Tag Archive | "Sailing Heals"

A Therapeutic Sail Through Sag Harbor

Tags: , , ,

Sailing 1web


Sailing through Sag Harbor on Friday. Photo by Nancy Greenberg.

By Mara Certic

There’s something about being out on a boat on a sunshiny day in June: it changes your perspective. The water seems different when it surrounds you. The familiar shoreline becomes, at times, unrecognizable when you look at it from a sailboat, a half a mile offshore. Day-to-day problems can be reevaluated and troubles seem to fade, at least momentarily, in the face of the vast blue bay.

This notion is one of the founding principles behind Sailing Heals, a non-profit organization that takes cancer patients and their caregivers on two-hour sailing trips to provide some respite and peace of mind during their times of difficulty.

Twin sisters Trisha and Michele Gallagher founded the organization in Marblehead, Massachusetts, three years ago this month.  Michele was working for Panerai—a quality watch company based in Manhattan—which sponsored classic regattas. She “thought it was great,” according to her sister, but wanted to add a community aspect to the sailing.

The rest is history. Panerai loved the idea, Trisha Gallagher said, and gave her and her sister seed money to get started, and Sailing Heals was born. The organization works in conjunction with private captains who donate their time and boats to give their “VIPs” two-hour healing getaways onto the water.

“We’ve taken over 700 cancer patients and caregivers out,” she said. In September, the organization also took out 37 runners who had survived the 2013 terrorist attack at the Boston marathon. “Everybody enjoyed it so much,” she said. “We expect to triple that this year.”

On Friday, June 20, Sailing Heals joined forces with Sag Harbor’s Fighting Chance to give some of that charity’s members a day out on the water.

Around 16 cancer survivors and their caregivers gathered at Breakwater Yacht Club for a buffet lunch catered by Cavaniola’s.

The captains, organizers and VIPS sat at circular tables; chatting softly amongst themselves as they ate their sandwiches and brownies and waited to be split into smaller groups and assigned to their vessels.

Captain Toby Stull hosted a couple along with their 11-year old daughter on his beautiful 52-foot sailing yacht, Starlight.  The mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lymphoma a few years ago. The 11-year-old was excited, chatting with her parents as the launch took them from the dock out to the 52-foot sailing yacht. Her infectious enthusiasm for the afternoon activity spread quickly to her parents as the anchor was lifted and the sails caught the early summer winds.

Starlight was the last of the five boats to set off, not that any of its passengers noticed or minded. The young girl explored the cabin below deck; its comfortable staterooms and “really cool” galley had her thinking that the sailor’s life might be for her.

There was a newfound levity in the air; a carefree feeling that seems only to come when away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, suggesting the truth in Kenneth Grahame’s words: “there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Conversation drifted from school and childhood to poetry and books, as smiles got wider and the sun warmer. The young girl, a voracious reader, proclaimed “A Fault in Our Stars,”—which she read for the first, second, third, fourth and fifth times last week—her new favorite book.  John Green’s 2012 novel tells the story of a 16-year-old cancer patient who is forced by her mother to join a support group, where she eventually falls in love.  “It’s so good,” she said. “I mean, it’s sad. It’s very sad. But it’s so good, you have to read it.”

As the boat tooled around along the shoreline, Captain Stull pointed out the familiar hamlets and neighborhoods the boat sailed past; places such as North Haven and Noyac looking small and almost unrecognizable from Starlight. As the vessel turned around near Cedar Point, talk shifted quickly as the girl’s mother excitedly pointed out a peninsula as “where we used to camp.”

The afternoon was tranquil and beautiful, and though thoughts of doctors’ appointments and future plans occasionally fogged the pleasure of the outing, these moments passed quickly. “We’re in a state of perpetual advent,” one of the women said somewhat despondently as the boat made its way back to shore, back to reality. But her face lit right up again when she saw her daughter joking around and sunbathing on the bow.

The boats returned to port at around 3 p.m., and as the VIPs and captains disembarked, it was with a lingering sense of wellbeing.

