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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

Grandmother Kayak Voyager
Slim Boat To Guatemala
December 10, 2014

eb Walters is traveling the East Coast at twenty five thousand strokes per day. She began her voyage this July in Maine. Over a million dips of the paddle later, she arrived in Oriental. Deb is a grandmother. She is paddling toward Guatemala in a wood kayak.

deb walters kayak
Deb Walters: grandmother, retired professor, fundraiser, doctor (Ph.D. in Neurocommunications) and …kayaker.
deb walters kayak oriental bridge
Deb glides under the Oriental Bridge after completing the 23-mile Hobucken-to-Oriental leg of her trip.

Deb’s kayak is built to a Chesapeake Light Craft design. Eighteen feet long, it’s designed for voyaging, not sprinting. Seventy-five pounds empty, it weighs twice that when loaded with camping, electronic, safety and personal gear. Water tight hatches access storage compartments. Elastic cords secure loose gear on deck.

One thing the kayak lacks is a name. Instead, it’s covered from deck to waterline with sponsors’ logos.

That certain look has to with Deb’s mission. She says, “I’m raising funds for a children’s school in Guatemala… The naming rights are reserved for a $50,000 corporate sponsor. So far I only have a $40,000 corporate sponsor.”

deb walters kayak oriental sponsor
Now landing in Oriental, the Broadreach Public Relations, Chesapeake Light Craft, Polaris Capital Management, L.L. Bean, Yakima, NRS, Maptech kayak. Four months in to her voyage, Deb’s website reports she’s raised almost $80,000 of the $150,000 she hopes to raise for the Safe Passage school in Guatemala City.

Deb and her husband Chris live in Troy, Maine. A retired professor and grandmother of two, she started kayaking in 1981. She’s paddled in the Arctic, Yukon, the Atlantic Maritimes and Mexico. She’s dealt with ice off of the coast of Ellesmere Island and won first in division at the Everglades Challenge, an expedition style small-boat race.

A few years ago, Deb went to Guatemala on a Rotary mission. She visited the Guatemala City dump. “The air was full of dust and there were vultures circling in the sky,” she says. Children were picking through the garbage for items of value.

Deb met some of the children’s parents. She was struck by their grit and determination – especially the mothers’. It impressed Deb how they wanted their children to have better lives than what they could make picking through garbage. That meant sending them to school.

Deb wanted to help.

She teamed up with the non-profit Safe Passage. The organization operates a school in Guatemala for children of the garbage dump community.

Deb would go on a fundraising mission. She would travel from Maine to Guatemala in a kayak, paddling as much of the way as possible. The money raised would go toward adding third and fourth grades to the Safe Passage school.

Deb had a kayak she thought would suit her mission. She’d built the hull and deck. To make the craft suitable for her upcoming mission, though, it needed modifications. The staff at Chesapeake Light Craft, who’d designed the boat, agreed to help.

Deb says, “they cut off the deck and rebuilt it from the deck up. They narrowed the hull, moved bulkheads, added recessed water tight hatches, put in a custom seat and painted the hull.”

deb walters kayak hatches
The kayak’s storage compartments are accessed via these custom watertight hatches. The elastic black covers keep the kayak’s content dry – mostly…

On July 11, she departed Yarmouth, Maine. The plan was as such. Deb would paddle to Florida, arriving there in April. There, she and her kayak would board a sailboat. Joining them would be the president of a global capital management company and the board president of the Safe Passage non-profit. Together, they would sail for Belize. Upon arrival, Deb would relaunch her kayak and paddle the remaining 200 miles to her final destination in Guatemala.

deb walters kayak map
Halfway and the bear: Deb shows where she saw the first bear of her trip. It marked the halfway-point between Maine and Florida.

By first week of December, Deb had paddled half way down the East Coast. That day, outside of Hobucken, she saw the first bear of her trip. On December 6, almost four months after she departed, she arrived in Oriental.


Deb says her kayak travels “at walking speed”. The trip average has been 70 strokes per minute 6 hours per day. It’s a pace at which she can soak in the scenery – spot the otter, feel the waves, listen to the drip of the paddle in a foggy calm.

