Sailing sometimes means the most to people who wouldn't normally get to try on the sport – especially kids. Enter the Heart of Sailing and its new chapter in Puerto Rico.
The Heart of Sailing (HoS) is a charity started in the United States in 2004 by software entrepreneur and lifelong sailor George Saidah. Saidah had discovered firsthand how much sailing benefited a loved one with a developmental disability. Thus, the HOS's mission is to teach sailing to special needs children as a type of recreational therapy, like art, music and horseback riding.
Sailing in this way can encourage abstract thought and teamwork, problem-solving skills, patience and self-respect. Last October, Saidah traveled to Puerto Rico to help launch the Heart of Sailing Puerto Rico (HoSPR) chapter at the Palmas del Mar Yacht Club, in Humacao. Over 250 people, including families and their kids, musical entertainers and a host of volunteers from Puerto Rico's sailing community, attended. The kick-off was organized by avid sailor José Luis Rivera, who spearheaded the start of the HoSPR chapter.
"Essentially, it was our will to share our passion for sailing and its mental, physical and spiritual rewards with those who didn't have immediate access to the sport, particularly due to conditions such as Down's Syndrome and Autism," says Rivera, who has volunteered with many non-profit entities throughout his life. He most recently served as an advisor to the Muscular Dystrophy Association in addition to holding a full-time job as the island's Dufour dealer and owner of Nautifull Sailing Club and Charters.
Since October, HoSPR has hosted over 15 day sails all over Puerto Rico. Volunteer skippers include Julio Solier from Sea Lovers in Fajardo, Pedro 'Popeye' Ortiz from Puerto del Rey, Jorge Santiago at the Ponce Yacht & Fishing Club, Carlos Micames at the Club Deportivo del Oeste (in Cabo Rojo), and Rivera at Palmas del Mar.
"A typical day sail will take place on a beautiful day. We will postpone if the weather is not safe or promising," Rivers explains. The sail lasts from one and one-half to two hours, departing at either 10 a.m. or 2 p.m., with a captain, the sailor and a trained caregiver, which is usually a parent or family member.
"We take them sailing to nature-gifted coasts, islets or keys, explain the key parts of the boat, show them and assist them about how to hoist and unfurl the sails and take the helm," Rivera explains. "We also place captain hats on the kids and take their photos. At the end, they receive a HoS Day Sail Certificate and medal. The families can repeat the day sails if they would like to."
Vessels used in the program so far include a Dufour 44 Performance, Columbia 36 and Beneteau 30.
On August 14 to 15, the HoSPR chapter will hold a Day Sail and Fun Sail Regatta in the island's south coast town of Salinas.
Rivera says, "The children will enjoy a day in the water with experienced captains sailing safe boats. Additionally, we will hold a fun race for local small boats. Further on, we are also organizing a big boat regatta for the same purpose. The date for the latter is being coordinated with the Puerto Rico Sailing Federation, of which we are affiliated members, and our Advisory Board."
The HoSPR chapter, though less than one year old, has definitely made waves in the community. Comments from the kids have ranged from the familiar "Awesome" and "That was so cool!" to "Will we see whales?", "Will we see dolphins?" and "Am I really a captain now?" Rivera says. In addition, one parent also related that their child talked so much at school about their HoS experience, that the teacher harnessed that enthusiasm and conducted a class project on sailing, boating and marinas, and sea life.