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Sailor undertaking around-the-world trip dies after suffering stroke at sea

A Victoria sailor who suffered a massive stroke last month during an ocean voyage has died. Glenn Wakefield, 70, left Royal Victoria Yacht Club on Sept.
Glenn Wakefield on West Wind II at the Victoria Yacht Club on Sept. 5 before setting out on his attempt to circumnavigate the globe. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A Victoria sailor who suffered a massive stroke last month during an ocean voyage has died.

Glenn Wakefield, 70, left Royal Victoria Yacht Club on Sept. 6 to complete an around-the-world trip that he had begun in 2008, before it was cut short by a storm. He was planning for an eight-month, 18,000-nautical-mile voyage, but had a stroke on Sept. 16.

Before losing consciousness, he sent a message to his wife that he needed help. He was rescued off San Francisco.

He was hospitalized in California, where his family couldn’t visit him due to COVID-related travel restrictions, then was brought to Victoria.

“As in life, Glenn chose the way he wanted to die, which was to do it on his own terms and without assistance,” his wife, MaryLou Wakefield, said on his blog, Going Solo. “He left this world much as he lived it, surrounding by his adoring family, who wished him fair winds and a smooth journey.

“Thank you for always supporting Glenn and particularly his big dream. It meant everything to him to know you were along for the ride.”

She also thanked people for supporting her and daughters Claire and Nicola “through these past few excruciating weeks.”

MaryLou said his family will remember Glenn as a man who lived his life with passion, “one hand on the tiller, scotch in the other, his infectious laugh letting us know he was living his life to the fullest.”

Plans for a tribute and a celebration of life will be made in the coming weeks and months, she said.

Randy Diamond, a past commodore at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, called Wakefield’s death “a huge, tragic end to really what was quite an adventurous life.”

He said Wakefield’s sailing exploits included a family trip several years ago through the South Pacific and three attempts to circumnavigate the world, including the 2008 trip that ended with the loss of his boat near the Falkland Islands when he was about two-thirds of the way around the globe.

On the 2020 journey, he had planned to go back to the Falklands, where that trip ended, then turn around and come back to Victoria — completing the circumnavigation.

“I just want to finish,” he told the Times Colonist the day before he left. “This is personal. It’s not for any trophies or rules or to break records or anything else.”

Diamond said it took close to two days to rescue Wakefield after his stroke. His wife notified the U.S. Coast Guard and provided his approximate GPS co-ordinates, then nearby container ship MV Colombo Express joined with the coast guard to get the unconscious Wakefield aboard.

He was hoisted from the MV Colombo Express by a California Air National Guard aircraft and taken to San Jose Regional Hospital.

With Wakefield not expecting to touch land in the United States, he had no medical insurance — so medical costs kept mounting. A GoFundMe page was started and as of Wednesday, had reached more than $150,000 of its $370,000 goal.

Diamond said Wakefield was also known as a building contractor who worked on many projects throughout the region.

“I’m sure there will be lots of people who don’t know him from the sailing community but know him as somebody that worked on a building or a house that they owned over the years.”