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Round-the-world sailor bemoans oceans' fate

It was easy to wake up in the morning, when he first began crossing the world in sailboats 17 years ago, says Derek Hatfield.

"There was the sound of porpoises and dolphins that had come to play. They were always there in the morning," said the former RCMP officer, who has just finished third in the Velux 5 Oceans race.

A round-the-world race - 30,000 nautical miles and 3,000 hours at sea alone - is promoted by marketers as a sailor's ultimate challenge. But it provided the ultimate shock for the former Canadian sailor of the year.

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The ocean may be vast but not boundless. Hatfield fears that the once-lauded bounty of fish could run out. "The demand for fish is going up but the supply is going down," he said.

He saw an estimated thousand fishing boats harvesting fish off Argentina, and more boats whaling in once fish-rich waters off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

"And countries are using 'scientific research' as a ploy for killing whales," said Hatfield. There'd been hundreds of humpback whales when he first went to sea, but the number has dwindled.

He's now greeted by silence in the morning instead of dolphin chatter. Hatfield, of Mahone Bay, N.S., looked out over the bow of his 60-foot ECO yacht, day after day, and saw the evidence that between overfishing and pollution, the numbers of dolphins and whales has diminished startlingly. In the past year, he saw no whales and only three dolphins is his last transatlantic crossing.

"I've made 17 or 18 transatlantic crossings and it's definitely waning," he said yesterday at the offices of Velux Canada Inc., where he made a debriefing appearance. "I'm not a scientist and I don't know what happened to them, but it's definitely reduced from before," said Hatfield. "I can only assume overfishing and pollution."

He said he consumed about 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day - from freeze-dried packets and containers of protein drink - and likened the sailing to training for a marathon 5-6 hours a day. He 'showered' using packaged wet napkins.

Hatfield finished third overall behind American Brad Van Liew and Britain's Chris Stanmore-Major, but the more important numbers he discovered "were in the rape and pillage of the oceans... There should be more disdain," he said at the construction engineering company which is making an effort to be environmentally sensitive with specialized windows and doors.

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"My former career was as an RCMP officer, and I was a trained observer. To me, it's a travesty what's happening with our oceans. They may look huge, but the world is finite if I can sail around the world in 87 days."

Hatfield, 57, is the lone Canadian to twice complete solo circumnavigations of the world. He finished the final leg from Charleston, N.C., to France in fourth spot but was third overall, beating Poland's Zbigniew Gutkowski to the podium. Hatfield is one of about 125 helmsmen who have made two solo sails around the world.

"My goal was to have the best Canadian finish going around alone (he did that) but the best moment was getting around Cape Horn (the tip of South America) where I'd been stopped before. For a sailor, it's like getting to the top of Mt. Everest: there's still a long way to get down to safety, but this is the place where I've got stopped before - capsized or had to put in for repairs at Argentina. It's treacherous. There's only 20 to 30 days of good sailing around Cape Horn, and luckily we hit one of them," Hatfield said.

He said he will take on the round-the-world challenge again, although he'd prefer to mentor a young Canadian sailor.

Hatfield sailed in a 60-footer called Spirit of Canada - an Eco Class 60 signed by supporters and sponsored by Active House, which is a consortium of companies involved with Better Living environments - against five solo sailors from Britain, Poland, Australia, Belgium and the United States. The boats relied on wind, electricity and solar energy for fuel.

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About the Author
Sports reporter

James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More

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