Updated: Oct 11, 2022
The events of the day have been broken down for your readership convenience in this table of contents. Click on a section below to read more about it.
Michael Blanco Memorial Sail
SailAhead and the Babylon Yacht Club work together to take veterans sailing in honor of Michael Edward Blanco. This year 2022 marks the fourth year that the Babylon Yacht Club and SailAhead have worked together, creating a new tradition that will remain in the Great South Bay for many years to come.
With the help of nine skippers and their boats, SailAhead and the Babylon Yacht Club successfully took 25 veterans sailing. We could not have asked for better weather! Overcast, but great wind. Headsails were enough to pull the fleet of nine sailboats along.
The event began at 11:00 when veterans and guests began arriving, and was followed by a speech by Sean Duclay, and Bruce and Donna Blanco. They spoke about Michael, their son, and the importance in reaching out when things are not okay. With Michaels brother and sister beside them, they offered touching anecdotes from Michael's life, and a hopeful message for others moving forward.
There are people out there that care. But if you never reach out when you need help, you will never find them. Bruce Blanco, father of Our Mate
Most veterans that participate in SailAhead events are all too familiar with the veteran suicide epidemic, and have firsthand experience with what that really means.
USMC LCpl Michael Blanco
USMC LCpl Michael Blanco is one of Our Mates. Our Mates are over 219 veterans, men and women who have died by suicide. Michael was from Commack, and finished high school early to join the Marine Corps.
Michael was born May 7, 1991. He ended his life on Monday, February 15, 2010 at almost 19 years of age. Michael was the proverbial sheepdog always protecting the sheep from the wolves.
What stands out most to all who knew him best, and loved him most, was his amazing energy and infectious smile. Michael was that person who lit up every room as soon as he walked in and he somehow managed to make every person feel so special and loved. Michael's motto was to live life to the fullest and even though his life may have been cut short far too soon, he definitely lived every day with love, light, happiness and friends and family.
Michael's dad Bruce Blanco is the president of the American Legion Riders for Post 1244 in Greenlawn. Many of the riders came with the Blanco family to the Yacht Club to pay their respects to Michael.
The American Legion Riders from Post 1244 are important allies of SailAhead. Read about how else they help us in this blog post.
After the ceremony we board the boats, which are all parked at the Yacht Club's docks. From there, all nine sailboats and the SailAhead rib depart eastbound under the Great South Bay Bridge.
The Sailing portion of the event is where the magic happens. The image of all boats sailing together in a group shows unity. It is the physical manifestation of the combined efforts we make as a community to fight against the veteran suicide epidemic. At the end of the day, it is the strength of communities that make the difference.
Sailing is a physical sport that requires strength, agility, and a sharp mind. It is due to this total engagement of the body and brain that we forget our stresses and qualms while sailing. The therapy of engaging in a physical activity, especially in a new environment is critical in the release of dopamine and other chemicals the brain requires to feel good.
Read more about How Sailing Can Help Veterans with their Mental Health.
Boat Jumping is an essential component to every SailAhead event. We use our ribs to "jump boats" which is the term we've given to boarding sailboats while underway. We jump to take pictures of all of the participants, volunteers and veterans, so that they may have pictures from this special day. They can be found on our Facebook page a few days after the event.
Another reason we jump boats is to introduce everyone to Our Mates in a personal way. This gives everyone an opportunity to see them, and to hold them. It's a powerful image that helps us raise awareness, and keep the memory of Our Mates alive.
This year SailAhead co-founder Sean Duclay and retired US Army Ranger George jumped boats with photographer Léa onto each boat to crack jokes, steal seltzer water, and talk about Our Mates. Jumping requires agility, and lets be honest, a fair bit of courage! The weather can make all jumpers wet, and considering the precious cargo of Our Mates and nice cameras, the stakes are high!
This is all forgotten while jumping. Jumping requires focus, so there is no time to be scared! Add to that all of the fun to be had with skippers and veterans and any fears dissolve as in the ocean.
Rose Toss for Michael
A few years ago a Navy veteran and friend of the Blanco family brought a dozen roses to come sailing at the Babylon Yacht Club. They were used in a powerful display of thoughtfulness and love for Michael and all veterans who die by suicide.
This gesture instantly became tradition. Each year Marc returns with a bouquet of roses in hand, which are then handed out to each skipper. These roses are safeguarded during the sail to be used at a specific time.
As the fleet returns to the Club it passes through a gate that is made between the SailAhead rib and Babylon YC docks. As each boat crosses the threshold, they toss their roses, while in thought of Michael and Our Mates.
Each of the nine sailboats toss their roses as they pass through this gate.
The generosity of the Babylon Yacht Club transcends the kindness of its skippers. The whole club supports SailAhead and our veterans by hosting a barbecue with delicious results!
For a couple of hours after the sail concludes, members of the sailing community fraternize with veterans over food and nonalcoholic-beverages. The barbecue is a great time to let loose, and process what, for many, can be a very emotional experience.
There is great fun to be had, and we are sure not to forget the reason we are here. Some people are suffering greatly, and that includes people in attendance. Witnessing a caring community come together to offer a day just for veterans can help heal in itself. A day with a ceremony, a sail, and a barbecue performed for their pleasure takes the healing to new heights. We remember all those who have died by suicide, and we end the day by taking a picture with the Suicide Awareness and Remembrance flag.
In Loving Memory of Michael Blanco
About the Babylon Yacht Club
SailAhead thanks to the generosity of the members of the club.
The Babylon Yacht Club was established in 1903. You can read more about it's interesting history on the Babylon Yacht Club website.
The Yacht Club is a great ally to SailAhead and our veterans. Sailors generously donate their time and knowledge to create a very special and life changing experience. Additionally, the club itself has members who volunteer to set up tables to host a barbecue, which has become an essential part of the day. All of the resources that the Yacht Club use are for the pleasure of US Military Veterans, and we thank them for their kindness.
The Yacht Club plays its part in the fight against veteran suicide, and from the testimonies of a few veterans, we know that some lives have been saved due directly to their generosity.
To learn more about how you can help, click here!