Veteran sails from Montana to Florida on homemade boat
By ANNIE BLANKS | The Destin Log, Fla. | Published: September 22, 2016
DESTIN, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Nick Noreus has always had a thing for adventure.
The 36-year-old Miramar Beach resident joined the Air Force after getting his meteorology degree from the University of Michigan. He flew Russian helicopters in Afghanistan and Osprey helicopters at Hurlburt.
So after separating from the Air Force this past May, Noreus had a not-so-crazy idea.
He was going to build a boat and sail it from Montana to Destin over the course of the summer.
“I was talking to my dad, and more and more it just sounded like a great idea,” he said.
He spent about a month building what he described as “a canoe with a sail,” something easy to move through the water and in shallow drafts, across sand bars and around dams.
On June 8, he set off in Montana on the Missouri River. He spent the next several weeks sailing through Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.
“I had planned just to go to St. Louis,” he said. “But I ended up getting there quicker than I thought, so I decided to keep going, to see if I could make it all the way back to Destin.”
Noreus set off on the Mississippi River and took that through Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana. He then set off in the swamps of Louisiana and followed some shrimp boats to the Gulf of Mexico. From there, he found the Intracoastal Waterway, finally arriving in Destin on Sept. 15. The whole trip took three and a half months.
“It was much more difficult at the beginning of the Missouri (River) because there were 14 dams and lots of sand bars,” Noreus said of his trip. “After I got past Sioux City (Iowa), it was much more navigable.”
Other than dealing with the occasional surprise storm, including a gully washer in Montana that tested his limits, Noreus said the trip was tough, but worth it. He hung a hammock between the masts of his boat and slept under the stars each night. He had once-in-a-lifetime views sailing through the Rocky Mountains. Strangers would offer to drive him into town to get food.
“It’s the kind of trip that restores your faith in humanity,” he said.
There were several strangers that made a mark on Noreus during his trip. One man took him in for a few nights when his rudder broke and helped him rebuild a new one. He met two canoeists filming a documentary on the Missouri River and attended one of their weddings that weekend.
“That’s one of the biggest things I took away,” he said. “People are really helpful to travelers.”
Noreus is starting a new adventure soon, having just joined the National Guard and planning to move to Albuquerque to be a helicopter pilot instructor. But he hopes his journey will teach other people that they too can go on the adventure of a lifetime.
“People tell me all the time, ‘I’ve always wanted to do something like that,’ ” he said. “And I tell them, you can. You just have to do it. The only thing stopping you is nothing.”
©2016 The Destin Log (Destin, Fla.)
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