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Return Trip to Isla Mujeres
(August 1998)
(Commentary on the Expidition follows this letter)

I revisited Isla Mujeres on August 16 for the official Yucatan to New Orleans Expedition Ceremony, where as the government of Isla was represented by the city council and Fidel Villanueva Madrid, Presidente Municipal. Also, represented was the great state of Quintana Roo by Arq. Sergio Perez Herales, Secretario De Infraestructura Medio Ambiente y Pesca.

The Gulf Expedition ceremony was among other celebrations acknowledging the 100th Anniversary of their state capital "Chetumal" and the 148th Anniversary of Isla Mujeres. I was very proud to have the Expedition honored during the same time as these great celebrations. Jim Landis, Mayor Ronnie Harris and George Rojes accompanied me to Isla.

Walking through Central Square toward the large white building which held the session room on the second floor I was a bit nervous, excited and still in awe of the attention the Expedition has received. The calmness I was in search of came through the heart warming people I met on Isla and the international visitors.

As I crossed the threshold into the approximately thirty by fifty foot Session room the old and new photographs lining the walls grabbed my attention. As I respectively greeted all the officials present I slowly drifted along the white plaster walls allowing myself to go back into Isla’s history through the old black and whites. Located at the head of the room was the long desk where the leaders of Isla gathered. There were black letters painted on the white wall behind this long desk, (the words in Spanish of course) dedicating the Expedition.

Beginning the function was the Navy marching through the room followed by both the national and state anthem. I received a declaration stating honorary citizenship along with a hand carved wooden plaque with Isla’s emblem. Among the gifts of friendship received was a beautiful clock with a painting of Mayan paddlers and below that painting was another of a kayak crossing the Gulf. This clock was given to me by my good friend and great humanitarian Senor Enrique Lima Zuno. The official dedication lasted a little more than a hour commemorating the crossing of the Gulf. But more importantly achieving the goal of promoting awareness to J.R.A.

After the official procedure I presented Senor Enrique and the good people of Isla Mujeres with the "Wind Swift" paddle I used during the Gulf crossing. This was not just a paddle it was my heart, body and soul. It was a extension of my arms, my power source. In conjunction with my kayak it was my life support system. It was this paddle that helped make it possible to survive and be fortunate to revisit Isla Mujeres alive.

The brotherhood the people of Isla Mujeres and I shared was provided by a common love, the open sea.


Commentary on the Gulf Expedition

Where do I even begin to express this joy that I've been experiencing since June 4, 1998. I am so filled with a feeling never felt before; it is as though my love & family devotion is one with thousands of other loving and caring human beings. I would say this is not right for one person to have an emotion so overwhelming. It is not one person its all of you: your prayer support, your individual strength, your own love of family, your support of a stranger who just wanted to inform people of JRA, a disease that affects young, children & young adults. Why children? At a time of life they should be experiencing only joy, happiness, education, they are experiencing this additional burden of pain & complication.

As parents it is a terrible feeling Deb & I felt when Nichole was first diagnosed at the age of 9. There was nothing we could do to sooth her pain but provide proper medical care & pray. It just wasn't fair. There were many moments when my heart spilled for Nik (Nichole). There is one night I can not remove from my mind & heart. I was walking past Nichole's room when she was 12 years old she was softly crying. To my knowledge she had a good day. I asked Nik what’s wrong. Her reply was, "Dad, I'm worried what my future is going to be like with Arthritis." What could I say, I had no answer this just tore my heart out. Sections of my heart lost during that time are still being searched for. Some has been recovered as a result of this successful expedition; some may never be recovered.

On a positive note about Nichole's attitude & condition, she started at the age of 14 doing aerobics and she works out with me at the health spa. She even instructs mentally handicap adults’ aerobics one night a week. Nik can not go a day without working out. Her diet, well we should all be so conscientious of what we eat. (She probably has hundreds of nutritional facts labels memorized.) Although the arthritis moved to her neck at this time, she is doing great and hasn’t needed medication in several years. She is now 19 years old. We would like to give the credit of the condition she is in today, to her dedication in proper diet & exercise. And also the early detection of the disease and I would like to think I was a roll model to Nik through my exercise program during the past 20 years.

Why paddle across the Gulf to get my message out. As my brother Aaron stated, "Would anyone have listened if I stood at a street corner and yelled?" I think not. Being raised in a pirogue paddling has always been my life. Twenty years ago, Deb & I bought a canoe. The past 7 years I've fell in love with the sport of sea kayaking. I've tried to excel in the sport through proper instruction. In 1996, I was certified as an American Canoe Association Coastal Kayaking Instructor, at the University of Minnesota. I can not put enough emphasis on how important safety & instruction is to the enjoyment of the sport. Now that the Gulf Expedition is over I can get back to giving classes & getting people on the water safely. My real job is construction supervision so the amount of classes is limited.

