Around the world in 36 years: Couple who cast off rat race in 70s and embarked on a 100,000 mile odyssey finally drop anchor back in Blighty
Abandoning the rat race and sailing off into the sunset is the stuff of daydreams for many.
But Bill Cooper and his wife Laurel actually did it – and, 36 years later, can say they have lived the dream.
Mr Cooper, 83, a former City broker who used to advise Harold Wilson, decided to cast off for good as he made his daily commute to work in 1974.
Bill and Laurel Cooper aboard their current and third boat Faraway, which they started building in 2005, now tied up at their final berth on the river Medway in Kent
On the high seas: Bill and Laurel on the Phoenix in 1954 before they decided to travel the world
He returned home from the railway station and asked Mrs Cooper to call his office and tell his colleagues he would not be coming in. Ever.
Over the next two years, they built a boat before selling their house, bidding farewell to family and friends, and setting sail for a life of adventure.
Now, after an odyssey spanning more than three decades and 100,000 miles, berthing in 45 different countries, they have returned to drop anchor back home.
Age and ill-health have brought their astonishing journey to an end, although they still plan to remain afloat – on the calmer waters of the River Medway in Rochester, Kent.
It is a well-deserved rest for a couple who have crossed seven seas, negotiated 22,000 miles of canals and rivers, and coped with storms bringing 25ft waves and 100mph winds.
Boat number one: The couple’s first boat, called Fare Well, at sea in Spanish waters, in 1977
Boat number two: The couple’s second vessel, 87ft barge Hosanna, in Moudros Bay, Greece, in 1993
Boat number three: The launching of the couple’s third and current boat Faraway in 2007
Mr Cooper, a former Royal Navy officer, became disillusioned with his high-flying career as a gilts broker and government adviser in London.
He recalled how, on the day he changed the course of his life, he set off for work and was half- way to the station in Chatham, Kent, when ‘I said to myself, “I’m not going in today – I’m fed up with it” ’.
He added: ‘I said to Laurel, “I’m giving up, tell my partners I’m not coming in any more”.
‘I’d been working as an informal adviser to Harold Wilson and there came a point where I decided I couldn’t get on with it.
‘Swanning around the City with a top hat on is all very well, but you don’t get much pleasure from it and I wanted a bit more from life.’
With Mr Cooper in charge of the woodwork and his wife taking care of the painting, the couple built a boat together, and in 1976 sold their detached, six-bedroom house and gave the money to their children Shelley, now 58, and Benedick, 54.
Funded by a Navy pension and the proceeds of selling Mr Cooper’s partnership, they set sail on their 50ft steel ketch Fare Well and never looked back. The first ten years were spent sailing the Mediterranean and Caribbean, across the Atlantic and along the American Intracoastal Waterway from New York to Florida.
The happy couple on their wedding day in 1952, left, and Bill in the 1960s when he worked as a London broker
The pair, who once kept a one-eyed cat called Nelson on board, even received a medal for crewing the only vessel to survive the devastating Hurricane Alberto north of Bermuda in 1982 without calling a lifeboat for help.
In 1986, they bought a new vessel, an 87ft former industrial barge which they named Hosanna. They then spent the next two decades cruising around canals in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and sailing the Aegean.
The couple, who have three grandchildren, returned numerous times over the years for Christmases and other family occasions.
In 2005, they took on their third and final boat, the 40ft Faraway, which will continue to be their home.
But on its maiden sea voyage to North Africa in 2007, Mr Cooper began suffering eye problems and was forced to stop in France.
Bill, pictured left in his Captain’s hat, and Laurel, pictured right, on the Phoenix in 1954, both love the ocean
The couple’s Transat team enjoying the sunshine up on the deck of the Fare Well in 1981
After several years of travelling back and forth to England for treatment for macular degeneration, he has now decided it’s time to moor up for good.
He said: ‘We’ve had a wonderful time but I’m afraid I have been overtaken by ill-health.
‘When I got to about 78, I thought, “This isn’t going to go on forever”, so we built a boat we could manage when old age really strikes. We call it the geriatric boat.
‘We will have to get used to the life here. I plan to write a book and decay gently.’
He added: ‘I really think we have had the best of it.
‘We’ve had modern materials to build the boats, but we did most of our sailing before health and safety really started up.
‘Now I’m not walking as well as I used to when I was young, so we’ve had to come back to England.
All aboard: Laurel with fellow shipmate Nelson the cat boarding the Fare Well in 1976, left, and Laurel making a turkey dinner at sea in the ship’s small kitchen in 1978
Laurel on deck during Hurricane Alberto, in 1982, which resulted in the pair receiving a medal for being the only vessel to survive the devastating without calling a lifeboat for help
Globe-trotters: Laurel enjoying the trade winds in the tropics aboard the Fare Well in 1981, left, and Laural again leaving her marks as she paints boat’s name on the old wall Horta in The Azores in 1983, right
‘And why would we spend a quarter of a million pounds on a house that isn’t built to our requirements? Everything on the boat fits us perfectly – even the galley is designed to be the perfect height for Laurel.’
Mrs Cooper, 82, said: ‘I’m like a cat, I can be comfortable anywhere – it’s how I have survived all this time.
‘Bill’s a brilliant sailor. He was very much the captain and I was the mate – he would always steer and I dropped the anchor.
‘We have had an absolutely amazing life. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
‘I’m very happy looking back at all the wonderful places we’ve been, the people we’ve met and the adventures we’ve had.
‘We have been very lucky, but we always knew that it wouldn’t last forever.’
Laurel and Bill stand infront of the 87ft barge Hosanna in Levkas, Greece, in 2005
The couple took this image of Mirina, in Limnos, during a visit in 1985
The couple travelled down canals as well as the on the high seas and took this picture of Bachausen Lock Rhein Donau Kanal in 1995
TRAVELLING AROUND THE WORLD IN 36 YEARS
After sailing 100,000 nautical miles in boats they made themselves, Bill and Laurel have travelled to varied and unusual locations around the globe, taking in sights that many of us can only dream of.
The countries they have visited include:
Gibraltar, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Crete, Turkey, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Sicily, Sardinia, Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Canary Islands, Caribbean islands, Rhode Island, the US coast, Portugal, Cadiz, Morocco, Greek islands, Monaco, Azores, Lowestoft, Corsica, Holland, Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, Tunisia and Cambrai
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2102585/Couple-quit-jobs-sailing-finally-return-UK–marathon-36-YEAR-trip.html#ixzz3Opb5ITyT
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