After an incredible four decades enjoying life on the ocean wave, Bill and Laurel Cooper have now berthed back home in Blighty, England for good. The intrepid couple, who are in their 80s, have traveled around the world four times on boats they built themselves – ever since Bill quit his high-flying city job on a whim and they sold their home in 1976.
In 36 years at sea they have notched up 100,000 nautical miles, sailed across seven seas, traveled 22,000 miles along canals and rivers, and have dropped anchor in 45 different countries. They have navigated 25 ft. waves, hurricanes, 100 mph winds and got close enough to dolphins, sharks and whales to “smell their halitosis”.
But now health problems have forced Bill, 83, to hang up his captain’s hat. He and Laurel, 82, are now moored on the River Medway at Rochester, Kent, to see out their days on Faraway their 40 ft. houseboat.
Bill, a former Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy, said, “We’ve had a wonderful time, but I’m afraid I have been overtaken by what you could call ill-health. When I got to about 78, we built a boat we could manage for when old age really strikes – we call it the geriatric boat.”
The couple met in 1945 and started sailing on the Norfolk Broads two years later. They did their first sea cruise in 1954, sailing around Sicily with their baby daughter Shelley. But the on board facilities were very basic. There was no toilet and cooking was done on a paraffin Primus stove.
Bill and Laurel built their first boat after he quit as a broker in 1971. Five years later they sold their six-bedroom house, gave the money to their children, Shelley and Benedick, and set sail.
Part-funded by Bill’s Navy pension, they put to sea on a 50 ft. steel ketch called Fare Well – and never looked back. In 1986, they upgraded to an 87 ft. barge and named it Hosanna.
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