By Connor Beach
A fleet of 43 sailboats set sail from the Centerport Yacht Club on July 29 for the fourth annual “Let’s Take a Veteran Sailing” event.
The event, sponsored by Huntington Station-based charity SailAhead, brought together around 140 veterans, their families and guests with 100 volunteer skippers and crews for a therapeutic day of sailing in the waters off Huntington.
Brothers Kilian, 21, and Sean, 19, Duclay, founded SailAhead in the winter of 2013 as a way to combine their passion for sailing and desire to help struggling veterans.
From its humble beginnings when the Duclay’s would take one or two veterans sailing, SailAhead will this year host six events and give hundreds of veterans the opportunity to sail.
In 2015, the brothers, both graduates of Walt Whitman High School, decided they wanted to host a big event that would help us spread awareness of veteran suicide and PTSD.
Sean Duclay said a friend, Bob Slingo, helped them pitch the idea to the members of the Centerport Yacht Club.
“It’s funny because we were kids essentially asking the Centerport Yacht Club’s commodore if we could use his yacht club members, his yacht club’s money and his yacht club facility to host an event with veterans we didn’t know, and they said yes,” Duclay said.
Over the last four years hundreds of veterans have taken part in “Let’s Take a Veteran Sailing,” an event Duclay said would not have been possible without the help of American Legion Greenlawn Post 1244.
“The commander there helped supply us with the bulk of the veterans that we took sailing with us this year,” Duclay said.
Duclay said that each year the feedback for the event has been unanimously positive from both the veterans and the volunteers.
Duclay credits sailing’s “inherent mystery and magic” for the therapeutic feeling that many people experience while out on the water.
“Anything to do with nature, the elements and the rawness of the wild has an inherent feeling of relaxation to it,” he said. “When I go from the dock to the sailboat, the way I describe it is like an there’s an invisible net that divides me from all my stressors.
They stay on land and it really just lets me live in the moment when I’m at sea.”
As part of SailAhead’s mission, the Duclay brother’s carry with them the nametags of 219 veterans who lost their lives as a result of suicide and PTSD. When SailAhead began in 2013, it was estimated that approximately 220 veterans committed suicide every 10 days.
“We say that the 219 symbol represents the one veteran that we as a community are trying to save,” Duclay said.
This year SailAhead flew several families of veterans from across the county to Centerport so they could speak on behalf of their loved ones who lost their lives from suicide.
Duclay said the emotional event garners so much support from the community and local military groups that work together to make it a success.
“It’s not meant to be depressing, it’s meant to be an emotional slap to the face that we need to wake up and help our veterans and active duty soldiers get help,” he said.