Episode 368 Sean Duclay Empowering Veterans Through Sailing Transcript

This transcript is from episode 368 with guest Sean Duclay.

Scott DeLuzio: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we are focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or a family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio, and now let’s get on with the show.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio. And today, my guest is Sean Duclay. Sean is a passionate sailor and a co founder of Sail Ahead, which is a remarkable organization that blends the therapeutic power of sailing with a mission to raise awareness about post traumatic stress disorder and veteran suicide.

Uh, he was born into a family of sailors, uh, and Not only sailed on countless boats, but has also dedicated himself to healing wounded veterans and breaking the stigmas [00:01:00] associated with mental health. And so in this episode, we’re going to talk about Sail Ahead. Um, and we’re going to explore the mission, the impact and the connections that it creates within folks in the military community.

So before we get into that, though, I want to welcome you to the show, Sean. Thank you for taking the time to join me.

Sean Duclay: Thanks, Scott. It’s my pleasure to be on. Thank you.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, absolutely. Um, so let’s just jump, jump right in. Um, can you tell us about Sail Ahead and, uh, what inspired you to combine your love for sailing, uh, with this mission to help out veterans?

Sean Duclay: Yeah, of course. Um, so for starters, the, uh, we, as you said, we’re a family of sailors and that, that’s a transcended generations. Uh, that comes from my dad’s side of the family and my dad is French. So my grandparents were actually like national champions of Ivory Coast cause they used to live in some parts of Africa.

Um, And, uh, and also many of [00:02:00] my relatives were in, in the French military. And, uh, so as, uh, as an American, but also as a dual, I’m a dual citizen, I’m also French, visiting my grandparents outside of Paris every year. We really, uh, got an understanding and an appreciation for, uh, military service, and then also especially the U S military.

And, uh, just to give you an example of how this, uh, is so, uh, so saturates the culture in France, at least some elements of the French culture, uh, there is a very famous singer who has a line in a song, uh, and the song is basically about being, being thankful that we don’t speak German in France. Um, and, uh, there’s a line that You know, thanks to the young man from Georgia who came and died in Normandy, you know, so, uh, so we grew up with this appreciation and also with this, uh, knowledge of sailing.

So, um, we, there’s a story where [00:03:00] when my brother, my older brother, Killian was a baby, my parents would put him on the, in the crib on the high side of the boat as ballast. To, uh, level it out. So we’ve, we’ve, it’s no exaggeration to say we’ve always been sailors. And, uh, one morning my older brother, Killian, who was 16 at the time, and I, who was 14, we were getting ready to go to high school.

And, uh, my dad said, Hey, wait, listen to this. Uh, the TV was on. Uh, and there was a reporting about the VA’s new study at the time that said that at least 22 veterans were taking their lives every day in the United States, which we know really now is, is, uh, is an under representation of that reality for a number of reasons.

But I’m sure I don’t have to tell you,

Scott DeLuzio: Sure. Yeah.

Sean Duclay: but, uh, so basically in the, in the same way, the way I like to describe it, it’s like at Thanksgiving, you could always squeeze one more person in, you know, in the spirit of the holiday. Uh, we thought, all right, we’re sailing at the [00:04:00] time it was the winter and we were sailing on dinghies, uh, Hobie Cat 16s they’re called.

And we thought, all right, well, we have enough room. We can bring a veteran sailing. Let’s try it out. So the veteran we took was from the Vietnam war. He’s the first veteran we went sailing with, and I just want to reiterate the conditions. Snowy beaches, icy waters, 16 foot boat, and then an older gentleman.

So, not a recipe for success. And in fact, uh, he told us, um, about an hour into the sail, he was like, uh, my back hurts too much, can we go back on land? And we were like, oh no, we messed up. Um, but as it turned out, when we got back to the beach, he gave us a hug. He started crying. We started crying. We asked Fritz, Fritz, why are we, why are we all crying?

And he said that, uh, he was going to therapy for 20 years to treat his post traumatic stress disorder. And that, that, uh, outing, that afternoon was the best therapy he’d ever had. So in that moment, you know, we were, we were touched to [00:05:00] play that kind of a role in someone’s life. But also we realized that the sport that we, you know, more or less took for granted, uh, can really have such a profound impact on the lives of, of, of some people.

And it’s, it’s always true, we’ve always known that, uh, there’s this sort of Feeling that when you go from the dock to a boat or the beach to a boat, that there’s like an imaginary invisible net that captures all your stresses and keeps them on land while you go, uh, you know, uh, free, uh, on the water. And, uh, my brother used to say, you know, when he’s sailing, he forgets about the math test.

He just flunked. So that’s the principle we wanted to apply. And, uh, we were really, really very inspired and moved by that first experience. And then from there, you know, we just. We just kept it going and, uh, and since then we’ve taken 4, 000 veterans sailing and, uh, and have organized many events and we have some new programs coming up this year that we’re very excited, uh, [00:06:00] very excited about.


Scott DeLuzio: That’s amazing. You know, so taking 4, 000, uh, veterans out on the water like that is, is. It’s pretty incredible. Um, a couple of things that you, you mentioned, uh, when you were talking about this, especially, uh, your, your family background and thank you for sharing that, um, but the, the idea that, um, uh, you know, at least we’re, we’re not speaking German, you know, in, in France, uh, you know, that’s kind of the mindset, um, I, I had a guest on the podcast not too long ago.

Uh, he. organizes trips to take veterans back to Europe, uh, World War II veterans back to the battlefields that they, they fought on, whether it’s Normandy or, you know, other places throughout Europe. And, uh, a lot of times he’s, he said, a lot of times the civilians who live in that area, around that, that area, um, they come and greet those.

