DEAD GUY: Bill Butler

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June 14/2024:  I’m guessing not too many folks remember Bill Butler these days, but he had his 15 minutes of fame back in 1989, when he and his then-wife Simonne survived for 66 days drifting across the eastern Pacific Ocean in a liferaft. I met Bill a few years after that, in the summer of 1992, while crewing around on different boats in Jimmy Cornell’s America 500 rally. Bill was also sailing in the rally, with his son Joe, on a 40-foot boat called New Chance. I had a few brief conversations with Bill and never came to know him well. I became much closer to a fellow named Chuck Adams, who was sailing a boat named Freedom in the rally. It was Chuck, in turn, who did become close friends with Bill and later crewed for him a great deal, including in an abortive attempt to round Cape Horn and also on a transatlantic.

It was Chuck who recently tipped me off that Bill has sadly departed this life, just a couple of weeks ago, at age 95. That photo up top is of Bill (on the left) and Chuck at sea together many years ago.

Back when we rally-goers encountered Bill, he was quite well known. He had just published a book about his great survival adventure (originally titled Our Last Chance, later reissued as 66 Days Adrift) and was a bit notorious in the cruising community. His great adventure began in mid-June 1989, when he and Simonne, en route from Panama to Hawaii aboard a 38-foot cutter named Siboney, were attacked by an angry pod of pilot whales. The boat was holed and sunk, and Bill and Simonne took to a four-person coastal liferaft. This in the days when EPIRBs broadcast distress signals only on 121.5 MHz to passing aircraft. The couple christened their raft Last Chance and ultimately survived on a diet of raw fish that Bill caught. Fortunately, they had a manually-powered desalinator with them. I remember it was precisely because of Bill’s story that I got myself the same sort of desalinator when I was fitting out my boat Crazy Horse in 1995.

Bill and Simonne were finally rescued over two months later, when a Costa Rican coast guard vessel spotted their raft just 13 miles from the coast, almost 1,200 miles from where they’d lost Siboney.

I do remember Bill telling me he’d previously wrecked Siboney, intentionally during a typhoon in Manila Bay, in the Philippines, back in 1967. He seemed a bit proud of that actually. We had a bit more to talk about after the boat I was on was wrecked in the Rio Odiel in Spain, not far from where we first met.

Noodling around on Bill’s website, I see he also years later lost New Chance in Nova Scotia.

Siboney under sail

 

New Chance wrecked in Nova Scotia

 

I also found this little tidbit, a nice Patagonian adventure featuring my old pal Chuck.

Very cool!

Bill is survived by four of the five children he had with his first wife: Sue, Jim, Sally, and Joe. Plus nine grandchildren… and 15 great-grandchildren. (Way to procreate, Bill!) He was predeceased by one son, Bill Jr; Elsie, his first wife; and also Lirio, his third wife.

May God go with him. Condolences to all his family.

A funeral service will be held June 29 at 1:30pm at the St. Louis Catholic Church in Pinecrest, Florida. His ashes, most appropriately, will be committed to the deep.

RIP: William Abbott Butler, September 1929 – June 1, 2024

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