Ottawa Citizen August 27, 2001 

Thousands cheer as Stuemers return

Trip around globe ends with heroes’ welcome

By Patti Edgar

Thousands of fans gathered on the shores of Petrie Island yesterday to watch Ottawa’s latest celebrities return home from a four-year-trip around the world.

The Stuemer family, who set out on their voyage with only close friends and family saying goodbye, arrived on a Petrie Island beach yesterday crowded with cheering strangers asking for autographs and hugs.

Fans described the homecoming as similar to welcoming their own family back to Ottawa, wince they had faithfully followed the Stuemers’ voyage in Diane Stuemer’s weekly columns in the Citizen.

“This is part of history,” said Rose-Marie Labbe, who set up a lawn chair on shore four hours before the Stuemers’ arrival. “I’m going to take a picture and put it in the family album. It will be our souvenir.”

Morning rain didn’t deter the crowds, who opened umbrellas and crowded under a tent set up for speeches. Police estimated close to 2,500 people crowded onto the beach by the Stuemers’ afternoon arrival. Hundreds more along the shore brought the welcoming committee’s ranks to about 3,000.

Fans hoping for a bird’s-eye view of the event climbed six-metre-high sand piles, prompting organizers worried about a landslide to urge them to step back from the edge.

While fans waited for the Stuemers to arrive, they munched on donated hot dogs, corn on the cob and BeaverTails. Karen Hooper, a neighbour and friend of the family, sold fundraiser T-shirts that read “Armchair Sailor.” Stuemer devotees also lined up to sign guest books, order Mrs. Stuemer’s soon-to-be-published book, and stuff a cardboard box with messages and favourite memories of the family’s trip.

A 1:00 p.m., a flotilla from the Rockcliffe Yacht Club and two Royal Canadian Sea Cadet vessels escorted the Stuemers’ boat, Northern Magic, to a bay near Petrie Island, where they anchored.

Michael, the family’s eldest son at 15, jumped ship and swam ashore to meet his grandfather, Frank King. The rest of the family rode their dinghy to the dock where they launched their voyage four years ago.

Then they climbed aboard a pontoon boat that motored them to the cheering crowds on the sandy shore.

Mrs. Stuemer dabbed tears from her eyes and waved with her husband, Herbert, as the pontoon boat pulled ashore. From speakers blared the seafaring tunes of Northern Magic’s “official” musician, Victoria, B.C.’s Michael Mitchell.

The Stuemers, led by brothers Jonathan, 13, and Christopher, 9, leaped onto the beach, into a crush of video cameras, reporters and well-wishers.

Clearly shocked by the size of the crowds, the Stuemers slowly made their way through to the stage, maneuvering through the crowd as they posed for photos with strangers, embraced old friends, and autographed copies of the Citizen.

After the crowd sang O Canada, Diane King – a fan of Mrs. Stuemer’s columns, who, with her husband, Paul Couch, set up a Web site following the family’s adventures – led a series of short speeches.

“We, just like all of you, fell under the Stuemers’ spell,” said Ms. King. “This family touched our imagination and our hearts. The funny thing was, we never met this family, but we loved them anyway. Can you relate?” The crowd cheered and shouted “Yes!” in response.

Cumberland councilor Phil McNeely welcomed the family “back to reality” while MP Don Boudria called the voyage an “odyssey” that touched Canadians.

“During four years and tens of thousands of nautical miles they’ve witnessed the poverty of Africa, been mistaken for spies in Sri Lanka and visited the pyramids of Egypt,” said Mr. Boudria. “Their journey was sparked by the love of travel, and of course the love of life.”

Citizen editor Scott Anderson thanked the Stuemers for inspiring thousands of readers over their Saturday-morning coffees.

“When you wrote about he need for a teacher on tiny Palmerston Island in the South Pacific, 17 Canadians applied for the job,” Mr. Anderson said.

“Readers contributed more than $7000 to the Boniface and Hamisi Educational Fund, which you established in Kenya, and thousands more to help endangered primates in Borneo.”

Several speakers gave the Stuemers gifts, including a Canadian flag from the Peace Tower and a framed copy of the Citizen featuring the Stuemers on the front page. Joel LaPalme, manager of the chocolate shop at the Hershey’s factory in Smiths Falls, gave Mrs. Stuemer an 11-kilogram Hershey’s Kiss, a nod to the cravings she mentioned in her columns.

“Oh man, imagine how hard it’s going to be to eat this,” said Christopher.

The last speakers were Mr. And Mrs. Stuemer themselves, who had prepared a long list of people to thank, including their family, sitting on stage with them, their friends in the crowd and the fans who traveled vicariously with them around the world. “You guys are responsible for this large wad of tissues I have to walk around with,” said the teary-eyed Mrs. Stuemer.

“Our trip started out as a trip to see the world, and it really ended up being a trip about people . . . From the day we started this trip to returning home today, which is really unbelievable, this has been a story about people helping us.”

After the speeches, two fans led the crowd in a rendition of the Gilligan’s Island theme based on the Stuemers’ voyage. Then the Stuemers mingled with the crowd, shaking hands and posing for photos.

Through the sale of donated food and T-shirts that read “Armchair Sailor,” organizers estimate they raised more than $10,000 for the two projects Mr. Anderson mentioned – the Boniface and Hamisi Educational Fund, which the Stuemers set up to help a family they met in Kenya, and Friends of the National Parks Foundation, a non-profit group that provides veterinary care to animals in a Borneo park.

Until the current tenants vacate the Stuemers’ house on Sept. 1, the family will live on their boat off Petrie Island. And while their sons are looking forward to dry land, Mr. Stuemer has one eye still on the water.

“Maybe we’ll do it again,” he said. But next time, it will be after his sons leave home.