Soldiers, those, you know, 90 year old guys who are coming back there, uh, sometimes for [00:07:00] the first time since, uh, since the war. Um, and they’re greeting them as if they’re heroes, you know, they’re, they’re coming with flowers and gifts and all these kinds of things. Um, and so, you know, I, I’m saying this to point out that it’s not an isolated event that, you know, maybe your, your family is the one family who is, is, uh, you know, appreciative of this.

It’s, it’s a widespread thing. It’s, it’s not a, a one off occurrence, um, which, which I think is, is pretty incredible, especially this long after the war, um, that, that this is a generational thing where it, it, You know, I can see it if, um, you know, it was just the one person who was impacted and it didn’t get passed on generation to generation, it would end up being forgotten by now.

Um, but, but that’s not the case. It’s not forgotten at all. And for those older veterans, um, you know, those sacrifices were not, uh, forgotten. And that’s, that’s pretty incredible. Um, but also another thing [00:08:00] that you were talking about was, um, you know, how you, you Kind of forget things like, like the math tests that you just flunked or, or things like that.

Right. Um, you know, when you’re out on the water, I, and I’m not a sailor, so I, I don’t, I, I probably don’t have as great as, uh, of an appreciation of this as you do, or some of the folks who went out on these, these outings, but when you’re out on the water, I got to imagine you’re devoting your full attention to, I got to imagine your conditions that are going around, uh, you know, happening, um, uh, around you. And you don’t really have space in your brain to be worried about things like that math test or, you know, the, the fight that you had with your parents or your spouse or somebody like that, you know, you don’t have time to think about that because there’s so many other things that are consuming your mind.

And I got to mention that probably contributes a little bit to the kind of healing aspect of sailing. Is that, isn’t that [00:09:00] kind of like what, what you’re dealing with?

Sean Duclay: think you’re, I think you’re spot on, Scott. Yeah. So there’s, obviously we know the benefits of being in nature. There’s already just being in nature, fresh air, sunlight, uh, fresh air. It does a lot of good for you. And then you add to that that we’re, um, we’re on a boat, which we can liken to like a large machine that we all have to operate together.

Because unlike on a powerboat, you know, powerboats are great, but you really only need one person to operate them. You have the key, you turn the key, and then the person controls direction and speed, uh, all at the same, from the same post. Whereas on a sailboat, you have a driver, uh, someone who, a helmsman, someone to manipulate the mainsail, someone to manipulate the jib, and depending on how intense you are, there’s more sails, there’s more jobs.

So you know, you need to be like a cohesive team. And uh, so, so you need to be communicating well, you need to be super aware of your [00:10:00] surroundings. Because things can go bad fast on a boat. They don’t often go bad, but when they go bad, they can go bad pretty quickly. Um, and there’s something about, you know, it’s a relatively simple thing.

Boat, sailboats are thousands of years old, conceptually. Um, and, uh, and so tweaks have been made over the years, but it’s the same idea. There’s the wind, and you have to harness that wind to get from A to B. And if you’re not working together as a team, Uh, and you’re not aware of the dangers around you, you know, it could be rocks, it could be other boats, uh, the, the conditions of the sea, then you’re putting your, your crew at risk.

Um, and so, so it’s definitely a good practice in mindfulness. You’re out on the water, it’s team building, there’s camaraderie there, so I like to think I’m a civilian, I’ve never been in the service, but I like to think what we do is we kind of recreate some conditions, uh, like what, like a squad type of [00:11:00] dynamic, and, uh, and you build that camaraderie, you know, and, uh, and, and I’ve been told by some veterans that that’s exactly what it does, is that it builds that, that sense of team and belonging and purpose.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s, as you were describing how the team works together, my first thought was, gosh, that sounds a whole lot like a squad who has to work together to go, you know, assault an objective or, you know, do whatever, uh, to, uh, to work together, you have to kind of get to know each other, trust each other.

Um, and, yeah. You almost anticipate each other’s movements and I, I have to imagine all of these things have to work together in order to get the, uh, the boat going from A to B safely and, and navigate, uh, you know, around different obstacles that might be in the way, other boats, like you said, or rocks or, or things along those lines, um, yeah.

You have to work together, right? And so that’s, um, [00:12:00] that’s great that that recreates that experience. Right? Um, so,

Sean Duclay: And another,

Scott DeLuzio: oh, go ahead.

Sean Duclay: uh, sorry, another thing that we like very much about it is that. It’s, there’s no, uh, like you can’t, it’s not like a video game where you can press the menu button and quit. You know, you can’t, you have to go, you have to go through with it because, uh, you didn’t, you can’t swim back, you know?


Scott DeLuzio: right.

Sean Duclay: So sometimes, uh, we like to, I like to call it like a forced group therapy session. ask it that way, but you know, once, uh, some, let’s say we have some veterans on board and they’re all, uh, suffering some similar, uh, issues. Then, uh, you know, there’s something that kind of happens. It’s sort of, it, it almost, uh, for me, it almost seems like magic the way.

Putting them together on a boat, having fun, and it’s not always fun, especially if you’re new, it can be scary. Um, you know, I don’t know if you’ve heard of, uh, Type 1 or Type 2 fun, I think it’s called. Uh, Type 1 is having fun in the moment, Type 2 is having fun after you’ve [00:13:00] completed the thing. So I think for a lot of people it’s fun looking back, because, again, especially if you’re new, boats lean, you know, they can lean like 45 degrees, we’re not quite used to that, uh, as terrestrial beings.

