Boaters Paying It Forward

Boaters from all walks of life are using what they have to give back in unique ways.

Hands Across the Sea

Tom & Harriet Linskey

In seven fast-paced years, my wife Harriet and I upended our lives from "full-time cruisers who do some charity work" to "full-time charity operators who do some sailing." The U.S. based child literacy nonprofit, Hands Across the Sea, which we founded from our 46-foot catamaran (also named Hands Across the Sea), has effectively taken over our lives.

Photo of Tom and Harriet LinskeyTom & Harriet Linskey aboard their Dolphin 460.

It all started back in 1986 when we cruised our 28-foot cutter, Freelance, through Baja California, Mexico, and on to the South Pacific, where we were struck by the awe-inspiring beauty, but also by the poverty of some of the local people. We helped out where we could, but had no way to make a real difference. Fast-forward to 2007, when we sold our house, bought a Dolphin 460 performance-cruising cat, and set out cruising again. This time we wanted to cruise and make a difference — a real difference.

While sailing our cat in the eastern Caribbean, we visited local schools (Harriet is a former teacher), and the school principals told us the same thing: Child literacy is a serious problem. Most children grow up without books in the home (too expensive), and while schools have textbooks, budgets don't stretch to reading books — the kind of books that develop a love of reading. It upset us to see bright, eager children growing up without access to books.

Photo of Hands Across The Sea in actionHands Across The Sea in action.

So in 2008 we sent our first shipment from Massachusetts, 25 boxes of books and 10 boxes of literacy resources, to three Caribbean schools. Six years later we've delivered more than 175,000 books, reaching more than 55,000 children at 250 preschools, primary schools, and high schools. Each year, we serve about 100 schools, community libraries, and reading programs (an average shipment is about 25,000 to 35,000 books, and weighs around 20,000 pounds). We send brand-new, age- and culturally relevant, asked-for books, and literacy resources.

Hands Across the Sea is our full-time obsession now. We sail about 3,500 miles every year, from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to "our" schools in Antigua, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and Grenada. The boat serves as our transportation and living quarters.

Still, when we're sailing — a moonlit passage in the Gulf Stream, a trade wind romp with airborne dolphins, from Dominica to St. Lucia — we know how lucky we are. After enjoying 40 years of sailing (and 28 married cruising years), we've sailed into the ultimate reward: the chance to pay our good luck forward.

Hotelier With A Heart

John Fitzpatrick

When John Fitzpatrick was taking his first dinghy class at 14 on Ireland's east coast, it's likely he didn't envision a future where he'd be making curves around Long Island Sound from his Hamptons home in his 42-foot Morris sailboat. Or maybe he did. The New York businessman, an avid boater and watersports enthusiast, could just as easily rest on his laurels with the glitterati at his Sag Harbor home, or aboard his Morris in the summer, but he has a philosophy of giving back that leaves little spare time. Not that innkeepers (as he likes to refer to himself) have much of that. In 1997 he set up the Eithne and Paddy Fitzpatrick Memorial Fund in honor of his late parents, which has raised and donated more than $2.4 million to charities in New York and abroad. More recently, the hotelier with two booming midtown Manhattan hotels that bear his name has become chairman of the American Ireland Fund, a subsidiary of The Worldwide Ireland Funds that has raised over $450 million for more than 1,500 charitable nonprofit organizations.

Photo of John Fitzpatrick and his 42-foot Morris sailboat

"I'm a big believer in giving while living," he says. "A lot of people leave money after they're gone but they never see the good it did. We all know we didn't become successful completely on our own. Parents, mentors ... whoever ... help us along the way. It just makes sense to pass that on.

Veteran With A Vision

Tim Hoffmann

Tim Hoffmann had a simple idea: Take wounded vets out on his boat and wet a line. Maybe they'd catch something, maybe not. Hoffmann lives in Rockport, Maine, in part because of his job at Penobscot Bay Medical Center, and in part because it's the New England Coast. Born in Minnesota, he's been a boater most of his life, apart from when he got drafted. That was in the 1960s, and the Army saw fit to train him as a corpsman. After getting his discharge, Hoffmann became a registered nurse, thanks to the G.I. Bill, and went to work for the Veterans Administration in St. Cloud, Minnesota. From there he went to grad school at the University of Iowa and got a master's in nursing administration. In April 2013, after 28 years, he retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve Nurse Corps and now works at Penobscot Bay Medical Center on a per-diem basis, which means he can pick and choose when he wants to go in, and when he wants to go fishing.

Photo of Tim Hoffman taking veteranson a fishing trip

"Being in the Nurse Corps I was around a lot of disabled vets, and it just became a thing to do, offering to take someone out on Penobscot Bay to share what I really enjoyed," he says. "I did it without any set schedule." It didn't cost him anything because he was going out, anyway. But then people heard about what he was doing and started donating stuff. There were two captain's chairs designed especially for individuals with physical disabilities, and then Back Cove Yachts donated a Pipe Top for people impaired from the waist down. Lyman Morse Motor Yachts built him a foam-core top. And since not all vets have a fishing license, Maine's Commissioner of Fisheries and Wildlife granted them a waiver.

