Once again taking place in San Francisco last week, Hope For The Warriors® conducted their fourth wounded veteran sailing clinic over the past two years. Still in its infancy, this program has evolved from a simple idea into one of our most powerful programs. With the first clinic serving five veterans and focusing mainly on sailing, it has evolved to this most recent clinic which served nine veterans and consisted of sailing, yoga, pottery, music, nature hikes and more.

 

Arriving on Tuesday afternoon, the group traveled to Oakland for an introductory meet and greet dinner. Bright and early Wednesday morning, the vets all hopped on Tony Haworth’s 47-foot cruising sailboat Knot Tide Down and commuted to San Francisco over the water. Once at the docks in San Francisco, half of the group sailed small dinghies with BAADS (BayArea Association of Disabled Sailors), while the other half sailed the 47-footer across San Francisco Bay and back. The vets were ecstatic to sail alongside the two America’s Cup finalists, who were out practicing.



Back at the docks, the group traveled to The Pad yoga studios in San Francisco, where they participated in an intensely powerful meditative yoga session with locally renowned yogi Nicole Cronin. A survivor of a traumatic experience that resulted in a broken back, she connected with the vets on a very personal level and offered up wisdom that resonated with several of the still-healing vets.

 
After a profoundly therapeutic experience, the group drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and ate lunch at a scenic vista on the north side of the Bridge. After lunch, the group went on a nature hike at Muir Woods National Monument, enjoying the serenity and relaxation offered by the 1,200 year old coastal Redwoods of California.



 

On Thursday, many of the vets again opted to commute over the water, riding the San Francisco ferry to the clinic. While waiting for breeze, the vets learned about sailing in a 1-hour classroom session before sailing dinghies in McCovey Cove until lunch time. After lunch, the group again enjoyed a beautiful day of sailing on the Bay, commuting home from the clinic via 47-foot sailboat. By the end of the sail, the group was working well as a team and tacking and gybing the boat almost all the way home.

 


Thursday night, the vets enjoyed a catered dinner at Jered’s Pottery studio before receiving a pottery class from Navy veteran and local potter Jered Nelson. After the class, Berkeley’s own Horrible String Band played bluegrass music while the vets had access to several pottery wheels and could throw clay to the live music. With a couple hours of practice and instruction, the vets created pots, bowls, mugs and plates, despite a couple of the vets only having use of one hand. The guys loved it!
 


Friday morning’s first activity was a 45-minute outdoor yoga session, led by instructor Leila Burrows , also of The Pad studios. This session was much more physical and challenging than the day before, but intensely therapeutic. Once again sailing until lunch, the group broke to watch live America’s Cup racing in San Francisco.
 

After lunch, the clinic split up into two groups and took out matching Santa Cruz 27 sailboats, courtesy of Spinnaker Sailing. The group sailed up the city front, past New Zealand’s America’s Cup base and to the Bay Bridge before turning back. The group had to fight a strong current back to the harbor and then sailed laps around McCovey Cove. That evening, the vets again had a catered dinner and then enjoyed a sunset sail on an 84-foot charter vessel, again courtesy of Spinnaker Sailing.



After the clinic, the feedback and energy emanating from the group was overwhelmingly positive and profound. After a week full of new experiences in an area like San Francisco Bay, the vet’s eyes were all wide open. The stoke was high!
We are creating a different kind of buzz out here on the West Coast, and it’s because of the way that the Bay Area has embraced these veterans and this program. This clinic could not have taken place without the support of the Commandary of St. Francis Order of St. John, Knights Hospitaller and the Cromar Charitable Supporting Organization. Hope For The Warriors® would also like to extend our deepest gratitude to Drew Harper and Garrett Greengalgh of Spinnaker Sailing, all BAADSvolunteers, Tony Haworth,  Nicole Cronin and Leila Burrows of The Pad yoga studio, Jered Nelson and Jered’s Pottery, members of the Horrible String Band and all of the family members and supporters who have helped make this program possible. Finally, thank you to the Fisher House and their Hero Miles program.  Through this organization, our veterans were able to fly to San Francisco.
This program is a collaborative effort between three veterans; Walt Kotecki, Don Gray and Ronnie Simpson. The program will continue moving forward in 2013 with a renewed focus and some exciting new goals!