And, uh, there’s wind, there’s noises, there’s a lot of tension on ropes and sails and, uh, the water rushing against the boat. You know, sometimes the side of the boat, the rail will go under the water because we’re leaning so much. It’s, uh, it’s a really intense feeling and we almost never exceed 15 miles an hour.

So it’s, uh, it’s a lot of fun.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Yeah. You were talking about the, the, um, Different types of fun. And, uh, uh, I had an experience in, when I was in the army where, uh, it was definitely the type two, uh, where looking back on it, we can laugh at it. Uh, kind of thing, but it was where basically all of our trucks got stuck in the mud and we spent almost an entire day getting them out, [00:14:00] like full, almost a full 24 hours, I think it was.

18 to 20 hours, something like that, that we spent, uh, trying to get them unstuck out of the mud, which definitely was not fun at the time. But looking back at it, the team building, the camaraderie, you know, we all came closer together by, by doing that. And looking back at it now, obviously years later, I can laugh at it.

Um, but at the time I wasn’t laughing, nobody was laughing. Um, except for just how absurd the situation was. So, so I get, I get what. Uh, types of things that you’re talking about, like how, uh, you know, in that moment, it’s, it’s maybe not the most fun, but you can look back at it and, and, uh, definitely, um, you know, realize that this was a great experience,

Sean Duclay: Yes. Yeah. Exactly.

Scott DeLuzio: So, uh, you know, obviously, you know, veterans are kind of like the primary, uh, audience, uh, that, that you’re, uh, working with here, um, based on what you’re, you’re talking about, um, what kind of specific programs and events do you, uh, organize to, [00:15:00] um, uh, contribute to this, uh, the healing aspect, uh, that, that sailing has to offer?

Sean Duclay: Yeah. So, uh, we, we, it kind of falls into two categories. There’s like what, what I, what we call the sailing and then the events. And, uh, so I’ll start with the events. We have six a year. Um, our biggest one and our oldest one is at the Center Port Yacht Club and 2024 will be our eighth year doing this with the Center Port Yacht Club.

Uh, the biggest year that we had with them, we had 52 boats participating. And two helicopters, one from the Suffolk County Police Department, and one is a, is a, is a private, uh, owner of a helicopter, and, uh, is really cool because He has his son take pictures of, of our fleet as we sail out and he, he will fly below the height of the masts and weave in between the boats.

So it’s very, it’s a spectacle for sure. Um, so, and our [00:16:00] events are essentially about bringing the community together. There’s a few parts to our events. There’s bringing the community together, exposing veterans to the world of sailing. Exposing the sailing world and the civilian world to the, uh, the realities and the difficulties in the veterans community, because it’s one thing to say, uh, 22 a day, you know, for a lot of people, that’s, that’s, uh, that’s a hard thing to understand beyond, uh, beyond that.

And, uh, and so what we do is we, each event is in honor of one of our mates. Uh, and our mates, uh, are represented by over 219 name tags and our mates are, are veterans who have died by suicide. So we’ll, uh, fly families of our mates over, uh, from sometimes, uh, other states in the US and, uh, we’ll give them an opportunity to speak in front of dozens or hundreds of people about their loved [00:17:00] one and, uh, and it’s really, uh, about them.

The idea isn’t to make everyone depressed. The idea is to show that this is a reality for at least 22 families every day. They’re losing a loved one. And that, uh, you know, I think in that moment of vulnerability, there are veterans in the crowd who need to hear that and who are empowered by those stories to go and say, Hey, listen, I actually, I do need help.

Um, and we know that because it works and that’s what happens. Um, and so after the ceremony and those speeches, we head to the boats, we have a blast on the water, we sail for a few hours. And then we come back and we have a barbecue and a, like a social period, and those are our events. So we take, uh, you know, last year, almost 100 boat owners participated, uh, in our events.

And, um, and it’s really, it’s a lot of fun. What we try to do is, since [00:18:00] now we’ve been working with a lot of these yacht clubs for years, we try to pair, uh, personalities. Between the veterans and the boat owners, and I’m usually on the phone with each and every one of the veterans who will be participating in our events, so I ask them some questions on the phone.

And I try to match personalities, sometimes both owners are veterans too. And there’s a really touching story where, uh, there’s a, there’s a skipper who, uh, who was at the Centreport Yacht Club. He’s a double Purple Heart recipient. He was a Vietnam veteran. The way he describes his service is, I find it funny.

He says that for, uh, 280 some days, he was playing hide and seek, and he was bad at hiding twice, so, uh, so, but he never, beyond that, he would never talk about his experience, not to us, not to a significant other, he never shared it. Until, uh, one of our events where we had a, uh, Marine Corps captain who’s [00:19:00] deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, combat veteran, we, we put them on the same boat and, uh, the skipper recognizing some of the, uh, the difficulties that the younger veteran was having, the Marine Corps captain, he, uh, he actually opened up and for the first time since, uh, his combat experience in Vietnam, he was actually talking about it.

And, uh, and that was such a powerful moment and I felt, you know, touched and honored to be a facilitator of that moment. You know, it happened by itself, but we helped create the conditions for that sort of healing. And for the both of them, it was, uh, it was a really profound moment. So that’s the importance of our events.

And then if we, if we do our job well and we connect the right personalities. They go on to become friends and sail regularly. So those are our events. Um, and then we have the regular kind of sailing program. And, uh, that happens in Oyster Bay, [00:20:00] New York, for the most part. But, uh, basically, volunteer skippers that want to take veteran sailing, I’ll go sailing with them and veterans.

