Celebration of Life Eulogy

Royal Victoria Yacht Club
Sunday, September 18, 2022

We’re gathered at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in Victoria, B.C. to hold space to honour and celebrate the life of Glenn Wakefield. Today, we’ll remember Glenn in ways he would want to be remembered. As a man who lived life out loud. A man with a fierce, indomitable spirit, and a great passion for life. A man who showed courage in the face of the most challenging circumstances, and a man whose kindness and generosity touched the lives of everyone who knew and loved him.


Glenn was born on August 6, 1950 in Edmonton, the eldest son of Roy and Maureen Wakefield who emigrated from Portsmouth, England in 1948. With little more than an adventurous spirit, and a strong work ethic, they built a wonderful life for themselves and their children. After a brief trip to the west coast to look at Victoria, they made the quick decision to pack up and move to the more familiar ocean setting, reminiscent of their seaside home in Portsmouth.

Glenn’s father Roy, served in the fleet air division of the British navy during the war and had an interest in and love of sailing vessels and the sea. His mother Maureen, also had a connection with sea farers. Her sisters ran public houses in Portsmouth on the other side of the wall from HMS Victory.

Glenn grew up in the neighbourhood of Gordon Head. Their first home was on Neil Street, after which, his dad built a house on Ventura Way, and they eventually settled into a home on San Juan Avenue, now called Wakefield Place. By then, Glenn had a brother Mark who was three years younger. He was petite, with blond hair and blue eyes and in most ways very different from Glenn. While Glenn roamed the neighbourhood climbing trees, riding his bike, building forts and playing with his British dinky toys, Mark preferred instead to stay close to home and look at books.

In 1960, when Glenn was 10, 7-year-old Mark was killed in a tragic motor vehicle accident, steps from their home. It was a devastating loss for his parents and a sad and confusing time for a 10-year-old boy and it would have a lasting effect on Glenn for the rest of his life. Perhaps in some way it explained Glenn’s love of children, his intense appreciation for this world, and his determination to make the most of each and every day of his life. Whether consciously or not, Glenn lived a life big enough and full enough for the two of them. Having lost one brother, Glenn sought the camaraderie of numerous “chosen brothers” some of whom are here today, and many others in the brotherhood who are around the world.

Theirs was a characteristically English home – a small acreage at the end of a long driveway with high laurel hedges, climbing roses, charming flower beds, fruit trees and plenty of wide, open spaces. Glenn was put to work helping his father create a large kitchen garden, mowing the lawn, and tending to the fruit trees on the property. The property sloped towards the ocean, so that no matter where he was or what he was doing, he could always see the sea. The view was across Haro Strait to the American San Juan Islands with Mount Baker in the distance. It was a young boy’s paradise and the perfect place to indulge his wildest dreams. But his favourite place to play and dream was at Arbutus Cove. There, he’d spend hours making small boats from pieces of wood and pushing them out beyond the waves. He often told his parents that one day he’d sail a boat out to sea.

On the walls of his home hung two large framed pictures of small boats in rough seas. One was of Sir Francis Chichester’s Gipsy Moth rounding Cape Horn in storm conditions. The other was of Sir Alec Rose aboard Lively Lady under shortened sail battling the Roaring Forties.  These, and other earliest influences came from his father reading stories about adventuresome men heading out to sea in small boats – Sir Francis Chichester, Sir Alec Rose, Robin Knox-Johnson, Miles Smeeton and John Guzzwell. These images and stories would capture his imagination and never let go.

One of Glenn’s treasured keepsakes was a hand-written note from John Guzzwell that was tucked inside a gifted copy of his book TREKKA ROUND THE WORLD which said in part, “With the pressures of modern day living, the sea offers space where one can have time to think about one’s destiny. I hope you have found contentment in life.” Sincerely John Guzzwell.

