William Willis (sailor)
September 8, 1893|
North Atlantic Ocean
William Willis (September 8, 1893 – July ?, 1968) was an American sailor and writer who is famous due to his solo rafting expeditions across oceans. Willis became a sailor at 15, leaving his home in Hamburg to sail around Cape Horn.
A few days after New Years, 1938 (Page 5, "Damned and Damned Again") Willis rented a room from a woman named Madame Carnot. Her brother, Bernard Carnot, had been sent to Devil's Island for a murder he did not commit, and out of compassion and a sense of adventure Willis set out to Devil's Island to effect Bernard Carnot's escape, which he eventually accomplished.
During his first solo expedition in 1954 from South America to American Samoa, he sailed 6,700 miles — 2,200 miles farther than did Thor Heyerdahl on Kon-Tiki. His raft was named "Seven Little Sisters" and was crewed by himself, his parrot, and cat. Willis was age 61 at the time of this voyage.
In a second great voyage ten years later, he rafted 11,000 miles from South America to Australia.
At age 74, Willis made his third attempt at a solo crossing of the North Atlantic in a small sailboat. Willis left Montauk Point, Long Island on May 2, 1968 in his boat "Little One". On September 24, 1968 the crew of the Soviet Latvian trawler Yantarny sighted his half-submerged boat nearly four hundred miles west of the Irish coast. No one was found on board. Willis' log was found on the boat, with its last entry dated July 21, 1968.
Novelist T. R. Pearson wrote the book Seaworthy: Adrift with William Willis in the Golden Age of Rafting (2006), summarizing Willis's adventures.
- Willis, William (1967). The Hundred Lives of an Ancient Mariner: An Autobiography. London: The Adventurers Club.
- Willis, William (1966). Whom the Sea Has Taken. New York: Meredith Press.
- Willis, William (1959). Damned and Damned Again: The True Story of the Last Escape from Devil's Island. New York: St. Martin's Press.
- Willis, William (1955). The Epic Voyage of the Seven Little Sisters: A 6700 Mile Voyage Alone Across the Pacific. London: Hutchinson. (Previous title: The Gods Were Kind)
- Willis, William. An Angel on Each Shoulder.