We are honored to be featured in the December 2016 issue of Cruising World magazine.
Sitting quietly at the dock, the white O’Day 28.5Jubilee, built more than three decades ago, doesn’t look like much of a game-changer. But that’s exactly what it’s been for more than 300 people who have been dealing with cancer — either in treatment or finished with it because there’s nothing else to be done.
One of their more memorable passengers was Helen, who along with her sister Kathy and several other family members enjoyed a late-August sail aboard Jubilee. Two months later, Kathy called Johnson to say that Helen had died that morning. “She said, ‘I want you to know that the entire family is here in our living room, and they’re all talking about what an amazing sail that was with you,'” Johnson says. “‘You provided something no one else was able to — memories that will be with us forever.'” Healing Winds takes passengers with all types of cancer and of all ages. “They show up with whomever they want to bring in tow,” says Findholt. “We help them down to the boat, make sure they’re comfortable, and then we’re off for a three-hour sail. By and large, most are not sailors, and some have never been on a sailboat before.” The boat is sailed by at least one licensed captain and a volunteer from the organization.
For the past two summers, Vermonters Suzanne Johnson and Glen Findholt have spearheaded an organization called Healing Winds to take those patients, along with their family and friends, sailing on the scenic waters of Lake Champlain aboardJubilee, providing them with a brief but valuable respite from their everyday challenges.
Says Johnson: “It’s really the one thing I know, from being a cancer patient, that families can do together, outside. When you’re going through chemo, even a simple thing like walking to the mailbox is a trek, so this is unique. The patients can just sit in the cockpit if they wish, or they can do whatever they want on the boat. But they’re on the water, and that’s healing.”
It’s a dramatic change for patients because they’re out there with no distractions and no set destination. “You go where the wind takes you,” says Johnson, “which is sort of what we all do in life.”
Launched in 2014, Healing Winds is a nonprofit with a board of eight and more than 100 volunteers, many of whom are cancer survivors or close to someone who has dealt with cancer. Program participation has skyrocketed in just two years. In the first season, they took out 115 patients and caregivers. In 2015, that number swelled to 187, and the 2016 season had nearly 300 guests.
“I know from firsthand experience that going through cancer treatments can be tough, both mentally and physically. This can be just as tough on families as it is for patients. Sailing offers an environmentally clean respite from the rigors of chemotherapy. Once on the water everyone leaves their problems behind. People talk about great things when sailing, most importantly the future. A horizon at sea is something you are always looking at. When I was going through my treatments for lymphoma a friend took me for a sail. On the way in he said, “I just wanted to remind you why the fight is so important.” He knew that I would want to recover to get back out on the water. Healing Winds Vermont offers patients and their families a chance to get out on the water. President John F. Kennedy once remarked that we have the same percentage of salt water in our bodies that is found in the sea. We all came from the sea. Sailing on gives all of us the spirit to fight on.”
Winning America’s Cup sailor, television commentator and Vice President of the International Sailing Federation. Gary has authored 19 sailing books and is Editor at Large of Sailing World and Cruising World magazines. He is President of the National Sailing Hall of Fame.