A trip with Serenity: Man raises suicide awareness with sailing voyage

Savannah Vasquez
Jerry Nelson and Duke anchored at Norriego Point with Serenity behind them.

Sometimes in life, the urge to escape from the day-to-day drudgery and take a journey of self-discovery is too hard to ignore. For Jerry Nelson of New Mexico, a sailing trip from Galveston, Texas to Destin is exactly the solace he sought.

“I was unemployed in rural New Mexico with all kinds of health issues and I needed some sort of spiritual boost,” said Nelson. “It was heavy on my mind and heart to do something; The goal was to sail the Gulf Coast and up the Atlantic.”

Nelson said his motivation for the trip spawned from a need for solitude and a hope to raise awareness for suicide prevention as many of his friends and family members dealt with depression or had taken their own lives.

“From the beginning I wanted to raise awareness to sobriety and to suicide,” he said. “I needed to do something good for me and everybody.”

After purchasing a sailboat and making it sea-worthy, Nelson launched his voyage with his German Shepherd named Duke as his first mate.

“I named her Serenity thinking I would find the equivalence of solitude and isolation,” said Nelson of his boat. “I just knew something big would happen in my spirit.”

Although he has witnessed beautiful sunsets and scenery along the way, Nelson said his trip has been hard and has impressed on him an entirely different revelation than he first anticipated.

“It has been the most strengthening trip, but perhaps one of the most difficult things I have ever done,” he said. “The emotions have gone from joy to awe to deep depression and heartbreak. I have gained a new perspective on people and life itself; Maybe that’s what I was looking for.”

Nelson first sailed into Fort Walton Beach in early July with engine problems. Docked at Liza Jackson park, he worked for eight weeks to fix his engine and was met with both challenges and charity from the community.

“Someone stole my dingy,” he said of the largest challenge, “But there are good Samaritans everywhere.”

From Fort Walton Beach to Destin, Nelson said the Gulf Coast community rallied to bring him and Duke shade, food, water, boat repairs and even the use of a shower and laundry room.

“Duke has been the ultimate icebreaker,” he said with a laugh. “Without Duke I wouldn’t have this call-to-arms to help me. He’s the social magnet if you will. There are so many animal lovers out there that people invite Duke over for dinner and I get to come along.”

Destin local, Patti Terjak was one of the first to come to Nelson’s aid by way of Duke.

“When I contacted him, my whole thing was for the dog,” said Terjak. “I saw on his Go Fund Me page that he said, ‘I was hoping to get Duke to the vet,’ so I decided that would be my contribution because I had just lost my dog Sage and it was a kind of pay-it-forward type of thing.”

Terjak said that Nelson’s story struck a chord with her as she had once had a dream to travel the country in an R.V. with her pets.

“I like his story; I like that he had the dream and actually went for it, and I like the dog a lot,” she said. “It re-sparked that dream in me to actually step outside my little box to go walk your talk.”

Nelson said of all the cities he has travelled through, Destin has been by far the most friendly.

“It’s more inviting than anywhere else I’ve been as far as the city and the people,” he said.

But now, with his health declining a bit and his engine beyond repair, Nelson said his voyage is over and he is ready to head back home to New Mexico.

“It’s time to go home, to get back into saddle-making and get back to work,” he said. “Call it a turn in the trail or just part of the adventure; I don’t know what’s next but I would say my spirit is much stronger. I’m far more aware of my shortcomings and I’m OK with them.”

Currently anchored at Norriego Point, Nelson and Duke are looking to sell the sail boat Serenity or trade her for a reliable vehicle to travel back to New Mexico.

To find out more about the trip or to inquire about the boat, visit Nelson’s Facebook page "Taking A Trip With Serenity."