Sailing heals is an organization that partners local sailors with cancer patients and their caregivers for a spirit-lifting day on the water. The trip is “with no strings attached—except to the sails,” says Executive Director Trisha Gallagher Boisvert.
Adds Timmy Dittrich, former commodore of the Corinthian Yacht Club, “We can’t cure the ailment, but we can definitely help make a lot of people feel better for just a few hours. There’s nothing like the water, wind, and sun to turn a day around. It’s amazing medicine.” Sails are typically two hours long and include lunch.
Marblehead, Massachusetts resident Gary Gregory, former CEO of Sirius Software, hosts the “VIP guests” on his beautiful boat Valiant, a World Cup defender in 1970. “Sailing is serenity. It’s you and the elements,” he says. “We sailors are lucky to live in a world of relaxation that isn’t always available to everyone. We decided to give the program a try, and it was shocking to find how rewarding it was to the guests.”
Sailing Heals tacks into its second season this summer. The founding sponsor is Officine Panerai, maker of Italian-designed, Swiss-made luxury watches, which runs the Panerai regatta for classic yachts. The organization has helped patients get a reprieve from their worries. Boston Medical Center nurse Kim Hubert was making the transition from cancer patient to survivor last summer. When she took the helm, she felt the metaphor was fitting, of taking back control of her life.
The Experience Sailing Heals’s first host was the Corinthian Yacht Club; now maritime author Nathaniel Philbrick sails guests out of Nantucket, while Mass Maritime cadets take them out of Marion. They also can sail on the 72-foot schooner Madeleine in Newport, RI, and the 122-foot schooner Arabella in New York. Other venues include Miami, Lake Champlain, and San Francisco. And in June, the program hosted a group of MGH oncology nurses who had worked with some of the marathon bombing victims and needed a day at sea.
Board Member Dr. Lori Wirth is a Medical Director at the Mass General Hospital Cancer Center. A resident of Manchester, she has been sailing for 20 years. One of her patients had just finished a long winter of radiation and chemotherapy. “She said [sailing] was the first time she and her husband did something together that wasn’t about her cancer or about him taking care of her, just them spending a great day together and having fun.” That was the moment she started thinking about what she wanted to do, not what she had been missing. sailingheals.org