Victoria man's solo sailing trip around the world cut short by stroke

A Victoria sailor’s attempt to circumnavigate the world solo was cut short after he suffered a massive stroke at sea, sparking a major rescue mission off the coast of San Francisco.

Glenn Wakefield is now in critical condition in a trauma centre in San Jose, California, and his family, unable to fly down and see him because of COVID travel restrictions, is facing massive medical bills.

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The 70-year-old veteran mariner left the Royal Victoria Yacht Club on the West Wind II on Sept. 6 on his third attempt to sail around the world on his own.

On Sept. 16, while sailing 420 nautical miles west of San Francisco, Wakefield suffered a massive stroke, his wife MaryLou Wakefield wrote on a fundraising page. Before he lost consciousness, Wakefield sent a message to his wife that he needed help.

She notified the U.S. Coast Guard that her husband was in medical distress and provided his approximate GPS co-ordinates. The coast guard issued a broadcast asking any nearby vessels if they could assist.

While initially hampered by rough seas, the coast guard and a nearby ship, MV Columbo Express, worked together and used a small rescue boat to transfer an unconscious Wakefield to the larger ship, his wife wrote.

The following day, Wakefield was hoisted from the container ship by an aircraft with the California Air National Guard and taken to the San Jose Regional Hospital, where he remains in critical condition.

“This is a devastating situation for our family,” MaryLou Wakefield wrote on the fundraising page. “We are shocked, saddened and filled with worry for Glenn’s recovery. Glenn is a person who pushes through difficulty and always comes out on top. He is strong, passionate and full of life. We never imagined he would be stricken by something like this. All the hours we have spent worrying about the gales and seas he has to manage … but never this.”

She started the fundraiser to cover Wakefield’s medical bills, which are expected to be more than $100,000. Wakefield did not have U.S. medical insurance because he did not anticipate touching American soil. His family is also trying to determine how to recover his boat, which is adrift off the coast of California.

Wakefield’s 18,000-nautical-mile trip was expected to take eight months. A 2008 circumnavigation attempt ended when he lost his boat in a storm near the Falkland Islands. The vessel rolled over twice during the night, leaving Wakefield with a concussion and broken ribs. He was brought to safety by the Argentinian navy.

“This is personal,” Wakefield told the Times Colonist on the day he left Victoria on his current journey. “It’s not for any trophies or rules or to break records or anything else.”

> The online fundraiser can be found here.

- With files from Jeff Bell

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