Bill Wolferstan (1942 – 2015) grew up in North Vancouver and after the death of his only sibling, David, he was taken under the wing of his friend Tony Humphreys. It was Tony who introduced Bill to what would become his life long passion sailing.
Tony also inspired Bill to serve his country, which he did proudly as a member of the Canadian Forces from 1962-1969, though Bill’s superiors often claimed “men follow this officer purely out of curiosity”. After completing a BSc in Geography at UBC, he traveled to England where he and a friend bought a 25′ folkboat and set sail for Vancouver. Unfortunately, the Bay of Biscay had other ideas. They were dismasted in a gale which nearly killed his friend, and adrift in heavy seas, they abandoned ship, took to their life boat, and watched as their boat sank. They were later rescued by a Dutch freighter. Bill was fond of saying that this was the first time he was rescued by the Dutch, the second time being when Clementien, his Dutch born wife of 40 years, agreed to marry him.
Upon returning to Vancouver, Bill completed a Masters in Marine Recreation at SFU. Armed with his 3-inch thick, beautifully hand-illustrated thesis, he visited Gerry Kidd, then-editor of Pacific Yachting, to ask if he might be interested in publishing it. Gerry took a look at his tome and gently suggested maybe they could start with an article. The article was a success and Bill went on to write many more. Under Gerry’s guidance these articles were published as the first of the three cruising guides for which Bill became most well known.
Bill, as a Canadian author, was very proud to share his passion and stories of his beloved BC coast with other boaters. For the BC Government, Bill spearheaded multiple studies on the dangers of oil tanker traffic and marine oil spills, always working toward prevention rather than clean-up. With Clementien and their young family, he spent every summer aboard their sailboat, “Tumbo”, cruising the BC coast, researching for further publications.
In 1995, following a long-held dream, Bill & Clementien travelled to Friesland where they found “Linquenda”, a 60′ Dutch sailing barge. They spent the next 15 years cruising the canals and rivers of Europe, while introducing countless guests to the slow beauty and charm of the European waterways.
In the early hours of December 24th, 2015, with a strong flood tide, William (Bill) Wolferstan quietly slipped his mooring lines and departed on his final journey, surrounded by his wife and four children.
A Memorial penned by Bill’s good friend Martyn Clark
In the early hours of Christmas Eve day, William Harold Wolferstan, SALTS’ longest serving board member, quietly breathed his last with his family at his side. Diagnosed in 2010 with Parkinson’s and Lewy Body Dementia, Bill had been forced to gradually reduce the energetic pace that was his hallmark for most of his seventy-three years.
Bill, or Wolfie as he was affectionately known, joined the SALTS’ board in 1981 under the chairmanship of Dr. Wallace Eggert. He remained active and committed until his illness started to take its toll: a span as director of almost thirty years!
One of Bill’s first initiatives was to spearhead the SALTS’ auction, which grew to be a popular annual event attracting everyone from ‘salty dogs´ to gents in tuxedos and ladies in evening dresses. At its height the auction would gross $60,000 in an evening. Bill would design the catalogue, hound artists and donors and never take “no” for an answer. His biggest scoop was two tickets from Canadian Airlines to anywhere in the world their planes travelled.
Author of three cruising guides to the Pacific Northwest, Bill was a prolific writer and photographer whose articles were published regularly in Pacific Yachting magazine, many covering SALTS’ vessels and voyages. His iconic photo of H.R.H. Prince Philip “at the helm” of the old Banks schooner Robertson II, taken from the deck of the brigantine Spirit of Chemainus, made the cover of PY the following month. In fact, the queen’s husband never touched the wheel of the Robbie. The arm in the photo is of a young SALTS’ trainee but the shot was taken in such a clever way as to make it appear that Prince Philip is steering!
Bill was also a member of the crew on the first leg of the Pacific Swift’s maiden voyage to Australia. He was fond of sneaking on deck during the night watch and singing Negro spirituals in an uncannily tuneless voice. Trainees roused for watch would whisper, “What’s that terrible noise?”
“It’s only Wolfie,” we would reassure them.
Bill’s family also shared his enthusiasm for the SALTS adventure: his wife, Clementien, became Booking Manager for a while; eldest son, Jonathan, was a trainee on the fifth offshore voyage and later a watch officer and shipwright; Matthew served as cook and painter of donated boats; and Thomas as shipwright.
One of Bill’s favourite authors was Arthur Ransome of Swallows and Amazons fame. The Ransome quote which was Bill’s favourite (and oft repeated) speaks eloquently of what he saw in SALTS and in life: “Grab a chance and you won’t be sorry for a might-have-been”.
Modest, unafraid, a lover of nature and its Creator, Bill charted his life’s voyage with joy and a touch of whimsy. He grabbed chances that the more timorous would have passed by. As a result, his life and the lives of those who knew him are the richer for it.
Martyn J. Clark