One of the biggest challenges she expected to overcome was finding a place to stay. She says, “paddling in the Arctic, I often didn’t know where to stop to camp.” Because she couldn’t sleep in the kayak, she would pitch camp ashore, often in remote areas. Visitors, especially hosts who put her up overnight, were rare. Sometimes they paddled along side her for a few days before letting her continue.

On this trip, the opposite is true. She says folks like Clair and Kay Hofmann, who hosted her in Oriental, have been generous with lodging and meals. “It comes as a great relief to know where I’m going to sleep on many nights”

She hasn’t had to pitch her tent and hammock as often as on other expeditions. Between July and early December, she’s camped out twice.

deb walters kayak arrival oriental
Deb draws a crowd. Ten humans and two dogs welcomed her to Oriental. Clair Hofmann is in the light blue shirt. Clair first met Deb in New Jersey.

All this hospitality means being able to travel lighter than planned. Since setting out, she’s, “gotten rid of 85 pounds of stuff – mostly food and water”. Often, to lighten her load, her hosts will carry her gear by land from one point to the next.

One of the items she hasn’t jettisoned is a small rubber duck she carries in her life jacket. The yellow toy was a gift from children at the Safe Passage School in Guatemala City. Deb says, “his name is Pato Amistoso which means “friendly duck” in Spanish. When it gets scary, he hides down.”

deb walters kayak yellow duck
Pato Amistoso lives in Deb’s life jacket. Deb jokes that she’s not allowed to be afraid on this trip. That’s the little duck’s job.

Deb’s kayak is heavily outfitted with tech equipment donated by sponsors. She says, “The purpose of all this technology is to communicate as much about the trip as possible.” An on-deck camera captures footage as she paddles. Another device updates her location throughout the day. This information is plotted on an online map. At day’s end, she tries to post to her blog.

It’s taken some getting used to, this jumping back and forth between natural and online worlds. Deb says, “compared to solo trips in the Arctic, this is more like performance art.” Some days, it comes as a relief when, “I can stop looking at the electronics and start looking at the water”.

deb walters kayak camera map glove
The kayak’s foredeck is home to some hi-tech gear. The black, tube-like camera, captures footage as Deb paddles. A GPS unit resides in a protective bag. Other gear, like gloves and maps, are more low-tech.

Deb’s schedule is tight. She’s had many speaking engagements. Some are to Rotary groups, an organization with which she has strong ties. Other groups just want to her about her trip and cause.

Still, she needs to be in Florida by April so she can catch the sailboat to Belize. This can lead to conflicts involving the weather.

Deb arrived in Oriental on Saturday. She’d planned to spend the weekend. Monday – if the weather co-operated – she would paddle across the Neuse River and on to Beaufort.

The first day of the week blew in with 20-knot winds. The Neuse river was under a Small Craft Advisory.

deb walters kayak rain drop
A light rain fell as Deb arrived in Oriental. There was much more to come.

Traveling in remote areas, this would not have posed much of a problem. She says, “in the Arctic, I stop and wait.” When conditions improves, she carries on.

On this fundraising voyage, that was not an option. Deb had programs to give and people to meet. Earlier in the week, a paddler had gone missing on a nearby body of water. His canoe had been found near Elizabeth City. He had not.

This got Deb’s attention.

She says, “the point of this trip is to raise awareness, not take undue risks. So if I have to, I’ll skip sections during high winds and waves.”

deb walters kayak on pamlico river
Specks afloat: the Neuse River is one of the widest stretches of water Deb will have to deal with on her voyage. Saturday, as Deb approached Oriental, a local kayaker paddled out to meet her. The water was calm. Monday, the scene was not as peaceful.

To bypass the rough waters and stay on schedule, she did a “power portage”. New friends in Oriental loaded Deb and her kayak in to a car and gave her a lift across the Neuse river. Deb relaunched in Adams Creek. From there she paddled towards Beaufort and beyond.

A school full of children is waiting for the yellow kayak to appear. Deb still has over a million paddle strokes to go.

Posted Wednesday December 10, 2014 by Bernie Harberts

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