A lovestruck couple who sold their belongings and uprooted their lives to sail the Caribbean saw all of their dreams sink into the ocean when their boat capsized just two days into their trip.
Tanner Broadwell and Nikki Walsh have long dreamed of taking to the seas for a long getaway, and it was two years ago that they started planning to make their dream a reality. They saved up money, sold many of their possessions and eventually paid $5,000 for a sailboat that was built in 1969. The two spent weeks slowly fixing up the 28-foot sailboat, which they named “Lagniappe,” the Creole word for “extra gift.”
“We want to live a minimalist lifestyle but still be able to see the world,” Broadwell, 26, tells PEOPLE. “We can go anywhere we want in the world on our own schedule.”
For Walsh, 24, the boat was their ticket to do and see anything their hearts desired.
“The thing that draws us the most is the freedom!” she tells PEOPLE.
Broadwell’s father helped the couple learn to handle the boat over the next few months, sailing the boat from Alabama to Florida. The couple set up shop there as they prepared for their journey, and lived on the vessel since April. Last Tuesday, the couple—who have been together for five years after meeting at the King of Prussia mall in Pennsylvania— said their goodbyes to the new friends they made and set out on what they hoped would be a long and enjoyable adventure.
“We move around a lot so we are used to saying goodbye to people constantly,” Walsh says. “But this trip was different — we had never been more excited for a move before.”
The couple set sail for Key West, their first major stop of their adventure.
“The first day we anchored outside of an island and caught the sunset and made burritos, it was perfect,” Walsh recalls. “The second day we had dolphins swimming alongside our boat for hours. It was an amazing start to our trip.”
On the second night, the couple set their sights on John’s Pass, a turn-of-the-century fishing village just off the coast of Florida. But as they drew in closer to the beach, the couple struggled to track the navigational buoys through the nighttime fog. Suddenly, the boat came to a halt as it smashed into an object hidden under the dark water.
They soon realized a large portion of the boat’s bottom had been damaged, allowing water to rush into the cabin. With no time to save much of their last remaining possessions, Broadwell and Walsh grabbed their life jackets and their pug, Remy, and escaped into the water as they watched their belongings drift away into the darkness.
“I was speechless to see all my things floating, and not being able to take them,” Walsh says. “And what was even worse is I saw my dreams going down with the boat. Everything we planned was just disappearing within minutes.”
The couple was soon picked up by Sea Tow and transported to shore. After they arrived on land, the couple sat on the side of a road—still in their life vests—and all Broadwell could muster was, “How did I go from having everything I ever wanted to absolutely nothing.”
They later returned to the boat to see if any of their belongings could be salvaged. There was nothing left to save.
“It didn’t feel real at first,” Broadwell says. “I thought I was going to wake up and it would all be a dream.”
Broadwell and Walsh had no insurance on the boat, and since they left their jobs before heading out on the trip, they currently have no means of pulling in money. All they have left is the cash they managed to save before the boat capsized—it was meant to last them the next few months of their journey.
To help them retrieve the boat from the water, as the Coast Guard demanded, the couple started a GoFundMe page to raise $10,000 to cover the cost. They have already raised more than $14,000.
“After the boat sank we didn’t think all these generous people would help us,” Walsh says. “We are now surrounded by family and getting so much positive feedback from people we have never met.”
Any extra money they raise will go to buying another boat in the hopes they can continue their journey.
“It’s very moving to know that a lot of people want to see us continue to live out our dream,” Broadwell says. “We are planning to get back on the water as soon as possible and keep everyone caught up with our adventures.”