And that happens. And then we also do, uh, we have some partners called the Sterling Harbor Foundation and they take care of classic boats. Some of them are over a hundred years old and they do classic racing Thursday nights and Friday nights in Worcester Bay. So we go racing on, on boats that were built in the 1960s. against boats. Some of them were built by the New York Yacht Club in 1908. So it’s really cool. They’re absolutely beautiful boats. I liken them to floating furniture. You know, I know on one of the boats that’s over a hundred years old and built in, uh, in, uh, I think it was Scotland that they have a mahogany table on there.

And that mahogany is from an extinct tree. So you can’t get any new material like that.

Scott DeLuzio: Oh, wow.

Sean Duclay: And I mean, that’s really [00:21:00] special to take a veteran who Feels alone, feels like they’re suffering in isolation, expose them to these one of a kind boats and then let them drive, you know, you know, it’s, it shows trust, it shows, uh, that we care.

And, uh, and that’s every Thursday night and Friday night from, uh, spring until Thanksgiving every week. And we’re, we’re, we’re partnering with our local VA here in Northport to, uh, to try and bring some of their, they have a program with 350 veterans. Uh, their adaptive sports health and wellness program that we’ll be attempting to take out as many as we can on, uh, between one and six boats every Thursday and Friday for this year.

Scott DeLuzio: that’s amazing. Um, I think, um, I think getting that many people for, you know, that duration throughout the years is pretty incredible. Um, uh, that, that you get people to go out that, that frequently. Um, I want to go [00:22:00] back, uh, just back up just a bit with, uh, something that you were talking about, um, and how at some, some of these events, you are inviting the families of, um, Some of the veterans who took their lives to suicide.

And I think there’s a mindset that a lot of people get, uh, where they kind of think that this just happens to other people. It’s not going to happen to me or to anybody that I know. Um, and it’s that. That unknown person that, like, I know it happens. It exists, you know, just like I, I know war happens. It’s a thing that I have read about in history class.

If I haven’t experienced it myself, that’s, that is something that happens to other people. Um, just like with the, this veteran suicide, uh, issue where if you don’t know somebody who has taken their life to life, to suicide, then. That is [00:23:00] just something that happens to other people. So you bring someone in who it did happen to, uh, you know, one of their family members did, uh, take their own life and, you know, it, it exposes it as a, a thing that it’s no longer other people.

This is a real person. You could see the grief, you could see the pain. You could see that in that person and you can now identify it with it a little bit more. Um, and. Like you said, it’s not to make people depressed, but it’s just to raise awareness of it and be like, Hey, remember this person. Remember the, the grief that they have on their face.

And, uh, you know, the, the loss that they’ve experienced, remember this. And so next time you hear about other veterans who are, uh, struggling or suffering with, with whatever, you’re a little more sensitive to it and you are going to want to help out. In some way, um, you know, what, whatever, even, even the, the littlest, uh, [00:24:00] gesture could be, you know, life saving, um, and, and that may just be the thing that, that pushes you to, to do that type of thing.

Um, and then you’re, you’re also talking, uh, this is just kind of a side note kind of joke, but, uh, you’re talking about the, uh, Purple Heart recipient or the double, uh, Purple Heart recipient, um, and sometimes we, we joke, uh, About the Purple Heart, um, similar to the way he was joking about it. Um, we, we call it the, uh, enemy marksman, enemy marksmanship badge.

Um, so, so it’s, uh, you know, kind of, kind of the same, uh, you know, dark sense of humor that, that I think a lot of veterans can relate to. Um, you know, whether they have a Purple Heart or not, it’s still kind of, kind of. There’s a little funny way to look at it. So, um, so you talked about a little bit about where these programs and the events take place, um, for folks who are not in your general area, are [00:25:00] there ways that they can participate or, you know, are there plans on having these events or programs in other areas, other parts of the country, or, um, are there other organizations that do something similar that you know of that, um, you know, are on, on.

You know, the other side of the country, uh, for example.

Sean Duclay: there. So, um, uh, last year, so Sailhead has been around for 10 years. It has always been though, uh, a passion project and, and secondary to, for example, school or work. But, uh, starting last year, it is now my work. So, uh, I’m very pleased with that. That’s giving me the opportunity to think about how I can, uh, expand, uh, sailing opportunities geographically to, uh, to more populations of veterans.

Uh, in Suffolk County, which is the county I live in on Long Island, there are, um, almost 80, 000 veterans. So, uh, there’s, there’s a lot of work to be done right here. [00:26:00] But, uh, of course, uh, so as far as our reach. Uh, we have had events in Tacoma, Washington to honor, uh, U. S. Army Rangers who took their lives while stationed over there, Matt Wilson and Ryan Day.

Um, uh, we haven’t had an event there since the pandemic, though, unfortunately. And then, uh, around Long Island, we’ve got a lot of events. Also in, uh, starting last year in Buffalo, New York, New York State’s second largest city, we had an event. And we’ll do it again this year. Uh, we’re looking to go to Connecticut, potentially North Carolina, Florida, and, uh, Texas.

No promises on that. We’ll see. But, uh, so, uh, I know that there’s a Warrior Sailing Foundation, uh, they do, uh, sailing stuff like we do. They do sailing programs to teach veterans sailing. They do good work. Otherwise, um, I, I think when we started Sail Ahead, we were frantically looking for [00:27:00] other organizations.

And, uh, we found that there were none. So, that’s started to change, there’s a few now, there’s Warrior Sailing, there’s also Valhalla Sailing, which is, uh, I think they’re in Annapolis, in the Chesapeake Bay area, uh, and those are the only ones that I know, besides us.