Glenn attended Gordon Head Elementary. His school days were not his happiest, nor his most rewarding. For a young boy with enough energy for 3 kids and a vivid imagination that frequently took him miles away from the classroom, he found it next to impossible to keep his body and mind still long enough to focus on his lessons. He had dyslexia, which at that time, was still a mystery and often mistaken for laziness or boredom. He found reading challenging and was made fun of when he stumbled. He lost interest in school and became even more restless and disengaged. A few teachers convinced him he couldn’t write, a belief he held for decades until MaryLou convinced him otherwise if he could just slow down the flow of ideas long enough to get them down on paper. Eventually, with patience and practice he began to write and, as we saw on his Going Solo blog, he became a good writer, especially when it came to something he cared deeply about. An entry from October, 2007 reads:

I am on the night train. Kim Chow is sailing as though she were on tracks in a Raiders of the Lost Arc movie. The sound below decks is astonishing. Water is surging past at great speed and her motion is smooth, powerful and spontaneous, climbing up and through waves and sliding back down, her bow throwing up huge waves filled with bioluminescence. I sat in the pulpit we as sailed into the loom of a crescent moon just above the southern horizon. The sound of the surging waves makes me smile a very broad smile. “YES!”, I shout this is living. It will be difficult to sleep tonight and that’s ok with me. I will lie in the cockpit looking up at the stars as we slide through the night headed for the equator, now only 1400 miles away and then into the South Pacific. Another night at sea with Kim Chow.

The realization that his teachers were wrong and that he could in fact write, was thrilling to him. The lesson there is “Don’t believe everything you learn in school.” Over his lifetime, he penned dozens of journals and filled 60 or more notebooks. His plan was always to write a book about his circumnavigation attempts.

In August 1962, Glenn’s sister Mary was born, a happy occasion for the entire family. Theirs was a close-knit family who enjoyed spending time in the outdoors, on the family boat and hosting dinner parties for friends.

Glenn went to Mount Doug Secondary School where he made and kept life-long friends who remember his exuberant laugh, his lively spirit, and his tender heart. Glenn was very happy to reunite with many of them in 2019 when they celebrated their fiftieth high school reunion.

He worked at the Keg and mostly remembered the lively partying after his shift was over. He worked for a season as a fisherman off the coast near Tofino where he acquired the nick name “AWAKEFIELD” because he was frequently lulled to sleep to the rhythmic sound of the trawler’s engine on the long passages between fishing spots.  

But wanderlust took hold, and he was determined to see the world for himself. He worked as a logger near Port Renfrew where conditions in the bush were uncomfortable and at times, dangerous. The hours were long, and conditions were rough but the pay was good. The work was a slog, but for him it was a means to an end. He knew something they didn’t.  At the end of his year in the bush, he’d be boarding a plane that would take him around the world on the adventure of a lifetime. For him, it was worth every moment.

In 1969/70 Glenn left Victoria to travel around the world for a year. He visited Japan, Fiji, India, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. He worked in the outback of Australia as a surveyor’s assistant. During the course of that trip, he transformed from a 19-year old boy into a 20-yr. old man having had some remarkable experiences.  Along the way, he developed close friendships, some of which lasted more than 50 years. One of those friends here today will share a few stories of how he remembers that 19-year-old “kid”.

Glenn went to Camosun College to study carpentry and later apprenticed with Farmer Construction. In 1973, he joined Wakefield Construction, that his father started and built a reputation restoring Victoria’s heritage buildings and revitalizing Victoria’s downtown core. For the next decade, they transformed many of the city’s oldest and best-known landmarks – Market Square, Munro’s Books, the Herald Building, Craigflower School and Congregation Emmanu-El Synagogue that was later recognized with local, national and international heritage awards.

In 1982, Glenn took the helm of the company bringing his considerable expertise in carpentry and building project management to building and renovating commercial and residential projects, new construction and large-scale building maintenance projects. Seismic upgrades, marine construction, a major renovation to the RVYC, and numerous small and large residential projects in every community in and around Greater Victoria.

Glenn’s approach to life was ‘work hard and play harder’. Anyone who benefitted from his work knew that he poured himself into it and kept his clients’ interests in mind. For him, the very best antidote to long, hard days on a construction site was getting on his sailboat and heading off for a few hours sail from Cadboro Bay, out and around Chatham and Discovery Islands which he and MaryLou frequently did on warm summer evenings. That’s where he could let go of the day’s work and settle into his happy place. The broad grin on his face said everything you needed to know. Simply put, he loved everything about boats and being on the ocean. It was a familiar and comfortable environment and one where everything came easily and naturally to him. It was his tonic, something he often referred to as his ‘magic carpet’ and a place where, as he said, he felt most alive.