Organizing an international expedition was truly intense. The four years of preparation was grueling prior to departure. The immense research, concerning safety, first aid, gear, weather, navigation, nutrition, Gulf Stream & mental aspect. The disappointment from people who promise help, but after realizing the high risk of such an event, who very politely crawfished (backed out) or just stopped staying in touch. The dealing with organizations & entities that was reluctant to provide permission or information needed for a safe expedition. The hundreds of people who said this idea was stupid, crazy or a death wish, I was not going to let them take the wind out of my sail. Death wish? –- They did not know me or my love for life. The numerous letters written and typed. All the entries in my computer such as detailed spreadsheets for safety, medical, hygiene, gear, nutrition and navigation. There were so many highs but even more lows, at times the hundreds of let downs from people or failure of products was enough for anyone to quit. But there was no way I was going to stop or slow down, I had a vision, a vision that no human being, level of stress or problem was going to stop me from prevailing. No matter how deep the valley sank I had the ultimate support GOD. And we prevailed.

On May the 6th, I quietly left Pensacola on a 53' Steel boat the "Manana", no cheering crowd waving goodbye. Just the sound of the diesel engines heading south to Isla Mujeres. A Journey of 3 days to start a Journey of a life time. My Mexican sponsor Senior Enrique Lima & the people of Isla Mujeres were the greatest. I was treated with more respect than I deserved. Their hospitality & friendliness was beyond anything I have ever experienced. My thanks go even further to the people of the state of Quintana Roo & Mexico. Upon shoving off the beach behind Senior Enrique's Hotel Cabanas Maria del Mar (my home during my stay on Isla) local, state & national press was there. Along with a very special group of Isla residents singing The Porra wishing me well as our expedition crew helped me to shove off in to the Yucatan straits. Departing on a 20-day adventure that a lone kayaker was to share with God and the open sea, I felt when leaving I would be pulling a 730 mile long rope that will stretch across the Gulf of Mexico. That would only strengthen the bond between Louisiana and Quintana Roo, two great states.

I had the overwhelming feeling of completeness. A major burden had been lifted off my shoulders. Four years of hard work, sleeplessness nights and stressful days had all paid off. I was finally doing what my mind body & spirit was molded to do. I was ready and full of confidence. Not a mile from shore my eyes were full of tears of happiness. We're doing it! We are paddling in the open sea a place that has always opened my heart, soul & spirit. This emotion stayed with me for two days. It was fabulous! I do not want to reflect that the preparation was done totally alone. I received much valuable information from many friends & strangers over the years. This expedition would not have been possible if not for the knowledge, help & support from so many people. The sponsors I acquired are appreciated immensely. They helped make this expedition possible. I kept sponsorship to a minimum for two reasons: (1) to be able to do them justice; (2) not to loose focus on the main mission: awareness to JRA. My wife Debbie has been understanding considering the amount of monies removed from our personal savings.

The voyage itself is just filled with so many aspects of wonderment, excitement, mental & physical strain and pure spiritual bonding.

The navigation of the currents of the Gulf was truly intense. Thanks to the information provided by Jenifer Clark's Gulf Stream & the hand held G.P.S. I was able to locate the currents. Basically I was a seventeen-foot long drifting buoy. The first nine days I had north & northeast winds 15 to 20 knots making it virtually impossible to maintain my original planed course. At this point I figured I would probably end up beaching in Houston, Texas. I was able to fight against more unfavorable wind conditions to get closer to a large warm eddy that helped me push north for up to 60 miles a day for two days. The last 7 or 8 days, I was fighting not only unfavorable wind conditions but also a southeast current trying to push me to Miami, Florida. Things were bad but I know it could have been a lot worse. My comment to God was "if these are the conditions I must receive, I understand and will push north with all my might." Just pass my northern horizon was home, a thought always with me. Not once did I get upset with the weather & sea conditions. Ironic as it may sound I wanted to push myself to the ultimate limits and felt that God provided the adverse conditions because if we would have had favorable conditions it may not have been enough of a physical & mental challenge.

Two days of calm seas with the balance of the 20 days of seas ranging from 3 foot to 10 foot waves. The creatures of the water & air were my companions. The horizon was the boundary of my existence. The nighttime was the time for my romance with the sea. My only enemy in the open sea was the large ships that could suck a lone kayaker under her hull & out her props. On four occasions this almost happened. Two of the four times, I was only a few minutes and one mistake from death. There is just so much more to write about that time just doesn’t allow. We will allow the forth-coming book to go into detail.

Although I did not make it to Grand Isle but to the Rock Jetties at Southwest pass. WE MADE IT!!! To all the people of Grand Isle and People who were going to meet me at Grand Isle, I will try contacting the mayor of Grand Isle, and see if we can get together with everyone sometime in the near future at Grand Isle. So I can thank everyone & celebrate this victory with everyone. Keep in tune to the web site.

In closing, I must say all this Cajun wanted to do was paddle across the Gulf of Mexico to fulfill a dream & raise awareness to JRA. When I arrived at Venice and the days following, I realized the thousands of people we had touched. Being within my own private horizon with God & the Sea for 20 days, I had not a clue how big this grew. My heart is so filled with Joy today that was produced by all the wonderful people out there and their replies. I just cannot thank everyone enough. He who says I've accomplished this expedition alone does not understand brotherhood.

Arthur Hebert, Jr.

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