Two and a half years ago, Peter Barker left his native Australia to fulfill his life long dream of sailing solo around the world.
Just before Christmas, Barker heeded the advice of sailors along the East Coast as far north as Boston and maneuvered the Bowtie Lady into Boot Key Harbor.
“In every harbor, I began asking where was the best place to stay in Florida, and everyone told me Marathon,” he explained.
What does he think makes the marina the best in Florida?
“These are the best bathrooms and the laundry is so big,” he laughed.
Barker’s father, Ray, gave him his first eight-foot dinghy when he was only 12 years old.
“It was my freedom machine,” he remembered.
His latest freedom machine – a Cole 43, sailed by Tony Mowbray who in 2001, sailed the boat single-handedly around the world in 180 non-stop days – has given him a lifetime’s worth of stories, countless new friends and another chapter in his life.
Throughout his life, Barker has collected books written by solo sailors that documented their journeys. He added that he’s always been fascinated by stories of shipwreck survivors.
“Suffice it to say, there aren’t too many of those stories,” he laughed, adding that any boring books go straight into the drink.
He recounted a book by one bloke who complained of storms and treacherous weather on his trip through Antarctica, and added that, indeed, was a book destined for a life at sea.
“What did he expect?!”
The small, close-knit community of Marathon reminds him of his native home, and Harbormaster Richard Tanner, along with fellow boaters and cruisers in Boot Key Harbor, helped Barker celebrate Australia Day on Tuesday, Jan. 26.
“It’s like our Fourth of July,” Tanner explained, enthusiastic about the Aussie with the infectiously cheerful attitude.
On Tuesday morning, the staff helped hang banners across the marina in view of the facility’s web camera. From the pump-out boat to the entrance of the waterfront tiki, blue tarps emblazoned with bright yellow paint offered an excited “G’DAY!” to viewers across the world.
Tanner even offered premier dockage for the Bowtie Lady right under the web cam.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic jumping on and off the boat all day to wave at everyone,” Barker said. Via email or Skype, friends from back home as well as Namibia and Africa contacted him over the course of the day.
Before setting sail from Sydney Harbor on the start of his world tour on Monday, June 4, 2007, Barker headed up a specialist legal marketing and client management firm in Sydney. As a specialist in the legal bidding process, he lectured to attorneys, accountants and those in the medical profession on how to win bids and grow their business.
He met his future bride from New Zealand, and the pair raised two sons.
Barker passed on the family tradition and love of sailing to his children and always raced recreational sailboats. Through the last decade of the 20th century, he quietly made his plans for a solo sailing trip around the world.
But in 2001, aboard a 40-foot racing yacht with a crew of nine other people on their third night at sea, Barker got a pivotal call from his wife. Her doctor, upon receiving the results from a breast screening, immediately ordered more tests.
“We crossed the finish line at 5 am and by 6 am, I was on the public telephone on Lord Howe Island,” Barker wrote in an excerpt from his latest book, “The Splendid Indian.”
The chapter concludes that after a two and a half year battle with breast cancer, Barker lost his wife of 23 years and his best friend.
At the age of 53, Barker put his career, along with his pin-striped suits, in a wardrobe, auctioned off a majority of his possessions on E-bay, and set out to do what he’d always wanted.
“Now I am having the time of my life!” he exclaimed.