Jim Case had not spoken English for three days when he hiked into town looking for a store on the island of Isla Grande off the coast of Panama.

Bill Dunlop sails Wind’s Will out of the harbor in Aitutaki in the Cook Islands in June 1984. The photo may be the last photo taken of the Mechanic Falls adventurer who was attempting to sail solo around the world on his 9-foot boat. Dunlop went missing on the 3,000-mile leg between the Cook Islands and Australia. Submitted photo

The date was Dec. 14, 1983.

He spotted someone who looked American or European who seemed out of place.

“He was looking around with big, wide eyes,” Case said. “He came up to me and I said, ‘Do you speak English?’ Not many people there speak English. He said, ‘I’ll be damned if I can speak anything but English. My name is Bill Dunlop and I just sailed in from Kingston, Jamaica.'”

Dunlop, a Navy veteran and former truck driver from Mechanic Falls, was on a quest to sail solo around the world in his 9-foot boat, Wind’s Will.

The roughly 27,000 mile journey started on July 31, 1983, in Portland. Dunlop made it through the Panama Canal and halfway across the Pacific Ocean, but he vanished a year later somewhere along a 3,000-mile stretch between the Cook Islands and Australia.

In Panama, six months before he disappeared, the chance meeting with Case gave Dunlop the opportunity to relax for a few hours and share stories with a stranger.

“He just opened up,” Case said. “It came gushing out. ‘I am on my way across and through the Panama Canal and then across the Pacific Ocean. I’ve got the Guinness Book of World Record for the smallest vessel to ever cross the Atlantic Ocean. I just finished crossing the Caribbean.'”

The two men laughed, establishing an instant bond with each other. They sat on a bench near the docks and drank seven beers each for the next four hours, trading tales of adventure.

Case recorded the encounter in his journal that he kept while working on an eco-tour cruise ship stationed in Panama. He never forgot his meeting with Dunlop.

“The journal entry brings it all back,” Case said. “It’s funny, these real specific memories. It was just a chance encounter.”

Bill Dunlop’s boat, Wind’s Will, sits in the water in Aitutaki in the Cook Islands in June 1984. Submitted photo

When asked where his boat was, Case said Dunlop pointed toward a small concrete dock. He only saw a pole sticking up, above the dock.

“It was his mast,” Case said. “You couldn’t even see his boat.”

According to Sun Journal archives, the christening of “Wind’s Will” took place at Taylor Pond in Auburn, miles from the salt water of the Atlantic, in 1982. The name of the boat came from the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, “My Lost Youth,” a poem set in a seaside town in which he wrote: “A boy’s will is the wind’s will, And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

Bill Dunlop stands next to his 9-foot boat, Wind’s Will, in dry dock while being repaired during his around-the-world voyage in Aitutaki in the Cook Islands in June 1984. Dunlop, from Mechanic Falls, went missing on the 3,000-mile leg between the Cook Islands and Australia. Submitted photo

Dunlop had come ashore on Isla Grande for some rest that night in 1983 when he saw the lights on the island. He and Case ran into each other near a store.

Case said he learned a lot about Dunlop’s journey and his survival skills aboard his 9-foot fiberglass boat. In storms, Dunlop told him he would simply close the hatch and sleep. The boat was designed to be “self-riding so it would just roll down these big waves.”

“I asked him about water and he said, ‘I get a lot of the water that I need from cans that I bring.’ He wasn’t sailing with a bunch of high-tech food. He had a bunch of canned goods on board. He got a lot of his liquids by opening a can of spinach or whatever.”

Case was surprised to learn that Dunlop’s most harrowing experience came on land and not sea. A few days earlier during a stop in Kingston, Dunlop was mugged by four people who stole his wallet and watch.

Dunlop had just called his wife to check in and was looking for a hotel in Jamaica’s capital city when he was confronted by one man while another grabbed him from behind, according to published reports.

At the time, Ed Heath of Poland, who was Dunlop’s friend and attorney, said the men kicked Dunlop in the stomach and “bruised him up a bit,” but it didn’t dampen his spirit for the continuing adventure.

Kingston police did assign a detective to Dunlop to maintain his safety until he went back to sea.

Case remembers he and Dunlop covered a lot of ground during their four-hour conversation, from Dunlap’s solo trips to England and the Bermuda Triangle to his television appearances on Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin.

He said he was impressed with Dunlop’s tattoos — an eagle on his chest, an anchor on one arm and a lady in front of a champagne glass on the other arm. He described Dunlop as having blue eyes, a thin beard and a heavy Maine accent.

