Full of teeth in the sail | New

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A group of veterans gathered in a Centennial United Methodist Church conference room in Pentwater on the morning of August 27 for the final class of a basic keelboat sailing course offered by the West Michigan program SAIL. West Michigan SAIL, which stands for Servicemembers Adapting Interacting Living, is a non-profit organization created by Lee Price and other dedicated locals that aims to help veterans with disabilities such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) , traumatic brain injuries or physical disabilities. They aim to do this by offering free sailing lessons. The class that met this Friday was the last class of the association’s first class and it was a huge success. With two sailboats ready for the water and a crew of four per boat (three veterans and one instructor), the course was complete with six veterans.

“For this course, with instructors Lee and Chad… I think they’re the perfect guys to help veterans with PTSD, head trauma or physical disabilities. They have the patience that it will take, ”said Russ Mason of the course. Mason is a Silver Lake veteran who spent 33 years in the US Navy, working in the Submarine Division. In fact, he grew up on a sailboat and sailing was a passion for him, although he never got to do it during his time in the Navy. When asked if he found the sailing course to be beneficial, he replied: “Absolutely” and added: “the camaraderie, the military jokes and just having fun in a working environment. team have been really beneficial to my therapy. “

Mason is not the only course veterinarian with previous sailing experience, however. Nathaniel Mohr, affectionately known as “Pirate Nate”, served for two years in the Air Force and has actually been living on a sailboat full time since April. Mohr showed up to the class appropriately dressed in a bandana and sandals. He also had with him his therapy dog, Studly, a small breed of terrier who was attached to a boat cleat bolted to a piece of wood for the duration of the lesson, which is another example of the accommodations that the instructors made. willing to do so that their vets feel as comfortable as possible. Mohr sailed to Pentwater from Ludington while he was taking the course, but just because he is already sailing does not mean he has nothing to gain from the course. “It is so precious for me personally to be a sailor. Now I have an idea of ​​the technical side, ”said Mohr. He also said: “It’s amazing sailing with like-minded people. We all learn and operate together. It feels good to be on a team again to be honest.

Meanwhile, Herb Merten, who served in both the Marines and the Michigan Army National Guard, had absolutely no boating experience before taking the course. He says the course was great and describes the feeling of sailing as “being free”. Merten also spoke of a community development business course like this. “This whole experience brought me closer,” Merten said, “I’ve known Russ since the 1980s, but it was only by name. In this class, we talked a lot, laughed a lot and it was good.

The basic keelboat sailing courses have been split into two halves. First, the veterans studied the material in the textbook, and then they gained practical experience with a boat, so that they could apply what they had learned. Friday was no different. After taking a quiz to review everything they had learned over the previous week, the sailor students took a boat called Wind Whisper on Pentwater Lake, although they had to go early due to the bad weather. time. Chad Sampson, one of the course instructors who met Lee Price in 2019, was sailing with them when Price launched his water taxi service on Pentwater Lake. Although they both have several years of experience teaching sailing, they have also taken an adapted sailing course in preparation for the program, in order to better support learners with disabilities.

Initially, it was thought that this might be the only class the program can accommodate this year, but it has been such a hit with registrants that they have already assembled a large list of interested veterans for a another class in the spring. “Our goal is to have five boats operational in the spring,” said Price, “and we should be able to have three veterans per boat, so our classes will be 15 veterans every week.” They also plan to add other courses, including performance courses for sailboat racing, cruising courses and instructor courses. “I’m going to get my instructor certification next,” Mason said, “because I want to be on this team next spring and start teaching. This is the first thing I have encountered in my two years of retirement so far that I can really sink my teeth into.

One of Price’s main concerns is that these courses remain accessible to veterans and he is determined never to charge them a fee. Instead, West Michigan SAIL will generate money through grants and fundraising, while providing services to the general public, such as sunset cruises on Pentwater Lake. This year’s class was made possible through a grant from Great Lakes Energy, whose generosity has had a huge impact on the lives of six local vets in our community.


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