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Through Heeling, Sailing Supports Healing

Hardships ashore? Take to the sea. It would be hard to find a sailor who doesn’t think sailing provides some form of therapy. Most sailors find that heeling supports healing. The weekend racing fix, the afternoon daysail, the transoceanic voyage — all provide a refreshing, captivating alternative to life ashore. The idea has been recognized for centuries, with one of the best descriptions coming from Herman Melville’s book, Moby Dick, published in 1851.

The famed opener is, “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish, Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”

Sail M.S.
You’d never know the people in this photo are facing significant health challenges as they confront MS. Natalie White and Captain Zac are at the helm, with Emily Ceroll (left) and Taylaur Biebl (right), who went through a bone marrow transplant along with Zac in March 2020.
© 2022 Desire To Inspire Studios

“‘You have multiple sclerosis.’

“The moment those words exited her mouth, only one thought went through my head: ‘I will never sail around the world.’ Soon after, my lifelong job of piloting tugboats would also be in jeopardy. Uncertainty filled every part of my being, as it does with most who receive a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. A storm took over my life. March 2020, six months post-diagnosis, I had a bone marrow transplant (HSCT) in Puebla, Mexico. COVID unfolded as my immune system was destroyed by chemotherapy. My family decided staying with my fiancée and brother in Sayulita would be best. During my transplant procedure, I experienced an ocular complication that went untreated for six months due to fear of COVID-19, and I progressively went 90% blind.”

These are the opening lines from our current February story by Zac Singer, who’s developing Sail MS to help people facing the challenges of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. We’ve written about numerous programs that provide healing to people facing all sorts of hardships, from soldiers with PTSD to cancer patients and disadvantaged youth who’ve never had the opportunity to get a break from their life circumstances. Additionally, there are many others utilizing sailing as a foundation to heal the planet.

Scott Chowning built LADI for around $500 as a simple-to-build ‘open source’ unit. We wrote about his Trash Boats in April 2021, describing how he tows it behind his boat to collect microplastics in San Francisco Bay and the Oakland Estuary.
© 2022 Scott Chowning

Recognizing the power of sailing to heal both people and the planet, we’ve created a new web page, The Heeling Power of Sailing, as a directory of programs connecting heeling to healing. As it’s currently envisioned, we are listing California programs aimed at specific causes, such as seeking cures or relief for people afflicted with a particular ailment, or helping heal the environmental degradation of the planet. No human activity is perfect; however, sailing has the power to align the collective ingenuity of humans and use its low-impact footprint to create and demonstrate a more sustainable future.

The Heeling Power of Sailing page is a work in progress that will evolve with some subjective decisions to keep it focused on sailors and sailing programs that serve people and the planet. If you know of a program you think should be included, please add it to the comments below. Not all programs will be included, and they may not show up for a while. However, when we can, we’ll do our best to recognize Zac and others who provide help and relief through sailing.


  1. Breanna 2 years ago

    BlindSail SF Bay is an amazing organization that partners with the Treasure Island Sailing Center to provide blind and visually impaired persons with the opportunity to learn to sail via hands on adaptive methods on the SF Bay. Would love to see them included on your page!

  2. milly Biller 2 years ago

    These people are beyond inspirational and absolutely among the most caring. My deep gratitude

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