Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Solo sailor survives stroke

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Simon Willis sailed for two weeks to reach medical help.
Simon Willis sailed for two weeks to reach medical help.

A Northland man sailed solo for more than two weeks to get medical help after he suffered a stroke during a 4500 nautical mile voyage to the Caribbean.

Simon Willis, a well-known sail-maker from Kerikeri, was sailing from Uruguay to the Caribbean in July last year when he suffered a stroke.

The stroke left him crippled down one side of his body and unable to communicate, just a week into his journey.

Yachting New Zealand safety and technical officer Angus Willison detailed Mr Willis' "story of self-reliance" on the organisation's website.

Mr Willison said Mr Willis had been out of contact for more than two weeks. Every few days a signal from a transponder on his yacht, the Sagitta, showed he was moving in the right direction, so his wife Judy was not too concerned.

"There had been an unsuccessful search by the Brazilian Navy, however, Judy, Simon's wife, was insistent that he was okay and it was likely there were some communication issues on board," Mr Willison wrote.

"When Simon arrived in Granada he had an incredible story to tell.

After the stroke, he headed towards Brazil to seek medical help. He realised that in Brazil he would be hospitalised and it was likely the boat would disappear.

Mr Willis took "many years" to build his vessel for the trip and losing it in Brazil "was an unthinkable eventuality".

So, Simon headed out to sea to give him more room, and continued towards Granada, Mr Willis recounted.

"Sailing was quite difficult with only half his body working and looking after himself was a huge challenge. However, Simon in his own words 'got on with it like any Kiwi yachtsman'. When he got to Granada horrified friends docked Sagitta and took Simon to hospital.

"The neurologist who saw him suggested a month of extreme occupational therapy was probably the best thing he could have done and it was likely that he would make a full recovery."

- Northern Advocate

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