January 2019 CONNECTING Newsletter
Sailing Program Charts a Positive Course
By Jim Hoehn (VA) and George Solveson (MYC & RCM)

This above title is how the Milwaukee VA Medical Center described the 2018 Vet’s Sailing Program which is co-sponsored by the Milwaukee Yacht Club (MYC) and the Rotary Club of Milwaukee (RCM).


The group meets once a week in the evening, learning basic sailing terminology and techniques, and then working together as a crew for a couple hours out on Lake Michigan.



Courtney Zeller, Recreational Therapist for the VA, enjoys providing a sailing program to the Veterans who are receiving mental health care. “It’s a great way for Veterans to get out on the water and to forget everything that they’re going through and focus their mind on something positive,” Zeller said. “It’s a great way to build camaraderie. They need to work as team, communicate with each other and all those skills can carry over to their everyday life.”  Participating in the eight-week course also allows volunteer opportunities for the Veterans to continue sailing with the race crew committee on other nights, Zeller said.


Mark Duran, an Army Veteran who was wounded on his first tour in Afghanistan, is among a group of Veterans learning to sail.  “It takes your mind off the stuff that might be bothering you or worrying, or the pain issues might go away just for a little bit while you’re out here,” said Duran. “It’s like giving your self a gift.”  “It provides a sense of purpose,” Duran said. “It’s something to look forward to, and this is what I look forward to every week.”


Christy Ward, a 41-year-old Navy Veteran, stated: “Sailing, just being on the water, feels free. Working with the other Veterans, learning the lines, it’s great.”  “The weather’s great, the sun was out shining on the water, the waves — it was wonderful.”


Don Doggett, USCG Captain and ASA Instructor, helps educate the Veterans on the fundamentals of sailing in the classroom and practical application of sailing on the water. The goal of the program is to allow the Veterans to learn a new hobby or sport through sailing while focusing on teamwork. “Sailing is a team sport, multiple people are involved in making the boat move. You have the helmsperson (the driver), the tactician (the one who calls the boat’s course), trimmers (individuals who trim the mainsail or jib sail), for example. As you can see, the boat depends on each Veteran to make it go.  I want the Veterans to come away feeling as part of a team!”


Sam House, a professional sailor and coach, offers a steady stream of instructions on which lines to pull, how to watch the wind indicators, where to stash the winch handle and how to quickly react to the subtle changes of sailing. “They’re great. It’s just so much fun.  I absolutely love it,” said House, whose father is a Marine Veteran. “But, they’re here to learn, 100 percent. They’re no different than any other group of people I’ve been on boats with, because the whole time, people are just happy.”