantic Race. Following that, he set his sights on the ultimate race: the 2002/03 Around (the World) Alone race. Only 126 sailors have competed in the race.
Derek’s next challenge was to cover 28,700 nautical miles in eight months. He covered five legs of the race: from New York to Torbay, Cape Town to Tauranga and Salvador to the finish line in Newport, Rhode Island.
The preparation for the next boat started in the October, 1997 with the construction of a hanger named Bear Island Boatworks near the St. John River, to build a custom Open 40 foot sailboat, designed to be the fastest boat in the race. Using the latest technology, materials, and design, Derek enlisted the help and expertise of Bob Dresser. The modern slick design was to be made of carbon fiber to be strong, light, and safe. Derek launched the “Spirit of Canada” on September 22, 2001 in Bowmanville, Ontario . The boat underwent the first sea trials, lasting til September, 2002; sailing all winter on Lake Ontario to perfect the boat. With very little cash, and a goal and dream in front of him: Derek was determined to enter the Around Alone race and win.
With the completion of the boat, Derek sailed “ The Spirit of Canada” on the first leg of the race from New York across the North Atlantic to Torbay, England. The competition was tough as he raced with an Open 40 against Open 50’s in Class 2. Derek was familiar with the Atlantic Ocean having had competed and won a race across the ocean. He impressed many as he entered Torbay in the darkness placing second in Class 2 ahead of two other 50 footers in the first leg of the race.
On the second leg of the race, Derek was headed towards Cape Town, constantly focused on performance. He slept in twenty minute shifts, with an alarm clock to wake him. The boat was fine-tuned to maximize the speed.
Forty-seven days later as he approached Cape Town, though the morning fog, to what Derek described as the “most beautiful site” on the trip: Table Mountain in Cape Town at dawn. From Cape Town to Tauranga, New Zealand, Derek went with the trade wind and onto Salvador in the most difficult leg of the race. Holding third in legs 2 and 3, Derek experienced battery problems and was forced to hand-steer the boat back to land for an excruciating 40 hours. After a thirteen hour delay in Napier, the shore team worked overnight to get the boat back in the race.
Derek continued on leg 4, onward to the famous Cape Horn. On the way to the Cape, Derek experienced some of the most deadly winds, gusting to over 70 knots while he handled waves of 60 feet. Another crisis hit, and a wall of water, picked up the boat and pitch-poled it over, the mast cracked and snapped. It all happened in less than six seconds. With a broken mast, Derek cut all the ropes and moved slowly towards Ushuaia, Argentina. He hadn’t slept in days. With a heavily damaged boat, a short-circuited electrical system and a hydraulic keel out of whack, Derek sent out an urgent appeal on his website for donations from friends and family. A new mast and sails were needed. Within a day Derek had support from both individuals and corporations. The boat repairs took five weeks and Derek was back in the race.
Hit hard by another storm, the boat was tossed through the waves for forty hours. After he surveyed the damage, Derek discovered a tear in the mainsail. He repaired the sail and continued, with a week to go, and 632 miles to the finish line: Newport, Rhode Island. The Spirit of Canada had reached the home stretch. On May 31st, 2003, Derek successfully finished the race. He placed third overall in his Class and became one of nine international competitors, and the only Canadian to finish the race.
Derek Hatfield will compete in the next around the world event called the Five Oceans. He will sail a new Open 60 to compete in Class 1. Derek’s progress may be charted at www.spiritofcanada.net