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Sailing Fascination provides much-needed tranquility to veterans in need

From left, skipper Greg Roosevelt from Oasis Sailing Club, Tom Tolbert from Sailing Fascination, Tom Woods from Brain Treatment Center, and Air Force veteran Craig Charron gather on the Fascination 2 boat before a sail in Newport Harbor.
(Photo by Don Leach / Staff Photographer)
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Fascination 2 is by far the tiniest vessel docked at the Newport Beach Yacht Club.

But the amount of healing it does is massive.

The 24-foot sailboat belongs to Sailing Fascination, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide the joy of sailing for free to adults and children with physical and development disabilities.

In 2013, the volunteer-run organization reached out to veterans groups, wanting to expose those struggling with PTSD to the tranquility and serenity the sport offers.

While Sailing Fascination still serves the special needs community, one day a week is devoted to veterans.

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Craig Charron, a 32-year-old Air Force vet, was left emotionally, physically and mentally fractured from deployments to Central America and the Middle East. He saw a flier about Sailing Fascination at the Orange County Veterans Center.

Charron, whose best friend died during a deployment, has been out on Fascination 2 at least five times, and he said sailing counters the debilitating anxiety he sometimes feels.

“It’s really relaxing,” said Charron. “Just getting out there and being on the water with a small group of people … There is the part about getting out and being more social. That is the therapeutic part.”

The Fascination 2 belongs to Sailing Fascination, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide the joy of sailing to veterans and the disabled that could benefit from the serenity sailing brings.
(Photo by Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Tom Tolbert, president of the Sailing Fascination Foundation, points out that the nonprofit doesn’t simply take veterans out for a ride.

“This is a foundation that teaches sailing,” said Tolbert, an experienced sailor who suffered a brain aneurysm in 1994 and became one of the foundation’s first students.

The Newport Beach-based Oasis Sailing Club provides certified, experienced skippers who serve as volunteer instructors for the veterans.

Tolbert figures Sailing Fascination has gotten about 100 veterans into a sailboat over the years.

“Sharing peace, serenity, sunshine, fresh air and many other things that we don’t control normally leaves our students with the feeling that there is something out there bigger than they are,” Tolbert said. “Being able to navigate that and share the experience with others brings a sense of confidence and joy.”

Recently the Brain Treatment Center of Newport Beach began partnering with Sailing Fascination to get sailing lessons for their clients.

The center serves veterans who’ve been afflicted with variety of maladies, such as PTSD, sexual trauma, anxiety, depression and sleep disorders, said Tom Woods, military care coordinator at the organization.

Woods believes sailing serves as perfect adjunct to therapy.

“We want them to get out and not isolate,” Woods, a veteran himself, said. “These folks are coming into our treatment center for 45 minutes or so during the day, [but] what are they doing with the other 23 hours of the day? So filling their time when they are not in the treatment center with recreational therapy like Sailing Fascination is a perfect fit.”

Veterans who show up at the Brain Treatment Center are typically reserved and have difficulty transitioning back to civilian life, Woods said. Some feel no sense of purpose after leaving the military.

Woods makes it a point to send two veterans at a time for hour-long excursions on the water.

“You just watch them come into the clinic with a smile on their face saying how much a great time they had on the water … something they’ve never done before,” Woods said. “They are getting out and mingling with people and feeling more comfortable in community settings and society as a whole.”

For more information on Sailing Fascination, visit sailingfascination.org.

Lou Ponsi is a contributor to Times Community News.

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