Toby Stull had already traded in his career as an attorney for a life on the sea when he heard about Sailing Heals, a non-profit group based in Massachusetts that was ready to expand in a major way.
At the time, Stull had found a home for his Starlight sailing charter at the Breakwater Yacht Club in Sag Harbor. And so it was in the summer of 2014 that Sailing Heals, which treats cancer patients and their caregivers to worry-free days on the water, first came to Breakwater.
“We’ve branched out all over the country and have taken thousands of cancer patients and caregivers sailing,” Stull said in advance of the 5thAnnual Sag Harbor Healing Sail, which returns to Breakwater on Friday, July 27. “We’re not curing cancer, but it’s an amazing experience and an incredible respite from the daily grind. It’s spiritual for some people.”
Stull was a board member with Sailing Heals until his travels to the Caribbean during the winter caused him to step away. His main focus with the group today is helping run the Sag Harbor sail, which works in partnership with Fighting Chance, a cancer support organization located across the street from Breakwater.
“Breakwater instantly opened their doors to us,” said Stull, whose boat, the 65-foot Starlight, takes a group out every year. “They’re an incredible community sailing center that has made the event possible here in Sag Harbor.”
The way the sail works is Stull and others organize as many boats and captains as possible to participate, and then based on the number of boats, Sailing Heals gives Fighting Chance a number of participants who can make the trip.
“The sail provides patients and caregivers a refuge of peace and serenity,” Duncan Darrow, the founder of Fighting Chance, said. “When you look at the world from the water, sometimes the problems of the world seem smaller. Fighting Chance and our patients are grateful for the generosity of Sailing Heals and the wonderful captains who donate their boats and hospitality.”
Trisha Boisvert, who co-founded Sailing Heals with her twin sister, Michele Glesinger, agreed that the mission has always been to provide an escape from cancer, an escape she believes is therapeutic beyond just a day on the water.
“Through seven years of hosting patients, they really forget about cancer for a while and they find it’s the first time in months they haven’t talked about cancer,” said Boisvert, who set up shop in Marble Head, Massachusetts in 2011 and soon had the support of the Boston Yacht Club, Eastern Yacht Club and Corinthian Yacht Club. Seven years later the group organizes sails in nine states and 23 different ports, all with the help of volunteer host captains.
“It gives as much to the host captains as it does to the cancer patients,” Stull said. “It’s really amazing. I’d love to do more of it.”
Patients, caregivers and host captains wishing to participate in the July 27 Sag Harbor Healing Sail at the Breakwater Yacht Club, and anyone wishing to donate, can visit sailingheals.org for more information.