Today I was invited to crew on Lunar Lady during a semi-annual event in Annapolis, hosted by Navy Sailing and the National Sailing Hall of Fame. It is the Recovering Warrior Sailing Regatta, held for the fifth year to introduce our recovering soldiers, sailors, and marines to sailing and sailboat racing.
Co-host Les Spanheimer of Navy Sailing explained that the initial intent of this program in Annapolis was to develop a model program that could be replicated around the country. They look for yacht and boat clubs that have one-design sailboats available to take recovering military men and women out sailing and introduce them to racing. The Navy brings its fleet of Colgate 26s to the event in Annapolis, which will be sailed by midshipmen in the Navy sailing program.
Another host organization is CRAB, Chesapeake Region Accessible Sailing, which has custom Freedom sailboats, modified for use by those missing limbs and other disabilities. Together, the fleet can accommodate healing veterans and get them out on the water as well as hopefully engage interest in the exciting sport of sailboat racing.
Right on schedule, a bus showed up at the National Sailing Hall of Fame with full police escort, in a parking area lined with fire trucks and firemen of the Annapolis Fire Department. As these young men and women got off the bus, they were greeted by Admiral Phil Collom, U.S. Navy, and retired Brigadier General Bob Barnes, U.S. Army, as well as the crowd of midshipmen, volunteers, and other civilians who came to support the event.
Les Spanheimer is now with the Naval Academy Sailing Foundation, but he was instrumental in getting this program off the ground five years ago. As he explained, most of these recovering military have never been on a boat, let alone gone sailing. The hope is that it will be more than just an afternoon outing, but rather something they might find of interest enough to perhaps take up the sport. It also is an introduction to racing, and for those serious about getting into racing, Valhalla Sailing is a successful program that helps develop the skills and experience through clinics it offers. Everyone involved with these programs is serious about their efforts, as they know the alternatives are not always positive.
As Les pointed out, "it is better to learn how to sail...than suicide."
He went on to say that many of these men and women have considerable difficulty living without the support of the groups they belonged to while on active duty, especially the combat units where team members are as tight knit as family. Replacing that team support by joining a racing crew can provide that healthy and needed connection.
Les also commented that it is the midshipmen, the ones in the boats teaching and showing how boats work, that get the most out of this event. They all belong to the the Navy Offshore Sailing Program, and can't wait to meet these veterans, and learn what it is like out there, for many the very reason they are at the Naval Academy. The men and women on the bus are real warriors who have been there, and lived it. The midshipmen want to be with them and absord all they can.