Scott DeLuzio: So, so I think it’s, it’s important, uh, the, the work that you’re doing. Um, and it’s awesome that you’re able to take it full time now, uh, and, and devote yourself to this work, um, because. There are so few organizations out there who are doing this type of work and, um, like, like you said, there’s, there’s plenty of veterans in your area, uh, that, that, uh, could utilize this, um, expanding it out to, you know, some other areas, obviously you’re opening it up to even more veterans, but, um, you know, it’s, I, I think, uh, Incredible thing that you are doing, um, and providing access [00:28:00] to veterans who otherwise may not have access to go sailing.

Cause you know, let’s face it. It’s not, uh, it’s not an inexpensive, uh, you know, hobby to get into. Right.

Sean Duclay: And that’s, uh, yeah, that’s a very good point. You know, I live on Long Island, I live, uh, 40 minute train ride away from, uh, New York City. So, and then we have the tri state area, you know, New Jersey and Connecticut, so, and the water is all around us, but like you said, it’s in some cases prohibitively expensive access to the water.

So we offer our services to veterans free of charge to them, of course, but that means we need to work a little harder behind the scenes to find ways to pay for it all. But, uh, yeah, I mean, what’s incredible to me is we live on an island. I live on an island. It doesn’t feel like an island, maybe, when you’re on it, but it’s still an island.

And there are so few people, or I’ll put it this way, there are so many veterans every year that are going sailing for the first time [00:29:00] through our efforts. And that’s, that’s something crazy to me to think about that someone who’s 40 years old is for the first time going sailing because, because of our efforts.

And they’re having a great time and you know, they’re getting something out of it that’s really hopefully lasting and, uh, and to a point you were saying before, uh, the work we do is, it is really important and, um, so that number that I mentioned earlier, 4, 000, we’ve taken 4, 000 veterans sailing. Um, I’m happy to share that because, uh, because I’m proud of it.

But, there’s another number that I don’t know that is really what I’m more proud of, and that’s the number of lives that we’ve saved. And I’ll never, I don’t think I’ll ever really know that number, but I do know that there are a few people whose lives we’ve saved because, uh, veterans have come up to me or my family members at events or after a sale, and they’ve [00:30:00] said very plainly that, um, like, this is an event I look forward to every year, and it’s thanks to you guys that I didn’t take my life for granted.

Two years ago or what have you. Um, one story, uh, a buddy of ours, his name is Ron. He won’t mind that I use his name or that I share his story. Uh, he was a U. S. Army Ranger. His best friend, Matt Wilson, is, uh, is who we honored, uh, in our event in Tacoma, Washington. He took his life. And, uh, Ron had become, has become a source of strength and very supportive to the veterans community, specifically the ranger community.

Um, but he’s not without his own problems. Uh, you know, he doesn’t, that’s not to say he doesn’t face his own demons. So last year we, uh, we had invited him to an event, the Centerport Yaakub event. Uh, months in advance. And, uh, what the plan was that he would stay like he usually [00:31:00] does at our house for maybe a week or a weekend, and we would have a good time, do the event.

He would be a guest speaker. A couple weeks leading up to the event, he stopped responding to texts and phone calls. Um, he wasn’t active on social media and he’s usually someone who’s very active on social media. And, uh, and so I, I activated the cavalry, the network of people who would bombard him with, uh, with voice memos saying very loving and supportive things.

And, um, and then we, we bought him a plane ticket the morning of the event, even though he’s supposed to, he knew about it months in advance, um, and, uh, he, he came, we had a great day, uh, a few days later, he, he pulled me aside and he told me that he was, he was engaging in the exact pattern of behavior that his friend Matt Wilson was just prior to taking his life.

And he said that, [00:32:00] Sean, you know, thanks to you and your family, you can say, you can count me as one of those veterans that you’ve saved. When you say, this is what you’re trying to do, you can count me as a success story. So, that’s the kind of work that, it doesn’t matter if you’re paid or not, you know, that’s the kind of work that, uh, that, That is gratifying that you want to do.

Um, and, uh, and, you know, so that’s the whole reason why we do it. Even if it’s one person a year, it doesn’t really matter. It’s about, and then especially when you think about the fact that, uh, we live in a democracy. So people go to war in our names. Uh, it’s also our responsibility to make sure that they’re, they have a soft landing coming back, you know, and that the transition is smooth.

And, uh, or at least, you know, that, that there’s a support system around them that really cares for them. And for a lot of people, we, we partner with a homeless shelter, uh, for veterans. So we have a lot of homeless veterans [00:33:00] participating in our events. Um, and this particular, a community of veterans, definitely, uh, you know, like you, you invite, imagine you’re homeless and we invite you to a yacht club.

Uh, some of the boats are custom built over a million dollars. And, uh, you’re told the day is all about you. You, you receive special treatment, not good food, hamburgers, all this stuff. Um, how can that not touch you? You know, how can you not feel better? So, uh, so once, uh, someone told me from one, from one of these, uh, shelters that the best thing about that day was that he was treated like a human being for the first time in a long time.

And, uh, and you know that e even if we only see him once, maybe that’s all he needed to. You know, for the next year or six months of his life to, to carry on with a good attitude, you know, with a good mindset until the next thing comes to help him, you know, put more wind under [00:34:00] his, uh, under his wings to carry him on.


Scott DeLuzio: You missed the perfect opportunity there for the, the, the perfect, uh, sailing, uh,

Sean Duclay: want to be too on the nose. Yeah. As

Scott DeLuzio: put the wind in his sail, not, not under his wing. Right. But, uh, um, but yeah, you’re absolutely right. I mean, those stories that you’re sharing, I think are just incredible examples of just how impactful something like this can be.

