Gliding across the Charles River, sailing instructor Kaela Winer reminded the three disabled veterans on board Saturday of an important principle: Sailboats can’t stop — they must always be moving.
The concept of constant movement is one these veterans are well familiar with.
Active schedules are critical so they have little time to dwell on their disabilities. The trio fills their time with cycling, archery, golfing, rock climbing, and more, said Jim Tynan, one of the veterans on board.
On Saturday, the three added sailing on the Charles to that list as a part of an open house for disabled veterans hosted by Community Boating Inc., a nonprofit run in association with the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.
“It’s amazing,” Tynan said. “Even a couple of years ago, I probably wouldn’t have left the house and do these things.”
“Look at us — we’re in the middle of the Charles River!” the Taunton resident said, gesturing to his fellow veterans Roland Filion and Tina Lavallee. Both wheelchair users, the two were steering the boat and trimming the sails.
The mission of Community Boating, started in 1946, is succinctly summarized on a sign on the front of its boathouse: “Sailing Here for All.”
For the past decade, the organization has been accommodating disabled sailors through the state’s universal access program. Its pink sails have decorated the Charles since 2014 when a a fund-raiser sponsored by Education First in Cambridge helped buy equipment required for sailors with physical and cognitive disabilities to get out on the water.
Starting this summer, the program has expanded to include disabled veterans, getting help from a $65,000 grant from the US Department of Veterans Affairs to buy two new boats and additional equipment while hosting open houses like the one Saturday.
Throughout the day, dozens of veterans filtered in and out of Community Boating’s sailboats, those in wheelchairs having the option of being guided in with a mechanical lift, or using their upper body strength to climb in independently.
Once they docked, veterans lined up to lunch on hamburgers and hot dogs, recounting their favorite parts of the ride before heading out.
“Our goal is… these guys see [sailing] as a realistic thing and think, ‘We can do this regularly,’” said Charlie Zechel, the Community Boating executive director.
Zechel said being out on the water creates a spirit of independence as sailors steer their own vessels.
“You get out there, and all of a sudden, it’s that sense of wide-open spaces, that feeling of I can go anywhere and do anything I want,” he said.
Back on the boat, Tynan, a Navy veteran, said he was grateful for these kinds of accommodations since the reaction was much different when he returned from serving in Vietnam.
“You had to be kind of ashamed,” Tynan said about some people’s reaction to his service. “It’s rewarding [now] to think people would do this for us.”
Lavallee, an Army veteran, said she was extremely active before she got hurt. Now that she has to use a wheelchair, she thought she’d have to surrender an active life after her accident.
But with the help of Tynan and other friends, Lavallee has been encouraged to try activities she never imagined she’d be able to do, like sailing.
“I have a saying: ‘You can’t do it if you don’t try,’” she said, tugging on a rope that controlled one of the sails.
“And now I’m like, ‘I’ve got this.’ ”
Kiana Cole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kianamcole.