Stephen Ladd: Three Years in a Twelve-Foot Boat
Ever dream of just sailing away? Be careful what you dream of! Stephen Ladd surrendered to wanderlust when itchy feet and desire for adventure induced him to build Squeak, a 200-pound, twelve-foot rowboat/sailboat with a coffin-like cabin. Over the next three years Ladd rowed, sailed, worked on freighters, hitched on the back of pickup trucks, and traveled more than 15,000 miles with his tiny vessel.
Part I: North American Rivers
In August 1990, Ladd transported Squeak by van to the Rocky Mountains and launched her in a tiny stream called the Milk River. The stream feeds into the Missouri, which in turn feeds into the Mississippi, the world’s longest river system. Rowing and sailing day after day, he sucked in the airy freedom of the High Plains and rediscovered Mark Twain’s America, but winter dogged his steps. So in New Orleans he found a Norwegian freighter that allowed him to work for his passage to Panama, with Squeak on deck.
Part II: Pacific Coast of Panama and Colombia
In Panama Ladd found more heat than he bargained for. Robbed at knifepoint the first day and repeatedly warned that pirates killed everyone who tried to sail along the Pacific coast of Colombia, he nonetheless crossed the Panama Canal and headed southeast. The coastline was a mountainous jungle of rainforest and mangrove swamp. He was shipwrecked on an island inhabited by a mad ex-Nazi and spent weeks repairing his boat in remote villages inhabited by Indians and Hispanic blacks. Adverse winds and currents, heavy surf, capsizings, and illnesses made the Pacific Coast a desperate, six-month struggle.
Part III: South American Rivers
From Buenaventura, on the steamy Colombian coast, Ladd negotiated a series of pickup truck rides across the Andes Mountains to the upper Meta River, in the flat deserts of eastern Colombia. To avoid the sandstorms that raged by day and the Communist guerrillas controlling that region, he descended that river’s six hundred miles at night with flashlights mounted to the bow. Pink dolphins provided escort service. The Meta carried Ladd into the majestic Orinoco River. Beating constantly into fierce headwinds and worming through a swamp literally the size of New Jersey, he at last emerged on the Atlantic Ocean near Trinidad.
Part IV: Caribbean
For thirteen months Ladd sailed north through the multi-cultural Antilles island chain, pulling up on gleaming beaches by night. Heavy seas battered his nutshell craft, but Squeak proved safe in a capsizing, provided her hatches were shut. Ladd took time to snorkel the turquoise reefs, find love, and carouse with some of the Caribbean’s strangest characters, like Hans, a smuggler who mysteriously disappeared while the two were waiting out storms in Montserrat. Ladd was arrested upon arrival in Haiti and again in Cuba, but both countries eventually allowed him to cruise their waters. In May 1993 he landed in Miami. There he looked up “Auto Transport/Driveaway” in the Yellow Pages, and ended up driving a limousine home to Bremerton, Washington, trailering Squeak. He returned just in time for his fortieth birthday.
In three years Ladd rowed and sailed 6,500 miles and traveled another 8,500 miles by car, truck, and ship. While exploring our beautiful planet and its diverse peoples, he proved that much can be done with little. He also explored the nature of freedom and fear, loneliness and love.