Sailing Through Cancer

By: American Sailing Association, Instructors, Members, Safety, Schools

On a beautiful freshwater lake in Maine, James Rey has spent the summer trimming the sails of his new O’Day 25. He spends almost every weekend on Lake Sebago, basking in the pleasure of sailing his new boat. Mr. Rey has good reason to celebrate. His new 25-footer was his incentive for beating the prostate cancer he battled last year.

Maura Seymour, of ASA School Sebago Sailing in Maine, first told me about James when she submitted a photo of him happily sailing his sloop into harbor. James says that Maura and the community of sailors he met helped him find the hope, strength, and incentive to get through surgery this spring: “Maura and her husband, Mike, have been largely instrumental in helping me with both the physical and mental process during pre-op and post-op recovery.” James put “instrumental” in quotes because he and Mike occasionally played trumpets on their sailboats out in the middle of Sebago Lake, serenading waterfront camps and confusing the loons!

James shared his story to me with words I couldn’t possibly improve upon, so I quote:

I actually began sailing at age 12 on Lake Ontario near Niagara Falls, NY. My Dad had an old row boat that he primarily used for ‘drifting & drinking’ out on the lake, praying he would NOT catch a fish. Bored with that, we decided to rig up that boat with a 10-foot length of aluminum conduit as our mast (Dad was an electrician) and use one of Mom’s old bedsheets as our “main”. We didn’t know a batten, or clew, or luff or anything. Just tied a section of Mom’s clothesline to the top of the bed sheet, down the conduit to a re-mounted oar lock, and that boat was ready! Dad and I would use one of the boat’s oars as our tiller / rudder and off we’d go having a blast and a beer.

Fast forward 60 years and here I am in Maine, fully retired, with my wife who is a full time college professor. A man needs a hobby, right? I contacted Mo and Mike with Sebago Sailing to take their ASA 101 sailing course. Best thing I ever did. I first bought an 18-foot centerboard boat, then moved up to a Catalina 22 with a swing keel, and then, just 10 days before my surgery in November 2009, I bought an O’day 25 with a shoal keel, roller-furler, the works! I bought the O’day, in part, as my incentive to get through the surgery in time to launch the O’day in spring 2010, which I did in April, my earliest launch ever.

Mo and Mike, Don, Phil, Dave, Hank, Nick from our Kettle Cove Marina, and others from our sailing community all helped out with sage advice in the fall of 2009 to locate the right sailboat, and with muscle to help me launch in the spring 2010. Their combined efforts were key to my pre-op planning and post-op recovery from both a mental and physical perspective. You could say “sailing helped me cure cancer and I’m a survivor.” The cancer is gone and the sailing will be with me forever.

Good sailors pay attention to early warning signs for bad weather, donning life jackets, reefing sails, battening down hatches. James Rey’s success over the storm of cancer was due in large part to his ability to perceive the problem early on–so let his story be an example both on the water and in life!

~Happy, healthful sailing to James Rey and sailors everywhere.~