His first experience crewing on a sailboat was in 1970, at the age of 19 aboard the famous yacht the Blue Leopard. This magnificent yacht was skippered by his Uncle Bill, and Glenn spent an unforgettable few weeks aboard her in Piraeus, Greece. Back home in Victoria, Glenn’s sailing adventures started as crew on local race boats at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club. He bought his first keel boat Doxy 2 in 1978 at the age of 28. After that he had Sannu Sannu, Kim Chow and West Wind 2.  It didn’t take long for Glenn to take the helm as skipper and he included many friends and family members in the exciting adventure of sailboat racing during Swiftsure, Victoria to Maui, and the West Coast race. He wasn’t in it to win, he was in it for the challenge, the adventure, and most importantly, for the camaraderie and connection he made with those on board. And from those connections came lifelong friendships which he cherished. Glenn often joked that he never won any of those races and was in fact, very proud of the after-thought trophy he was awarded by Royal Victoria Yacht Club.  Before time limits were established for Swiftsure, Glenn held the record for taking the longest time ever to finish a Swiftsure Lightship Classic.

In 1979, Glenn met MaryLou, the love of his life. They met by chance while Glenn was doing a major renovation to the Federal Building on Government Street and MaryLou was working for the government. They had a whirlwind love affair during their first two years as they navigated a long-distance relationship while MaryLou attended BCIT in Vancouver and Glenn continued to build his construction business in Victoria. On weekends in Vancouver, they’d go for lovely dinners and long walks on the sea wall in Stanley Park and on Granville Island. On alternate weekends, MaryLou came to Victoria, and they spent time with friends and sailing around the Gulf Islands. In winters, they travelled to Mexico and on their return from one trip to the Baja in January 1982, Glenn asked her to marry him. As she remembers it… “When we got back from Mexico, Glenn was up very early that first morning and was rushing to catch the first ferry back to Victoria. He said a quick goodbye and left the apartment. Moments later, I heard the apartment door open and there he was standing at the foot of the bed. He said, “I almost forgot to ask you,” Will you marry me?” In 1982, they married in Glenn’s parent’s garden and afterwards took their guests on a cruise from the Royal Victoria Yacht Club to the Inner Harbour and back aboard the 132-foot classic yacht, the Norsal.

Glenn loved children and felt they had a special point of view of the world, and he always made a special effort to pay close attention to them. Before he had his own children, he was “Uncle Glenn” to many of his friends’ children. In 1985, Glenn and MaryLou had their first daughter Claire Frances, so named after a family member of MaryLou’s and, much to Glenn’s delight, the same name of the famous and accomplished UK sailor Clare Francis, who Glenn admired. In 1987, they welcomed a second daughter, Nicola Grace.

Glenn was a present and engaged father who spent time with his girls in numerous adventures on foot, on bikes, in sailboats and kayaks, on trails and beaches and anywhere else he could show them the wonders of the world.

In 1995, Glenn and MaryLou started making plans to make an offshore passage with the girls in their 26’ Haida Sannu II. The idea was to give the girls an extraordinary experience that would stay with them the rest of their lives.  It was two years in the planning and preparing the boat for offshore sailing and in May 1997 with much fanfare, Glenn left Victoria and sailed single-handed to the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. Forty-two days later, on June 21, 1997, much to his family’s relief, they received a phone from a very excited Glenn letting them know that he’d made it safely ashore in Taiohae Bay at Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands.  He would take a much-deserved rest there for a few days and then set off for Tahiti. To no one’s surprise, he’d made fast friends with all the sailors in bay particularly one family from France who tapped his knowledge and experience with reading charts and anchoring. A few weeks later, MaryLou, Claire and Nicola joined him in Tahiti for a remarkable South Pacific adventure that would take them to French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa over the course of the next year. It was a life-changing experience for the whole family.

Glenn’s three attempts at a solo circumnavigation west about have been well documented in the media and on his blog GOING SOLO. The blog attracted thousands of followers in more than 100 countries who wanted to make a connection with him, offer their support, and in a sense, “be part of” the adventure. While he sailed alone, Glenn was surrounded by dozens of books written by offshore sailors about their experiences. After reading many of them (and some repeatedly), he felt something was missing. Very few talked about the tough stuff – the self-doubt, the crushing loneliness, the internal struggles, in short, the dark times. And, very few talked about the support from family and people around them who helped them accomplish their goal. Glenn wanted to share all of it, the thrills, the challenges, the unbearable loneliness, and the crushing defeats. He wanted to tell his story in his own words – the ‘unvarnished truth’ he called it. That, to him was most important.

