Voyaging With Veterans, Veterans For Veterans

How DC-Based Sea Adventure Crusade is Using Boats to Aid in Recovery

By Carey Richardson
NORTHERN VA, Va. - Sept. 13, 2017 - PRLog -- Science tells us we need water to live, but beyond its ability to sustain the body it can nourish the mind and fuel the soul. In the words of Lao Tzu, "Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard."

Captain Joseph Conti, Lt Col, USAF (Retired), president and founder of Sea Adventure Crusade (SAC), wasn't familiar with this quote when he formed the non-profit organization that uses sea cruises to help facilitate recovery for injured vets. But he was aware of the healing power of water, and he reasoned that if coasting over the waves could give him both relief from and strength to overcome his burdens, it could help others too.

Conti first conceived of the idea for SAC a few years before his own retirement in 2015. "I felt a calling to serve, and I didn't want to walk away from that just because I was no longer on active duty," he said. "I had always loved boating; it let me leave my stresses at the dock and just enjoy the moment. I was fortunate to have access to a boat, and knowing how therapeutic boating has been for me I wanted to share that with others."

Using his own boat, which the Coast Guard has approved to carry up to six passengers under a commercial license, Conti hosts day tours designed to help patients get out of the daily grind of rehab. Tours include round trip transportation to and from the dock, along with breakfast and lunch on the water. By taking care of all logistics SAC is able to give patients the opportunity to enjoy the fresh air, the scenery, and even the quiet, so that they too are able to leave their troubles at the dock and live in the moment.

"About twenty, maybe thirty minutes after castoff, you can just see their stress melt away," Conti said. "And it's not just patients who relax and start to smile, their families do too. Pretty soon they're all smiling and laughing, enjoying something they used to do or even experiencing it together for the first time."

Though all passengers seem to visibly decompress on the sea, the trip can have a physical impact as well.

"When we get to open water, I like to let the passengers drive," Joe said. "Some of these vets are learning to walk, to talk, even to use their hands, all over again. Driving a boat is much more forgiving than driving a car, but it still requires fine motor skills. Just steering is a big step toward recovering some of the skills they've lost, and it inspires them to keep working. Driving the boat gives each passenger a chance to feel some of the freedom they once had."

Passengers are referred to SAC by Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, which treats active and retired personnel from all branches of the military. Many patients are not native to the Bethesda area, so the opportunity to leave the treatment center, even for just a day, helps patient morale, and offers families in residence the opportunity to explore the local landscape. Above all else it's a reminder that recovery doesn't have to keep you from enjoying life.

Walter Reed identifies vets who would benefit from a day on the sea based on both their condition and the facilities on the boat. Some of the vets are combat wounded, while others have been diagnosed with medical conditions requiring ongoing treatment. In each case the staff at Walter Reed helps determine whether such a trip would be beneficial to the patients' recovery, because it's important not to put patients in a situation where physical or mental limitations might detract from their experience.  For example, at this time SAC can only accommodate ambulatory patients, because the boat isn't equipped to hold wheelchairs. Conti hopes that will change going forward.

"To carry more than six passengers, or to accommodate wheelchairs, would require a larger yacht with a diesel engine and more open space," Conti said. "Within five years we'd like to acquire a boat the U.S. Coast Guard would certify to hold ten passengers, including wheelchair bound patients." A larger boat would also help SAC expand the tour outside the DC area, and accommodate overnight cruises for Gold Star Families.

Based on the popularity of the cruises so far, a larger boat makes sense. In its inaugural season SAC is running at full capacity with ten cruises on the calendar. Conti attributes this success to intimate atmosphere on the boat, which is no accident. "Our motto is 'By Vets for Vets,'" he said. "Our entire board is made of vets because we understand the sacrifices these folks and their families have made. We have a level of kinship to them and their experiences that's hard for anyone who hasn't served to understand. Giving them a boat for the day and putting ourselves in their service is our way of saying thank you. Of saying 'we get you.' And that we're here for you."

This message certainly seems to resonate with patients, with Walter Reed, with Under Armor (who donated shirts for the crew), and for hundreds of others who have voiced their support in person and on social media. Unfortunately, the cruises can't run on well wishes alone, and while SAC is actively pursuing corporate sponsorships, they want your individual donations as well.

"If everyone that voiced their support contributed just five dollars we'd be able to run two cruises," said Joe. "If they contributed ten dollars we could run four. I think people assume if they can only contribute a few bucks it's not going to make an impact, but the opposite is true. A few bucks can make all the difference in the world to one of these patients on the cruise."

Like the unyielding rock recovery is hard, and when you're at your weakest it seems impossible to conquer. A boat ride won't make recovery any easier, but it may remind patients and their families that it's when you're at your weakest you find the greatest strength.

For more information about Sea Adventure Crusade, or to help a veteran in his/her recovery through a donation, please visit www.seaadventurecrusade.org.

Sea Adventure Crusade
Stacey Conti
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Page Updated Last on: Sep 13, 2017

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