Updated: Dec 11, 2022
SailAhead and the Centerport Yacht Club's Let's Take a Veteran Sailing Event is a day of healing, broken down into 4 phases.
About the Event
The Let's Take a Veteran Sailing Event with the Centerport Yacht Club is a spectacular show of community solidarity, pulled together to stand against veteran suicide. If you are reading this then you probably already know about the veteran suicide epidemic that claims the life of one United States veteran almost every hour.
Video made by volunteer Steven Ciravolo.
On July 31st, 36 boats took ninety veterans sailing, and their family members, for a total of 130 guests on the water. We had a broad spectrum of military veterans this year, the oldest combat veterans served in World War II, and the youngest in Afghanistan. There was representation of veterans who served in every major conflict in between.
Skippers participated from the Centerport Yacht Club, the Northport Yacht Club, Little Neck Bay, Oyster Bay, Northport at Seymours, Lloyd Harbor Yacht Club, Port Washington Yacht Club, Masthead Cove Yacht Club, Huntington Yacht Club, Eaton Light Yacht Club, Norwalk CT and Nyack Boat Club.
SailAhead endeavors to stymie the veteran suicide epidemic using the ocean as a therapeutic platform to help heal the scars of war. With the help of our friends and partners, we are able to have a real impact on the lives of others.
Phase 1: Post 1244 Riders
Before arriving at the Centerport Yacht Club, the SailAhead team and some Gold Star families rendezvoused at a Vietnam Veteran Sniper's home, who was immobile but wanted to participate in some way regardless. Bruce Blanco, father of Our Mate Michael Blanco, is the leader of the American Legion Post 1244 riders. He and the riders provided Our Mates and the SailAhead team a motorcycle escort to the Yacht Club.
This motorcycle escort is firstly for Our Mates, and secondly the SailAhead team. It's another way to pay homage to our veterans who have died by suicide.
Phase 2: The Ceremony
The water is only one source of therapy when the big day rolls around. The simple fact that the civilian community rallies around the cause to end veteran suicide is enough to make one emotional, and more importantly, to begin the healing process.
Part of ending veteran suicide is spreading awareness. There is no greater way to do this than by telling human stories. Many people are by now aware of "22 a day" but it must be remembered what that means... That does not only mean that 22 veterans die by suicide every day, but 22 families lose a loved one... 22 siblings who lose their best friend, 22 children who lose a parent, 22 parents who lose a child...
The worst thing that can happen to Sophie, is that we forget her... Suzie Champoux, mother of Our Mate
Our event at the Centerport Yacht Club is in Honor of Ryan James Day, a US Army Ranger who took his life as the the age of 21.
We encourage our Gold Star Families and Friends to take the podium at our events. This serves three purposes.
It keeps their loved ones alive. If the memory of Our Mates lives on, then we cannot say that they're really gone.
People who don't fully understand the extent of the veteran suicide epidemic gain unique insight through the perspective of those who have lost loved ones. It is a deeply impactful and moving experience.
Speeches that come from the heart are specially poised to give more meaning. Veterans who need help might be more open to seeking it when they hear the stories of some of Our Mates' families.
SailAhead fundraises every year to buy plane tickets for some of the families or friends of Our Mates. This is a vital part of how we spread our message. If you are interested in helping us do that, click here to donate.
The ceremony is the part of the day we acknowledge the losses, with a hopeful message about the future. It's about honoring and remembering, and becoming proactive in the fight against suicide. It includes a USMC Color Guard, American Legion Flag Bearers, the singing of our national anthem, and the speeches on behalf of the Centerport Yacht Club, SailAhead, and Gold Star families and friends.
Phase 3: Sailing
After the ceremony sailors, veterans, and guests begin boarding according to a sequence. Speed and organization is key when loading 130 veterans/guests and 120 sailors through a narrow dock onto the launches, which can only carry a few people at a time. All in all, our boarding sequence this year took 40 minutes.
Once everyone has made it to their boats we set sail! All 36 boats head out together in a tight column before reaching the Long Island Sound.
It was amazing, all of the sailboats lined up like that... It reminded me of the tanks columns in Desert Storm. Luis, Army Veteran
Most of our veteran guests come from Long Island, and despite that islands are completely surrounded by water, they never had the opportunity to take to the seas. It's a new experience for many, and for those who already know what boating is like, the inherent tranquility of a good day on the water can do a lot of good.
Phase 4: The Barbecue
What could be better than ending an emotional and fun day of sailing with food already fragrant and ready when our feet hit back on land?
The Centerport Yacht Club and its staff diligently prepare the patio of the clubhouse for 250 sailors, crew, veterans and their families as we are en-route back to land.
A band plays music as everyone loads their paper plates with hot dogs, macaroni, and grabs Arizona drinks from their branded coolers. It sets the perfect scene to go over the great events of the day, make new friends, and relax. Veterans and guests truly receive the VIP treatment.
Arizona Iced Tea kindly donates food and beverages for the hungry seafarers.
The Centerport Yacht Club
The Centerport Yacht Club generously donates its time, staff, and resources each year to help SailAhead take wounded veterans sailing. Without their help, almost 100 veterans per year would not be able to go sailing. For some, this is a life changing experience.
SailAhead and the Centerport Yacht Club see each other as important allies in the fight against veteran suicide, and as teammates who have created a new and lasting tradition for the club and its community. There are some veterans and some sailors who have come to all six events, and the second the day ends, they look forward to the email that will invite them to the next.
Over the previous five SailAhead-Centerport Yacht Club events , we have taken some 500 guests and their families to the water. The Yacht Club is a great ally in our fight, and has helped changed countless lives.
Thank you for reading about this event. If you want to help us fight against veteran suicide, learn how by clicking here.