YARMOUTH — Deb Walters sighed as she stepped into her custom-made kayak resting in the waters of the Royal River in Yarmouth on Friday.

“Finally, that feels good,” Walters, 63, of Troy said as she settled into the kayak, which will serve as her main form of transportation for the next year. “It feels like home.”

Then Walters paddled down the Royal River toward Portland to begin her 2,500-mile, yearlong trip to Guatemala City, near the site of a community living in and around the city’s garbage dump.

Walters, a grandmother and retired scientist, is paddling to raise money and support for Safe Passage, a Maine-based nonprofit that sets up schools in Guatemala City. Along the way, she will be stopping in coastal cities to raise awareness and funds so Safe Passage can add additional grades to its schools.

“I will be depending on the kindness of strangers just as the children of Guatemala depend on the donations of strangers,” Walters said. “So I’m pleased that I will be able to help these children a little bit.”

The route will take Walters close to the shore from Yarmouth to mid-New Jersey and then along the Intracoastal Waterway to Florida. She plans to hitch a ride on a sailboat from Florida to Belize, avoiding Mexico.

Walters, who has arthritis and recently developed tendonitis in her left wrist, plans to paddle slowly, at about 13.7 miles per day – a low estimate to account for lost days due to bad weather or injury.

“I realized I’m not going to be driving for the next year, I’m not going to be flying and … I figured out I’ll be spending less than I would living at home,” Walters said. “I wonder: How much will I be reducing my carbon footprint by kayaking?”

A group of about 10 friends, family and curious Mainers cheered as Walters set off on the first leg of her journey with four fellow kayakers in tow.

Clifford and Susan Gilpin of Falmouth had never met Walters before Friday. “It’s exciting and I’d love to do this, but this way I can do it vicariously,” Susan Gilpin said.

Before Walters left, she got a kiss from her husband, Chris Percival. The couple are celebrating their 29th wedding anniversary July 13, which happens to be the date of a more formal launch event in Portland.

From 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Safe Passage is hosting a farewell party at the East End Beach. Kayaker are encouraged to paddle out into Casco Bay alongside Walters to say goodbye.