I mean, someone may not think, oh, you know, how. How important could sailing be, you know, for, for people, but, but clearly it’s, you, you have that, that community, the, the camaraderie that, that exists, you are able to, uh, you know, mobilize that, that group of people to, uh, flood this, this person with all these messages and make sure that he’s doing okay and, and that, You know, he ended up being this person, uh, that, um, like you said, even if it’s only [00:35:00] one person, um, it’s still one person, right?

And, and you saved that person from, uh, becoming another statistic and that is incredibly important. And, and while, you know, we might be able to say. Only one person, um, that person may mean, uh, uh, may mean the world to somebody else, you know, uh, to, to other people, it may just be another person, but to their family, to their friends, that person means a lot.

And by. By saving that person, by keeping that person around, um, they don’t have to go through the grief of that loss or the anger and the pain and the suffering and all that torment. So it’s not just one person. When, when you talk about saving a person’s life, it’s not just that one person that you’re saving.

You’re saving all the people who are associated with that person, uh, who are going to feel the impact when they’re gone. And [00:36:00] You’re, you’re saving that, uh, that group of people from having to experience that. You know, unnecessarily early, you know, I know we all, uh, have our expiration date. Right. But, um, you don’t, you don’t want to accelerate that process.

Um, you, you want to, you want to have that person, you know, live a nice long life and, and, uh, not. Not be suffering. And when you have something like this to look forward to, especially when you’re talking about those homeless veterans who these types of events, uh, you know, make them feel human, um, again, uh, feel like at least they’re treated like one.

Right. And when, when you have those, those types of events, uh, it, it reminds them of a, what it is. To, to feel like, to, to be treated, uh, like a human. Um, but, but also possibly gives them something to shoot for, you know, maybe, maybe they didn’t really have anything going on in their life, nothing [00:37:00] really to aspire to, or nothing, uh, that they really, uh, Really got them energized or fired up.

But, but when you, you plant that feel good seed, if you will, in, in them and, you know, it kind of makes them feel good. Maybe, maybe that’s the thing that they’re now going to aspire to, to get themselves cleaned up and, and get themselves off the streets and, and work towards this goal of maybe working with, uh, the, the sailboats or, or.

Doing something along those lines, um, you know, maybe, maybe with the, the Yacht Club or, or other things, um, just to get them going, get them on their feet, it might just provide that little bit of motivation for them too, right?

Sean Duclay: a matter of fact, there are numerous people, numerous veterans that, uh, that only come to one event a year and they bring their families, of course. And like you’re, like you’re saying, we know that, um, like if one person, if a veteran is suffering, the whole family is affected. [00:38:00] Everyone around them is affected by that. so we, we encourage them to bring their families and then, you know, share the positivity of the day with their families. And I think it’s more of a complete positive experience too when, when you, when you’re there with your family. But, but so there are people that participate in only one event a year. That will tell me that once the day after the event arrives, they’re already looking forward to it again next week. So,

Scott DeLuzio: It’s like Christmas.

Sean Duclay: yeah, exactly. So it’s all they need, you know, not, not everyone needs the same thing. Um, and for some people it’s just one day of, of, of positivity and of sailing and, uh, and that carries them on.

And then for the rest of the year, they’re looking forward to the next time, you know. And, uh, it’s really, it’s really, it’s, yeah, it’s more, it’s more than sailing. It’s about community. It’s about showing that we care. And, uh, Scott, I just want to introduce you to our mates. [00:39:00] are our mates.

Scott DeLuzio: Oh, wow.

Sean Duclay: They’re, as I was saying before, there are over 219 of our mates.

And they’re represented by these name tags. So if, you know, 22 a day means that every 10 days, there’s 220 veterans dying by suicide. But also like you were saying, if there are 22 veterans that are going to take their life today, that’s, let’s say there are 10 people that love them, each of them, that’s 220 people per day.

We’re now without a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, you know, and have to go through life, uh, that way. So I think it’s really important what we do by inviting the families of our mates to speak because what we try to do is throw a monkey wrench in the cycle just simply to disrupt it. So I think adding, you know, for, for a veteran who might [00:40:00] be, uh, going through a really rough patch.

Listening to a mother or a father talk about their son or daughter, uh, and, uh, and cry in front of hundreds of people and watch people in the crowd become emotional, too. We like to think, and we know it works for some people, that that, that strikes a chord, and, uh, you know, just one more reason not to,

Scott DeLuzio: Absolutely. You know, and just seeing, seeing all those name tags, um, It kind of makes it more tangible too. Um, you know, like, uh, you mentioned that, that number, uh, before and, and for the, the audio listeners, uh, um, basically what, what we’re looking at here, um, Is, uh, basically like the, the name tags that go on a service member’s uniform, um, with the name of, uh, of these, these individuals, um, you know, your, your mates, uh, as, [00:41:00] as you call them, um, who have taken their lives.

And when you put them all together. And that bunch, I’m looking at it and I’m like, that’s, that’s a lot of name tags. Um, you know, you, you said the number before and I’m aware of what that number is and how big of a number that is, especially when you’re talking about people, but when you look at something that has all these names, these individual names makes it so much more real for some reason is when you held that up, I was like, that’s, that’s a lot of people.

Um, and, and, and that’s, like you said, that’s only roughly 10 days worth of people, uh, according to that 22 number. Um, you know, probably even fewer than 10 days if we use an actual number, but, um, you know, that, that number’s hard to come by. Um, you know, so That’s that’s a lot of people.

