Lewis Colam maneuvers his 15-foot rowboat through the Palm Coast Marina on his way to new York to raise money for Alzheimer’s research Tuesday. (N-J | David Massey) Lewis Colam’s 15-foot rowboat, "My Boat," at the Palm Coast Marina on Tuesday. (N-J | David Massey) Lewis Colam, left, toasts Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts at the Palm Coast Marina on Tuesday. (N-J | David Massey)
PALM COAST — Less than a quarter of the way along his trip from Miami Beach to the Statue of Liberty, Lewis Colam has raised more than three-quarters of his $20,000 goal for the Alzheimer Research Foundation.
“I’m not just one guy in a boat anymore,” Colam, an England native, said Tuesday evening from the Palm Coast Marina. He said he’s averaged $1,000 a day in pledges of support for the foundation during his now 17-day long-distance adventure up the Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean.
“I have a lot of support,” he said. “There’s a real will for this to succeed.”Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts was one of a dozen people on hand Tuesday to meet Colam as he rowed into the marina harbor.
“To success,” Netts toasted with champagne. “May you double what you’ve already collected.”
Colam, 24, said he hadn’t really thought to learn about the horrors of a mind-altering, debilitating disease until his friend’s grandmother, whom he knows well, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“I saw it first-hand and it really got to me,” he said. “I didn’t know much about it at the time.”
Besides financial support, Colam said nearly everyone he meets has a story to tell about the disease.
“I’ve been staggered,” he said. “People just open up with their stories. I’ve gotten 300 or 400 stories emailed to me.”
Palm Coast resident Isobel Karvwatt, the mother of a co-worker of Colam’s, provided him with a home-cooked meal of spaghetti and meatballs and chocolate cake.
“This is what I make for my son when he visits,” she said. “It’s a marvelous effort. He’s never done anything like this before, you know.”
It’s true. Colam isn’t a sailor, a boater, or even a rower.
“I know I can walk and ride a bike,” he said. “I thought if I was dedicating (myself) to a long-distance adventure that I should try to learn something new.”
What he’s learned is that rowing is a whole lot easier once he shed 60 pounds of gear he wasn’t using.
“I was carrying a can of diet Coke someone had given me. I don’t drink it,” he said. “I also had some dress clothes for occasions that just weren’t happening.”
Gloves, a hat and sunscreen are definitely part of Colam’s gear, which he now tries to keep at 100 pounds or less.
“The boat weighs about 100 pounds, and that’s where I try to keep the load, too,” he said.
Colam set his course, in part, because he always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty.
“It’s part of my dream so I use it as a motivator, but I try not to focus on it too much,” he said. “I can’t wait to see St. Augustine, Savannah and Charleston.”
Most nights Colam sleeps on his 15-foot “exhibition style” boat, which he says was designed for short distances, or on an island.
“There’s obviously not a lot of room,” he said. “I’m more worried that the boat will capsize while I’m asleep and I’ll be trapped in my sleeping bag.”
The couple of storms he’s been through so far have been “dramatic.” One nearly sank his boat, it was raining so hard.
“Someone finally came along and helped me pull the boat out of the water,” Colam said. “It drained right out.”
While most people regard manatees as “gentle giants,” four of them tipped Colam out of his boat Tuesday, five miles from the nearest town.
“I was about 40 feet out and I didn’t realize how shallow it was,” he said. “I rowed right over them and they bucked up out the water, splashing away.”
But most of the trip has been uneventful, Colam said.
“Days three through six were pretty bad,” he said. “There was a really strong headwind that kept pushing me backward whenever I quit rowing. I kept asking myself what I am doing out here.”
The answer is raising money for Alzheimer research.
Anyone interested can find out more online at Colam’s website, iamfinechallenge.org.
“I also have a (global positioning system) locator on the boat, so people can track exactly where I am,” he said. “I also do a daily audio diary.”
Colam took Wednesday off to answer email and expects to resume rowing today.