A year ago, their maritime misfortune off John’s Pass turned a Colorado couple into viral sensations whose story reached audiences as far away as China and Russia.
The kindness of strangers finally put the free-spirited Nikki Walsh and Tanner Broadwell back on track with their Caribbean adventure after a boat that they sold most of their possessions to buy sank in the Gulf on the evening of Feb. 7, 2018.
So how did it turn out?
Their time at sea lasted a few months and then they moved into a van, still pursuing a life of adventure — and still philosophical as they worked through the breakdowns and other challenges that life continues to bring.
Efforts to reach them by phone, email and social media brought no response.
But Walsh and her boyfriend Broadwell, both in their late-20s, chronicled their journey after the John’s Pass disaster in a series of 20 four- to seven-minute YouTube videos.
It all began in early February last year when they set out from Tarpon Springs in the 28-foot sailboat they had bought only to see it sink on their second day.
As the sad story spread, they accumulated more than $16,000 in donations through a GoFundMe page, and a retired St. Petersburg doctor sold them a replacement boat — this one, 36-feet long — for just a dollar.
They finally set sail May 22, plotting a course through Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas.
As it turns out, they appear to have spent about four months on the boat but never left U.S. waters.
They survived health scares, fixed breakdowns, soaked up scenery ripped from a post card, and spoiled their pug Remy by hand-feeding him dinner.
"He won't eat any other way," Walsh said with a laugh in a video posted Aug. 3.
The YouTube videos carry a posting date, but when they were recorded isn’t clear.
In the first posting, May 26, they were still in Pinellas County. Walsh admits she’s afraid to start the journey again after they hit a submerged object and sank the first time out.
"It just sucks," she says. "I want to sail, and I want to live on a boat, but I am traumatized ... I'm about to make a big trip and I don't know if I am ready."
The next video, posted June 8, describes how Broadwell was rushed to a St. Petersburg emergency room to have an abscess removed from his throat. The same post shows them with two temporary passengers — Broadwell's sister Saxon Broadwell and someone identified as Ward — sailing away from St. Petersburg.
"We are officially leaving," Walsh says. "Oh my God. We're doing it."
The next morning, Walsh is in awe as she awakes for the first time at sea. The skies are clear and all she can see is water in every direction.
"I just woke up to this amazing view," she says.
Their first stop was Marco Island near Florida’s southwest tip, where Walsh joked they were "forced" to stay four days longer than planned because of Tropical Storm Alberto. The storm lasted May 25 to June 1.
In a YouTube video posted June 16, they are relaxing under clear skies at the pool of a Marriott Hotel.
A June 28 video documents their arrival in Key West. On the way there, the boat's engine failed twice, their propeller shaft broke and they holed up for repairs, Walsh says.
Still, she jokes in a July 11 post heavy with sarcasm, the toughest part of the journey was preparing meals on a boat.
"Make sure all the ingredients are warm," she says from the cabin kitchen. "We don't want something you would actually eat. This is boat food. You want it to be sweaty. And make sure you cut your finger every time you use a knife."
Later, Broadwell nearly lost his fingers in a boating mishap.
After a few weeks in the Keys and a road trip to New Orleans, they returned and set sail for Miami.
During a storm, their motor seized and they wound up stranded far from the shores of the city.
As Broadwell hauled the anchor in by hand, the line became tangled and pulled tight against his fingers, Walsh says in a Sept. 1 video. He freed it just in time.
The next YouTube scenes show the couple enjoying a peaceful and scenic life at sea as they cruise toward Merritt Island on Florida’s east central coast.
They end their journey there.
"We made it," Walsh screams in a video posted Sept. 11.
Still, in the same video, they make it clear they’re not ready for a sedentary life.
In a video Sept. 25, they convert a van that they bought in Jacksonville into lodging on wheels, complete with a dresser and a bed bolted to the floor. The van is orange with a black diagonal stripe on both sides.
They still have the boat, Walsh says in a Sept. 29 Instagram post, and parked it somewhere in Florida so they could head home to Colorado.
On Oct. 14, the couple reveal in a video that their van has broken down just as they are starting out on the land leg of their adventure.
“Life’s a journey,” says Broadwell, laughing, as he stands outside the vehicle.
Added Walsh, “The difference between adventure and ordeal is attitude. We’re just on another adventure.”
Later videos show the couple exploring Colorado from their home in the van. They mention having jobs but not what they are.
Then in November, Walsh took to Instagram to announce they had left the road — in part because she was missing out on important things in life and might have been “running from my problems.”
“We moved into an apartment last month,” she said, “and it really changed my life.”
Still, they hung onto the van. They might not be sleeping in it every night, but it’s there in the latest video from their You Tube series, posted Dec. 11.
They’re hiking abandoned mines in Breckenridge, Colo.
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] or follow @PGuzzoTimes