Living a life of watery, musical adventure

Bill Tatum with Sailboat Jim. (submitted photo)

Bill Tatum with Sailboat Jim. (submitted photo)

Everybody loves a little adventure, but most of us settle for an occasional camping trip or a short trek to somewhere we’ve never been before.

One recent young visitor to LaBelle is on the trip of a lifetime.

Thirty-four-year-old Bill Tatum was just discharged from the Coast Guard where he thoroughly enjoyed the last eight years as a bosun, maintaining and piloting everything from 110’ cutters to 29’ small boats. But when he got into administration it wasn’t so much fun any more so, he decided to leave the service.

He is taking the time to go kayaking solo from Tampa to Savannah, Ga, via the Florida Saltwater Navigational Trail and Florida Bluewater Trail. His plan for the present and immediate future is to follow this dream, then head up to Alaska where he intends to build a little place for himself on a lake. He expects to be back in Alaska by April 30 so he can purchase the property he’s got his eye on and prepare for the brutal Alaskan winter.

He’s also considering seeking an internship with Forestry. No stranger to surviving in the wilderness, at one time Bill taught at the National Outdoor Leadership School in Wyoming and re-rationed people on horseback trips.

This is the perfect time for him to take the kayaking trip he’s always dreamed of – through St. James City, the Caloosahatchee, Okeechobee and up the Atlantic Coast to Savannah – a total of 661 miles – following a route he mapped out for himself. It’s a long, mostly leisurely trip, although he started out paddling against tough winds for three days straight. That’s the thing about an adventure – you never know what to expect, but you need to be prepared for anything. He said he is constantly considering  his next move, checking his bearings, watching for possible pitfalls. It’s just him, his thoughts and his physical environment, although he did make one concession to modern life, a GPS system that makes getting his bearing much easier.

Bill grew up in Texas where he said there are two ways to meet girls: play football (Bill claims to be no athlete) or pick up the guitar. The latter was more his style so he taught himself to play and a love for music has taken firm root.

Musically, Bill does his own thing – sort of an Americana genre. A friend calls him a cross between Johnny Cash and Townes Van Zandt – comparisons that please him greatly.

Bill’s goal is to write songs that speak to people about life and love and hard times. He’s set himself a high standard, believing the “best Americana song ever written is, hands down, ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot.’” His musical idol Townes Van Zandt’s “To Life is to Fly” may be a close second.

On the water, Bill said he’s “in the moment” with a functional plan only for the immediate future. But at night he has time to think, to consider the day. It’s time to see the “big picture.” He’s keeping a journal packed with his thoughts and experiences.

Bill’s Uncle Bob and his wife have the Sound Traveler Band in Florida and showed Bill the music trail to follow. Bill is also blazing his own music trail. While stopped in St. James City he needed to fill his water bottles, but missed the general store. He did, however, find the Ragged Ass (think mule) bar and that did just as well. Through other patrons he met a kindred spirit called Sailboat Jim, who kept Bill enthralled with the stories of his lifetime and got him a one-night gig at the saloon.

It was a great experience, and he even made a little tip money.

Bill has no plans to go “big time” with his musical performance. He really wants to compose for others while he stays content in his Alaskan paradise.

Bill has recorded some songs and several are available on bandcamp.com. He made a demo CD called Southern Pride by Rebel Bill (a moniker he picked up in the Boy Scouts when, in a good natured wrestling match in the Keys, he charged a big Yankee kid and just wouldn’t quit.)

When this kayaking trip is over and Bill  is settled in Alaska, he can hunt and fish whenever he pleases and do what he really wants to do. Write songs about the places he’s been and people he’s met, calling up all those memories and feelings he’s nestled away in his travel journal.

Bill loves adventure and has more than a few stories to tell, even as young as he is; but solitude is something he’s very comfortable with. He loves to meet new people along the way and never gets lonely

Kayaking, Bill says, makes you “see slower” and miss nothing – the world filtered only through the sound of your paddling.

Paddling slowly through a world most people never confront – one part a physical challenge, one part spiritual – Bill glides along looking for experience and adventure. When this challenge is over is there another waiting for him?

Maybe hang gliding across the country some day, he said. He kind of likes that idea.

Patty Brant, can be reached at cbnews@newszap.com

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