Explorer in search of warmer climates

Published 6:14 pm Saturday, September 25, 2010

Staff Writer

Bill Shaw doesn’t like cold weather — a minor problem if one lives in the tropics but a major plight if one, like Shaw, lives in Nova Scotia.
To solve his predicament, the 57-year-old father of three quit his job at Nikon, where he sold microscopes for more than 30 years, packed his boat and headed for the Amazon River.
“My wife said she was tired of me complaining about the cold,” Shaw said while lounging outside the North Carolina Estuarium this week. “Last winter, she said ‘You have three choices: you can try to change it, you can put up with it or you can leave.’ So, I left. The biggest motivation was to get out of the cold. I’m petrified of the winter catching up to me.”
“It’s not so much the snow, but when you get to March in Nova Scotia, you expect it to start to get a little bit better, but it gets worse,” Shaw said. “It’s terrible. April? Worst month of the year. It’s nasty. It gets warmer, but that just means it rains and snows at the same time. And fog and wind, and it goes on forever and ever and ever and ever. And then by July, the fog clears and the rain stops and it’s heaven on Earth. It’s undescribably beautiful. It’s the best place in the world for July, August and this month, too. But you start to get frost around this time in September at night, and it starts to cool down.”
With Jack Frost nipping at his heels, Shaw departed Nova Scotia in August on his 22-foot motorized canoe, Lucky Suz. The boat is named for his wife, Susan, and it’s “lucky” because he was able to cross the U.S.-Canadian border undeterred, he said.
He is charting his way down the Eastern Seaboard, around Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, following the Gulf Coast shoreline past Mexico, Central America and the north coast of South America and into the Amazon River through Brazil. His final destination: Iquitos, Loreto, Peru.
“It’s the largest city in the world with no roads to it,” Shaw said. “It’s 110,000 people or so, and you have to go by boat or fly.”
With a bachelor’s degree in entomology from Catawba College and a master’s degree in mycology from Acadia University, Shaw is considering four options once his journey is complete: taking Lucky Suz to France to tour the countryside with his wife, working as an eco-tour guide in the Amazon, selling the boat to an eco-tour lodge or joining the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute at Barro Colorado Island in the Panama Canal.
“What could be better as a naturalist and lover of insects and birds and the tropics,” Shaw said. “That would just be heaven to have a job working with people and such an opportunity to learn more stuff from all the specialists that are coming through.”
Also downstream for Shaw is a book detailing his adventures. The working title is “Cruise of the Lucky Suz.”
“It’s really difficult not only to come up with the idea but to have the fortitude to carry it through was a lot harder,” Shaw said. “And then when it comes to actually getting on the thing and waving goodbye to your wife, that’s hard. That’s far more difficult than I ever thought it would be. And it really, really bothered me for a week and a half or two weeks or so.”
After spending his 57th birthday alone on Lake Drummond in the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia, Shaw likes to quote Henry David Thoreau when it comes to solitude.
“Thoreau said, ‘I’ve never found the companion so companionable as solitude,’” Shaw said. “It’s true. I found it to be the case.”