Sean Duclay: yes, yeah, and, uh, and it serves a few purposes. One is that, first and foremost, they’re not forgotten, you know? That’s, I think, the [00:42:00] worst thing that can happen, is that they’re forgotten. So, wherever we go, we take our mates with us. And, uh, we talk about them all the time. We, you know, I’m happy to share some of the stories that I do know about our mates.

I’m always happy to share those. If anyone listening is interested in reading about our mates, you can go to our website, sillahead. org, we have bios of a lot of our mates and you can read about them. Um, but, uh, another, another reason is just like you said, Scott, is that. You know, for civilians, uh, it’s easy to get locked into thinking about the numbers of things and forgetting about the human side of things.

So, uh, seeing this and realizing, wow, that’s 10 days. And yeah, again, that’s, that’s the low number. That’s the minimum possible number. Um, that’s, uh, it’s kind of, it’s reality’s confronting them in a, in a serious way. Um, and then for veterans, when they look at the name [00:43:00] tags, sometimes they’ll find names of people they know, or their own name, and they, they’ll think, damn, that could have been me four years ago, that one time when I, you know, that could have been me.

And, um, and so, yeah, it’s a really powerful message and, and we treat them with the utmost respect. And, uh, and I was going to say something else, but I forgot. And so,

Scott DeLuzio: That’s okay. Well, um, you did mention, uh, so this is, you know, what you’re doing full time. It’s obviously very expensive to, uh, you know, maintain the, the, the, the boats and the, uh, uh, the getting all the, the um, Events together, all these things require money, require resources, require probably volunteers and things like that.

Um, so for folks who might be interested in, in helping out, um, whether they’re in your local area or not, um, or maybe even just outside your local area, like, uh, you know, in, [00:44:00] uh, you know, just off of Long Island, like, uh, New Jersey or Connecticut or, you know, areas like that, um, who might be interested in, in either participating or helping you expand out there or, um, in any way kind of helping out, um, where can they, uh, first off, what is it that, uh, you’re looking for as far as, uh, help is concerned from, from volunteers and, and where can they go to, uh, reach out and, and Volunteer their services.

Sean Duclay: yeah. So, uh, one thing I’ve learned over the years, Scott, is that people are willing to help. Uh, they just don’t know how. So if you give them a good, a good, uh, formula for how to help, they’ll do it. So, uh, that’s how we have. Almost a hundred skippers, for example, last year that have gone sailing with us to take hundreds of veterans sailing.

So if you’re a skipper and you want to go sailing, uh, you can go to our website, uh, email or reach out to us, info at sailahead. org. That’s a great [00:45:00] way to help if you’re a sailor or a boat owner. Um, otherwise, uh, we, we’re a 501c3, so we accept donations. What I would like to do is grow the team a little bit, hire, hire a few more people.

And this way we can, um, we can, uh, continue to create sailing opportunities with sailing organizations and local veterans communities, uh, throughout the East coast and eventually the West coast. Um, and then, uh, in, on lakes, uh, inland on lakes. But, um, so those are the, those are the main two ways. And then obviously, uh, talking about us to anyone, um, and spreading the word is, is It’s really important because, uh, you never know if who you’re talking to is either going to want to come sailing with us and it’ll help them or they’ll know.

Somebody who can help us, you know, so, so the more chatter, the better. Um, yeah, but all that information can be found on our website, uh, sailahead. org.[00:46:00]

Scott DeLuzio: Great. And I’ll have that link in the show notes for the listeners who either are interested in participating as a veteran who is looking to, uh, you know, join in on some of these, these, uh, you know, events that you, you might be hosting or, um, or as someone who has a service or, uh, Uh, uh, you know, even money to donate, um, you know, that they, they want to help out in one way or another, um, check out that link in the, the show notes, um, go to saleahead.

org and, um, you know, find out, uh, more information and, and you can reach out and contact, uh, you know, Sean and the team there, um, to, to get in touch and find out, um, you know, what it is that, that you might be able to do, uh, to, to help out with some of these, these veterans. So, um, yeah. Yeah, that’s really amazing stuff that you guys are doing.

Um, and again, uh, you mentioned a couple other organizations, but really there’s not a ton of [00:47:00] organizations doing this type of stuff. Um, and Um, as I’m, the more I’m talking to you, the more I’m learning about what it is that you do, the more parallels I’m seeing between sailing and being in the military.

And a lot of times when guys get out of the military, ladies too, uh, but when, when people get out of the military, they miss that camaraderie. They miss that, that teamwork, uh, that sense of purpose and belonging and, uh, being part of a cohesive unit, uh, that is working together towards a common objective, a common goal.

And that’s like one of the biggest things that people are missing out on, um, when they get out. And. Gosh, what better way to do it than, um, doing something that’s maybe a little bit dangerous. It’s not, you know, you’re not dodging bullets, uh, doing that, but there, there’s some risks involved. Right. And so it kind of gives you [00:48:00] a little bit of that adrenaline rush and, you know, kind of gets you back into, um, I got to look out for the person on my left and person on my right.

And if I’m not doing my job, then that’s going to affect other people. It gets you back into that. And, uh, I got to imagine that that’s got to be somewhat therapeutic and, um, really, I think a great way to do it. And maybe there’s, there’s other ways to do it too, but this is to me, I think, uh, just such an incredible and powerful way to do it, um, that I’m.

I’m really encouraging folks, if you’re listening to this, uh, you know, go check it out, go find out more, uh, information on their website. Like we just mentioned, saleahead. org, um, and, and check that out. Um, definitely I think is, is, uh, you know, a great thing that you guys are doing. Yeah.