He never saw Dunlop again, but Case never forgot him. He saw in the local newspaper several days later that Dunlop set a record for having the smallest boat to transit the Panama Canal. His wife, Pam, probably met him in either Colon or Balboa, located on opposite ends of the canal before he crossed the Pacific, Case said.

Dunlop made his way to the Cook Islands, located more than halfway between Panama and Australia. He remained on the island for a few weeks making repairs and restocking his supplies for the final leg of his Pacific journey — a 3,000 mile trip to Australia. He left Aitutake, one of the Cook Islands, on June 23, 1984. The passage was expected to take 2-3 months.

What happened next remains a mystery to this day. When Dunlop failed to reach Australia, search planes found no signs of Dunlop or his tiny boat in the vast Pacific Ocean.

Searchers concluded that Dunlop likely died at sea in a bad storm two days after leaving the Cook Islands, but his family held out hope for years he had survived. He was ultimately declared dead in 1986.

Pam Dunlop had met her husband in Balboa, Panama, in 1984, just as Case had thought.

After her husband left on what would become his final voyage she told the Lewiston Daily Sun that she was worried about him because of the distance of the upcoming leg but also because most of the trip would be outside of shipping lanes, with fewer opportunities for him be seen by larger vessels that might send messages to the United States reporting his position and condition.

She had gone to Panama to help her husband prepare for that segment of the trip, and said part of her worry was also because “Wind’s Will is taking on a little water,” according to the Lewiston newspaper’s report. “That’s happening around the gunwhale,” she said, but “he’s not worried about — he’s not worried, but I am.”

While working on the boat before he left Panama, the couple also made changes in the fittings on the mast and replaced a small sloop-rigged sail with a gaff sail, which provided more square feet of sail area.

In December of 1984, six months after Dunlop went missing, his wife and Heath had remaining hope that Dunlop would be found, and started raising money to travel to Australia after learning about a note stuffed into a margarine container that had drifted ashore in Queensland two months prior.

The note, according to the Lewiston Daily Sun’s ongoing reporting on Dunlop’s disappearance, was unsigned but indicated that the writer was shipwrecked on an island, out of food and low on water.

When the Dunlop family was given an image of the note, Heath said Pam Dunlop was “100 percent convinced it’s Bill’s writing. There’s no doubt about it in her mind.”

Pam and Bill’s daughter, Kim Dunlop Piper, later confirmed her mother’s opinion.

Around the year 2000, while living in Alaska, Case wondered if Dunlop ever made it and researched the voyage when he finally got a computer, learning the bad news. He said he contacted an author he found online who was looking for information on Dunlop for a potential book. Learning that Case was planning a month-long trip to the Cook Islands and the South Pacific the following year, the author provided Case with two contacts Dunlop had befriended during his time on Aitutake.

Bill Dunlop stands next to his 9-foot boat, Wind’s Will, in dry dock while being repaired during his around-the-world voyage in Aitutaki in the Cook Islands in June 1984. Dunlop, from Mechanic Falls, went missing on the 3,000-mile leg between the Cook Islands and Australia. Submitted photo

The first contact was a priest, who kept the log book of all arrivals and departures. He was no longer there, but the bishop told him that the log book is part of the island’s historical archives and was under lock and key.

The second contact was a merchant named Dez Clarke, who befriended Dunlop and gave him a place to stay.

“I don’t know how long it took, but Dez said it was weeks to get the repairs done and resupply the boat,” Case said. “He said he thought he was overloaded when he sailed out of the harbor, and that he sailed into a squall two days later. Accounts said there wasn’t bad weather, but Dez says there was.”

Clarke and his wife had taken photos of Dunlop while he was on the island and had them in an album. Case took pictures of those photos, including one that Case believes is the last picture taken of Dunlop as he sailed out of the harbor.

Now living in Idaho and recently retired from his job with the forest service, Case found himself with a lot of free time when the pandemic hit. He began going back through his journals when he rediscovered the photos and the journal entries from his brief encounter with Dunlop.

He is now hoping to connect with either Dunlop’s wife or daughter to share the photos, journal entries and anecdotes of their time together.

His daughter, now Kim Davis, owns Enchanted Acres, a 33-acre farm in Waterford. According to its website, the farm was named after her father’s first boat, Enchantress, a 35-foot sloop that Dunlop sailed solo to England and back — a 7,000-mile journey — in 1980.

Her farm’s website contains a section honoring the memory of her father, with dozens of archived newspaper articles chronicling his time at sea. (Attempts to reach Davis were not successful because the phone number to Davis’ farm is disconnected.)

In 1990, Kim Dunlop and Steward Davis were married at sea aboard the Longfellow II. According to the Sun Journal, Dunlop said she decided to get married off Portland Head Light so her father could be at her wedding.

“It was my way of having him here,” she said.


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