When he got the idea that they should fish in the morning, come in for lunch, and go back out in the afternoon, he called a local restaurant and asked if they'd be interested in providing a complimentary lunch for veterans. They were. On another outing they had a full picnic lunch donated by a local supermarket. When their barbecue grill was stolen, Weber donated another. "Once you give the introduction, it becomes 'what's your address?'" he says. What started out with five vets fishing is now up to three boats packed to capacity on any given day. "There's a whole bunch of people coming together to make that happen."

The Golden Rule

Donald & Suzanne Grosz

People boat for many reasons. Some are inward looking, others outward. Twelve years ago, while reflecting on the first 30 years of marriage, my wife Suzanne and I stopped to count the number of days we had actually "vacated." The answer was 17. Classical musicians by profession, our work had taken us the world over, but always with commitments and responsibilities. Leisure was elusive. Recalling childhood days fishing aboard a 12-foot, dollar-a-day, rental boat powered by my father's 3-horse Sea King outboard, I began to research a minimum boat on which we could safely cruise the Great Lakes. That search resulted in the purchase of a 30-foot Bayliner flybridge sedan that we christened Alleluia. The name echoed both our vocations and our faith.

Photo of Donald and Suzanne GroszDonald and Suzanne Grosz aboard Alleluia.

'Naively, we assumed that our days would be spent quietly exploring the historic sites of the Great Lakes while satisfying Suzanne's penchant for nature photography. After all, many of the War of 1812 naval campaigns had been contested on our home waters of Lake Ontario and, with 11,000 miles of shoreline, Great Lakes' wildlife is abundant. Soon, however, we encountered like-minded people at our home marina, which resulted in regular Sunday morning gatherings. The presence of this group was welcomed by both the marina owner and our fellow boaters who, from time to time, would approach us for help in difficult times.

Our dock neighbors had a modest sailboat the First Mate/Admiral of which was Debbie. Debbie struggled with crippling birth defects and cancer that often limited the amount of time she and her husband Jim could actually sail. Still, for them to come aboard Alleluia, or for us to visit on their boat, at the dock, was respite in full measure. Then, there was Alison. In the very same week, her divorce was announced and she was laid off from her teaching position. Responsible for high school-aged daughters, she was despondent. We invited her for a cruise extolling the Great Lakes as an "eraser" that, for a time at least, could make the rest of the world disappear. Once tied up back in the slip, she embraced us with tears in her eyes and whispered, "This has been the best day of my life." Over 11 years, more than two hundred such guests have graced the decks of Alleluia.

Photo of the Alleluia flying the burgee of the Christian Boaters AssociationAt the dock in Cornwall, Ontario, Alleluia flies the burgee of the Christian Boaters Association.

While underway, we fly the burgee of the Christian Boaters Association, an organization doing good on the water in countries all over the world. This flag has invited numerous warm conversations that resulted in lasting friendships in many ports of call. Leisure? Yes, indeed! We've come to understand that there was a greater purpose for our boat than what we had anticipated. We give thanks for the "waypoints" to which it has taken us.

In addition to their symphonic performance careers, Donald and Suzanne established music-education programs in Finland, Germany, and Switzerland, as well as their own academy in Rochester, New York. They boat out of Great Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario.

A Name That Continues To Build

David Rockefeller, Jr.

With a second name that needs little in the way of introduction, David Rockefeller, Jr. has always had a passion for the water. "I started sailing classes at 6. I'm still being taught!" he says modestly for a man who has spent a large portion of his life aboard. Apart from regular sails between Boston and Maine, he's racked up seven Bermuda Races and 10 weeks around Alaska as his 50th birthday present to himself, to mention just a few notable trips.

August is his big sailing month. "Every five years I try to take a longer sailing trip in some little-traveled part of the watery world." These have included Newfoundland, the Alaskan coast, south Turkey, the outer Scottish Islands, and the central Mediterranean. It was partially all that global ocean travel that inspired him to set up Sailors for the Sea 10 years ago, a nonprofit that seeks to engage and educate boaters about ocean health.

"After serving on the Pew Oceans Commission in the early 2000s, I decided to do something to respond to large ocean health problems I'd learned about, and realized that sailors and other boaters were not generally aware of the problems that beset the water on which they enjoyed so much recreational pleasure."

Since then, Sailors for the Sea has worked to promote two of their programs in particular. Clean Regattas encourages sailing organizers to hold environmentally clean events; and KELP Kits supply teachers and camp or sailing instructors, who don't have a background in environmental science or the budget to purchase extensive materials with tools to help educate kids. 

— Published: December 2014

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