Sean Duclay: I want to, just in case a lot of your listeners have never gone sailing before, that, that it can manifest itself in a number of different ways. So for you could always have that sunset sail in the [00:49:00] bay drinking a piña coladas and it’s nice and relaxed and you love it. But there’s, um, racing is huge in sailing, right?

And so you have inshore races, which can last a few hours and are very intense. And, uh, people, you know, uh, there are collisions and things like that. So the, that, that can be fun. Uh, you know, usually there are not collisions, but it happens. Um, and there’s also offshore races. And so, uh, to your point about like, uh, like feeling a bond, you know, if you’re.

For let’s say we’re doing like a three day race. We don’t stop. So you take what you have watches. Someone’s got to cook It’s three days it’s not comfortable if it rains you get wet if You know sunny you get sunburned And there was one race we were doing on a 55 foot boat the Martha’s Vineyard race It took us three or four days, I think And, uh, there was a [00:50:00] tropical storm coming, and, uh, as we were going towards Martha’s Vineyard, the storm was coming towards us, and we rounded the vineyard just as the peripheral of the storm was catching up to us.

And at that point we weren’t racing, uh, with the other boats anymore, we were racing with the storm.

Scott DeLuzio: I can imagine.

Sean Duclay: We had incentive to go, to squeeze every, uh, every mile an hour we could.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Yeah. Uh, that.

Sean Duclay: These are very intense moments, you know, and, and, uh, yes, it, it, it is safer, but things can go wrong, uh, and even, even a non life threatening, um, uh, mini disaster where if a line snaps and the sail falls.

Uh, it’s, uh, you definitely get the adrenaline. You need, you need to figure out how to solve problems creatively as a team on the spot. So it requires communication. It requires all those things that make you part of a team and make you feel like you’re. [00:51:00] Working towards something bigger than yourself. And I think you, you’re totally right, uh, Scott.

That this is something that, that is lacking, uh, for people after they leave the military. Especially because, uh, people from all over the country go into the military. So the people you’re with in the military, when you come back stateside, I might come to New York, uh, but they might be in Georgia or wherever.

And then, you know, you completely lose that sense of, of team.

Scott DeLuzio: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. Well, thank you again for, for all the stuff that you’re doing. Before we wrap up this show, uh, I, I like to add a little bit of humor to the end of, of the episodes, um, just to, uh, lighten the mood a little bit. Sometimes some of the topics we talk about are a little bit dark, a little bit heavy Uh, humor can be, or laughter can be the best medicine, and, uh, you know, putting a smile on someone’s face is maybe the only smile that they, they have all day, and so, um, so I, I, I [00:52:00] wanna just tell a quick joke here, um, just to, uh, hopefully make someone laugh, if not, their eyes will roll because it’s that bad of a joke, and that’s okay, um, I’m perfectly fine with making a fool out of myself, um, but this joke, um, Not sailing exactly, but somewhat boat related, um, I wanted to try to get it.

In the ballpark, at least. It’s probably not exactly, uh, sailing related. It’s definitely not sailing related, but, um, we’ll, we’ll, uh, we’ll take it from here. So, um, so there’s a magician on a cruise ship and he’s in the Caribbean, uh, doing a show and, uh, he he’s on the ship. Week after week. And so there’s a different audience every week.

So he was able to do the same tricks over and over again because same audience was never watching his, uh, his act. Um, a problem was the captain’s parrot, uh, saw the shows each week and started to understand how the magician did all the tricks. So once he understood what the [00:53:00] magician was doing, he started shouting out in the middle of the show things like, Oh, look, it’s not the same hat.

Or he’s hiding the flowers under the table or, uh. You know, hey, why are all the cards an ace of spades or, you know, something like that. So the parrot was being a wise ass and spouting off all the, uh, the tricks that the magician was trying to do. Um, but he got mad, but he couldn’t do anything about it because it was a captain’s parrot.

Right. So, uh, one day the ship had an accident and it sank. The magician found himself floating on a piece of wood in the middle of the ocean with a parrot, uh, sitting there on the piece of wood with him. And they just stared at each other, hating each other, uh, didn’t say a single thing to each other.

This went on day after day after day. Uh, and they’re, they’re still floating around in the ocean this week. And after a week went by, the parrot said. Alright, I give up. What did you do with the ship?

Sean Duclay: That was good. Yeah, I like that. Not exactly sailing related, but you know,[00:54:00]

Scott DeLuzio: No, no, no, but it’s, uh, water, boat, I don’t know, it’s, it’s in the ballpark.

Sean Duclay: I like that. That’s good. Made me laugh.

Scott DeLuzio: Good, good. hopefully it made, made a few other people laugh too, um, but, um Anyways, so thank you again for sharing the impact of Sail Ahead, the things that you guys do, um, how it’s impacted individuals, um, and I think that’s an important thing to realize, uh, that, you know, you take out all these people, um, but there’s individual stories that go along with every single one of them, um, and, you know, a lot of positivity that goes there and a lot of changes that it brings to the lives of veterans and Their families and their loved ones.

So, so thank you for the work that you do. And thank you for joining us and sharing it with us today.

Sean Duclay: Scott, for having me. I think it’s really important to talk about this and especially if this reaches someone who lives around here and didn’t know that they could go sailing, you know, thank you [00:55:00] very much for the role you are playing in that. We really appreciate it.

Scott DeLuzio: Absolutely.

Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to support the show, please check out Scott’s book, Surviving Son on Amazon. All of the sales from that book go directly back into this podcast and work to help veterans in need. You can also follow the Drive On Podcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

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