March 15, 2017
In his hit song “Sailing,” Christopher Cross wrote, “if the wind is right, you can sail away and find tranquility. Oh, the canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see…”
No one could use that tranquility, and maybe a miracle or two, more than patients dealing with cancer in its many forms. The therapeutic and restorative properties of sailing are the impetus that led Trisha Gallagher to launch “Sailing Heals,” the Boston-based charity she founded, dedicated to getting cancer patients and their caregivers out on the water for a little wind-powered therapy.
Gallagher is not claiming that sailing alone can cure cancer, but she believes the activity, the gentle surge of wind and sea, can make a profound difference in the state of mind of those dealing with the disease. On March 8, she sailed out of the Naples Sailing & Yacht Club, part of a flotilla of four sailboats carrying 30 cancer patients and caregivers, helmed by volunteer captains from the club who donated their boats for the day.
For this sail, as it happened, all the patients were under the care of Naples oncologist Susan Morgan, who went along for the ride – and you have to believe that a doctor dealing with the scourge of cancer every day, and inevitably watching some of her patients lose their battles, could also use the tranquility that sailing provides.
“I consider cancer patients and their caregivers heroes,” said Morgan at the luncheon the Sailing & Yacht Club hosted before the boats headed out into the Gulf. “We’ll go out, have a glorious day, and just enjoy sailing. This lets people forget about their chores, chemo, the therapy they go through,” at least for an afternoon. “It gives everyone a break in their routine, a little shot of brightness, sunshine and hope. This is a great organization, and it means what it says. Sailing heals.”
This was the third time out sailing with the Naples club and Sailing Heals for Morgan. The organization did sponsor a sail last year, but she was unable to attend. Five or six of the patients sailing this year had participated before, she said, with the rest doing it for the first time. Some of the original patients who had gone sailing previous years, said Morgan, had since died from the disease.
“This is very special and relaxing for me,” said Mary Greco, who has been dealing with breast cancer since she was diagnosed in 2005. “My husband died in December.”
Sailing & Yacht Club member Reid Tomlin helped organize the event and would have been the fifth captain, but his boat developed engine trouble. “We have a lot of generous captains willing to provide their time and boats,” he said. “It’s not really a hard sell, asking people to go out sailing and give back at the same time.
“We call the patients the VIPs. A lot of them haven’t spent a lot of time on the water, so it’s great to see it through their eyes. This organization has a simple mission and purpose – not solving cancer, just giving the VIPs a day on the water.”
Morgan helped select patients, who have to be physically able to deal with at least getting on and off a boat, and moving around on board. Sailing & Yacht Club Commodore Larry Pirnak, who was one of the volunteer skippers, took passengers out on his classic Morris 36-foot sloop.
“This is a special event for me,” said Pirnak. “My wife has been battling cancer for 57 years. It’s so relaxing and calm out there, with the wildlife, the birds, watching for dolphins. That’s therapeutic.”
The greatest share of VIPs climbed aboard Tomcat, Mike and Kathy Rainen’s 45-foot Lagoon catamaran, with an enormous cockpit and a steady ride not susceptible to rolling.
This was the first sailing day of the year for Gallagher, who travels the country participating in the Sailing Heals events. She had gone to Miami for a previous sail which had to be scrubbed due to inclement weather.
“I have 24 ports in nine different states,” she said, “and over 200 registered host captains.” The nonprofit organization, begun and headquartered in Marblehead, Mass., has taken survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing out sailing, as well as cancer patients. For more information, visit www.sailingheals.org.