It’s been 25 years since Diane and Herbert Stuemer left Ottawa to sail around the world with their three children Michael, Jonathan and Christopher aboard a 45-foot cruising yacht, famously known as the Northern Magic.
When the Orléans family set sail on September 11, 1997, Christopher was five, Jonathan was nine and Michael was 10.
|Left to right, Herbert, Jonathan, Christopher, Michael and Diane Stuemer during a 1997 stop in Australia. OTTAWA CITIZEN PHOTO
Their experience as sailors consisted of a grand total of six afternoons in a 23-foot vessel on the Ottawa River.
After cruising down the eastern seaboard for five months, they headed to the Carribean, the Panama Canal and the Pacific Ocean beyond. During the next four years they would visit 34 countries and travel over 65,000 kilometres.
The Stuemers decided to sell their home, uproot their family and sail around the world after Diane was diagnosed with skin cancer after having a malignant melanoma removed in 1994. The diagnosis and operation had a dramatic impact on her outlook on life. Over the next three years, she realized that there should be more to life than what society expected from her. At the same time, Herbert gently pushed the idea of sailing around the world, something he had dreamed about all his life.
In her book, The Voyage of the Northern Magic: A Family Odyssey, Diane talks about the moment, while reading a nautical magazine, that she had an epiphany.
“The pictures the story conjured up in my mind were so vivid I simply knew this was for us,” Diane wrote. “And when I put the magazine down, I knew our lives were forever changed. Not only did I want to sail around the world, I had to do it. This was the answer, the positive change I’d been seeking.”
After learning the ropes on a 23-foot sailboat on the Ottawa River, the couple purchased a well-proven but inexpensive 42-foot bluewater cruising yacht which they named the Northern Magic. Over the next 11 months, they prepared the boat – and themselves – to circumnavigate the globe. They also had to sell their business and rent out their home.
During the voyage the family had their fair share of ups and downs, however, the ups were far more numerous than the downs.
The most lasting legacy of the voyage is the Northern Magic Fund for International Development which was created after their stopover in Kilifi, Kenya. The fund has been used to help cover the secondary school costs and university tuition fees of hundreds of students in Kilifi, including two students who went on to become doctors.
The development fund is still active and the fund’s directors are hoping the 25th anni-versary of the voyage will help provide a boost to donations.
To find out more about the Northern Magic Fund for International Development, or to make, a donation visit northernmagic.ca.
After four years sailing around the world, the Stuemers returned to a heroes’ welcome at Petrie Island on Sept. 11, 2001, as more than 3,000 people attended the homecoming.
But adjusting to life back on land wasn’t easy. A year after they returned to Canada, Diane’s melanoma resurfaced and had masticized to other parts of her body. Before the cancer spread, she was able to complete her book and formalize the development fund.
Following their return in 2011, Jonathan, the middle child, began experiencing mental health issues, most notably depression. After his mother passed away on March 15, 2003, the depression worsened leading to his tragic passing in 2011 at the age of 22.
Herbert continued to enjoy sailing and took the Northern Magic on a voyage to the Mediterranean with his son Christopher. He later sailed the boat to Brazil. After experiencing a health scare in 2013, Herbert sold the Northern Magic to a man from France. The boat was sold again in 2014.
In December 2015, it was discovered grounded and abandoned on the coast of Uruguay by a Canadian staying nearby.
When Diane Stuemer was 21, she wanted to accomplish three things in life – write a book, have children and travel the world. She accomplished all three by the time she succumbed to cancer at the age of 43.
The voyage of the Northern Magic and the Stuemer family inspired hundreds of people to follow their dreams, and perhaps that is the lasting legacy of their story despite Diane’s death in 2003 and Jonathan’s mental health issues and tragic passing at the age of 22.
As the American actor Stephen Coletti recently said, “It’s hard because people always say, ‘Follow your dreams,’ but it’s not a perfect world, and things don’t always work out. You just have to work hard, and you can’t take things for granted.”
Diane Stuemer will be part of a tribute to four women who impacted the world around them during their lifetime and beyond, during a ceremony on Sunday, Sept. 11. She will be given a plaque in the cemetery where she is buried and she will be part of the cemetery’s Annual Historical Tour.
Diane documented the family’s journey in a series of weekly dispatches published in the Ottawa Citizen that was followed by thousands of readers.
|The Stuemers returned to Ottawa on September 11, 2001. OTTAWA CITIZEN PHOTO