New friends shook hands, hugged, promised to stay in touch as the words of Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo came to mind: “The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides.”


Fighting Chance Sets Sail

Tags: , ,


The 52-foot sailing yacht Starlight, which sets sail with Fighting Chance and Sailing Heals on Friday.

By Mara Certic

When Wall Street Lawyer Duncan Darrow founded Fighting Chance in 2002, he hoped it would provide a comforting resource for newly diagnosed cancer patients on the East End. Now located in a bright and sunny office on Bay Street, Fighting Chance has become more than just a cancer crisis center, it is a place that encourages empowerment, well-being and survival.

“Twelve years ago we thought our typical patient would be someone who calls or comes in within 48 hours of being diagnosed,” Mr. Darrow said on Wednesday. “We now have some patients who entered our database 10 years ago.”

“People with a positive attitude, who feel empowered and have a support system have a better chance,” he said. Mr. Darrow mentioned this phenomenon of survivorship and said that after the initial shock of cancer diagnosis—which typically lasts around three months, he said—there’s a shift to a mental state of organization and empowerment. Survivors, Mr. Darrow said, frequently want to continue their involvement in Fighting Chance throughout their entire “cancer journey.”

“We just have to diversify,” Mr. Darrow said. And diversify the organization has. Recently, Fighting Chance has partnered with local businesses to provide more services to cancer patients on the East End. A partnership with Yoga Shanti, on Bridge Street, has enabled Fighting Chance to run a free “soft yoga” class. Soft yoga, Mr. Darrow explained, is for people who are barely ambulatory. An instructor who specializes in holistic oncology yoga teaches the class.

“One patient said ‘I want to sing’,” according to Mr. Darrow, and that simple request is how the Fighting Chance Singers got started. All 15 members of the chorus are cancer survivors. Many first called Fighting Chance shortly after being diagnosed.  No singing experience is necessary to become a Fighting Chance Singer, their mission, they say, is to “share the camaraderie and joy of singing together, and the therapeutic benefit of lifting [their] voices and spirits in songs of joy and hope.”

This summer, artist Mare Dianora will run bi-monthly drop-in art studio workshops in Fighting Chance’s Bay Street location. Ms. Dianora was the artist-in-residence at NYU’s Medical Center for four years, and now holds a similar position at the Stony Brook Cancer Center.

“I think their spirits are lifted,” she said of her students after class. “I work with a lot of people who say, ‘No, I’m not an artist.’ It’s my job to get them past that and let them understand they can enjoy it.” The art classes will be a time for students to explore various media from watercolors to beads. A grant for the program was made possible through the Livestrong Foundation via Stony Brook University Cancer Center.

One of the newest additions to the programming at Fighting Chance will set sail on the afternoon of Friday, June 20. Five boats will gather at the Breakwater Yacht Club and East End cancer patients will board them for the opportunity to spend a few hours out on the water.

“When you look at the world from the water, sometimes the problems of the world seem smaller,” said Mr. Darrow.  “And that’s especially important for cancer patients.”

Three years ago, Sailing Heals was founded in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Its mission is to provide patients and their caregivers with a much-needed break, an escape from the stress of reality onto a sailboat for a few hours.

“So they called us up out of the blue and wanted to be involved and offer this program once a summer,” Mr. Darrow said. The large number of charter boat captains in Sag Harbor turned this idea into a very feasible reality, and Friday’s trip will also mark the first new chapter for Sailing Heals apart from the flagship in Marblehead. “It’s so Sag Harbor,” Mr. Darrow said of the event.

Toby Stull is very involved in organizing the event, which will begin with a lunch at Breakwater Yacht Club. He is also one of the captains volunteering his time and the use of his boat on Friday. Originally from New England, Mr. Stull brought his charter business out to Sag Harbor six years ago, and became involved with Sailing Heals last winter. “I’ve been looking at Sailing Heals for years, though,” he said. “I just thought it would be a wonderful thing to do in the area.”

The decision to volunteer his time and 52-foot sailing yacht, Starlight, this Friday was a “no-brainer,” he said. “We’re going to have a wonderful day.”