He also wanted to talk about all the people he carried close to his heart as he sailed alone.  MaryLou, Claire and Nicola, his family and extended family, old friends and new friends from all over the world, the network of ham radio operators who’d signed on to keep him connected via the radio and there were many others – complete strangers who wanted him to know they were pulling for him and supporting his dream.

On his first attempt in 2007/08 on the day he left the wharf at the Inner Harbour, to his utter dismay, hundreds of emails had come in overnight via the website from people across Canada offering words of encouragement and support. An article about his adventure in the Globe and Mail had apparently struck a chord. He often said he would never be able to adequately express how vital those messages of support were to him, and how they acted as a tonic, and fueled his will to keep going. One of those messages read …

“Glenn, I wish you all the best as you embark on this amazing feat. You are an inspiration for all of us, not only for the endeavour itself, but more importantly you teach us to never give up on our dreams. I’ve always found you to be a humble and gracious person, I would have to add courageous in there as well. I will keep you in my prayers and follow your blog. We are all pulling for you.”

But some of the most cherished communications came from children – ten-year-old children in grades 5 and 6 from McLean, Saskatchewan to be precise. Their teacher lived in Regina next door to Glenn’s brother-in-law, Peter. When she heard about his adventure, she took it upon herself to include it in her school curriculum so the kids could follow Glenn around the world. Students were encouraged to write to him via the blog and he promised to answer their questions including ones about whether he had to anchor the boat at night so he could sleep and, of course, whether there were pirates at sea. When he returned from his voyage, he and MaryLou made a special trip to Saskatchewan to meet those students. It was an emotional reunion and Glenn took the opportunity to encourage them to write down their wildest dreams and never let go of them.

Anything that would get him out on the ocean, Glenn was all in. He volunteered for the local Coast Guard and for several seasons, he was a kayak instructor. He enjoyed showing beginners how to exit and re-enter the boat safely and delighted in hurling himself out of the kayak to demonstrate how to safely get back in the boat.  Safety was a primary focus for Glenn, and he made sure he was kitted out with ample equipment. One summer kayaking in Barkley Sound when the girls were very young, that safety equipment came in handy when a storm moved in, and they were forced to hunker down for two days of fierce wind and torrential rain. None of the other campers had a VHF radio, flares, emergency blankets or any other paraphernalia.  On this occasion, he was able to call the coast guard on his VHF radio and ask them to relay the message to some of the campers’ families that they would be two days past their arrival date due to bad weather.

Glenn left the Royal Victoria Yacht Club on September 6, 2020 on his third attempt to finish his solo circumnavigation. His plan was to round Cape Horn and make his way back to the same location where he had been rescued in 2008 by the Argentinian navy. Once there, he planned to turn around and head back to Victoria. That would have completed his solo circumnavigation or “tied the knot” as he put it, and realized his lifelong dream.

If weather and sea conditions allowed, he planned to rendezvous with Commander Pablo Fal, the officer at the Search and Rescue Centre in Ushuaia, Argentina who had planned and orchestrated his rescue. The two were going to meet face to face for the first time and both were looking forward to it.

Tragically, on September 16, 2020, Glenn suffered a devastating stroke 500 miles off the coast. Miraculously, he managed to get one text message to MaryLou explaining his heart-breaking situation. After being air lifted from West Wind 2, he was transported to Victoria and spent his final days surrounded by his loving family.

On January 4, 2021, we received a message from the US Coast Guard in Oregon that the emergency beacon device on West Wind 2 had been activated meaning that the boat was submerged somewhere nearby. Among other items, one small piece of flotsam made its way back to the family courtesy of the Coast Guard – the slightly battered and scarred half model of West Wind 2, an emblematic memento of his epic journey.  

As in life, Glenn left this world much like he lived it – on his own terms. Our dear Glenn passed away peacefully on October 5th, 2020, held by his loving family. He will be remembered as a cherished husband, a loving father and a loyal friend.

May your indomitable spirit live on in all who knew and loved you.

Comments

  1. Jenny and Ted says

    Dear Marylou, Clair and Nicola,

    Thank you so much for sharing this eulogy with us. You’ve all been in our thoughts and had been wondering how the Celebration of his Life was. We would have loved to have been there with you all, but our thoughts were definitely with you.
    Glenn will never be forgotten by us.

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