Gratitude Sailing takes a group of autistic children on a boat ride. Photo courtesy of Gratitude Sailing

Healing through heeling | Gratitude Sailing gives back

Stephen Lamson and Andy Maloof have been friends since they played football for Mercer Island’s two rival junior high schools. They both grew up sailing and boating in the San Juan Islands and Lake Washington. Now, they are using their passion to give back to others in need of a moment of peace and serenity at sea.

Lamson founded the nonprofit organization Gratitude Sailing in September 2013 to give people with life challenges — from blind children to disabled veterans — a pleasant and special experience on the water to take their minds off their troubles, even if just for one afternoon. They also learn about the basics of sailing, navigation and safety procedures, and can even steer the boat.

More than anything, Gratitude Sailing provides memories, Lamson said, as “a fun day on the water can distract from illness.” Lawson has faced his own health issues, including shingles and vertigo.

During the summer, the nonprofit does about two or three sailings per week, most often out of Kirkland. The rides are completely free. The sailboat — “Dirigo,” a classic 1963 Kettenburg 50 — was donated by a former commodore of the Seattle Yacht Club, and is staffed by volunteers.

Maloof and Lamson told the Reporter that the nautical environment has healing properties that they’ve witnessed firsthand. Gratitude Sailing aims to promote “social and spiritual wellness” by bringing groups together and immersing them in the experience of being on the water.

Gratitude is the surrounding theme, but sailing is also a team exercise that helps develop trust, courage, accountability, mindfulness and joy, according to the group’s website,

“Genuine joy, however long it lasts, is a thing to be thankful for, and I’m glad we can spread that,” Lamson said.

In 2015, Gratitude Sailing was able to accommodate more than 340 people over 37 sailings. Some of the most impactful days were with a group of visually impaired students from Hazelwood Elementary in Lynnwood, and with a group of cancer patients.

According to descriptions of the sails on the website, participants “feel the sun and wind in their faces, hear the waves lapping at the hull sides, the power of the wind as the boat heels, and the fragrance of the sea… [It’s] something no one ever forgets” and “those struggling with cancer and other life threatening diseases gain a serenity, a calmness and peace when sailing.”

The nonprofit is spiritually based, but accepts everyone. The members contact clients in a variety of ways, including limited advertising, business to business contacts and word of mouth. Gratitude Sailing is also continually seeking volunteers, though no sailing experience is necessary, and donations, including moorage.

“Our aim is to lift the person up, to help transform or temporarily halt some of their suffering, by the whole experience,” according to the website. “Being out on a sailboat can be a relaxing and invigorating exercise. When they are behind the helm, feel the power of the wind and actually tacking or holding on a course, they can’t help but be filled with a sensation of serenity, awe, and some peace.”

Gratitude Sailing will host a fundraiser from 6-9 p.m. on May 10 at SZ Gallery in Mercer Island.

The nonprofit’s boat,”Dirigo,” is a classic 1963 Kettenburg 50. Photo courtesy of Gratitude Sailing

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