Foundation has heart as big as the ocean Last year Captain Dave McCabe and volunteers for Heart of Sailing took more than 300 children with special needs and their families sailing aboard the Blue Marlin, a 38-foot sailboat. In 2009, the goal is to sail with 500 or more families. The Heart of Sailing Foundation is a nonprofit organization which provides recreational therapy and education by introducing sailing to children and young adults with developmental and physical disabilities. McCabe founded the Heart of Sailing Houston-Galveston chapter in May 2007. A licensed captain as well as a transatlantic sailor, McCabe owns the Blue Marlin Sailing School located in Kemah, which provides sailing lessons and conducts charters in Galveston Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and numerous exotic spots of the Caribbean. “Captain Dave is definitely a person the children feel comfortable with because of his easy-going nature. He never gets upset and stays calm no matter what,” said volunteer Debbie Hughes, who plans to bring Heart of Sailing awareness to the special needs population at Lone Star College – Kingwood, where she teaches. Heart of Sailing is a relatively new international foundation established in 2005, providing free service in 36 nationwide locations, and the only one to their knowledge providing recreational therapy of this type continuously. In 2008 the international organization made 3,000 Heart of Sailing runs. Heart of Sailing teaches special needs children, their siblings, parents and caregivers how to sail and, more importantly, it is a recognized form of recreational therapy for the children. It is an exhilarating and highly rewarding experience for all, including the volunteers who serve them. The therapeutic values of sailing include physical benefits such as improved balance, strength, fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination. It also provides vestibular stimulation, increases sensory awareness, improves spatial awareness and provides relaxation. The emotional benefits include social interaction, teamwork and communication skills. It improves confidence and self-esteem, improves the ability to transition to new environments and provides an atmosphere for family bonding. There are many educational benefits such as improved focus and attention span, environmental awareness and a sense of adventure, exploration and use of imagination. The sailing adventures are conducted daytime and evenings on weekdays and weekends throughout the year and take two and a half to three hours. The child must be accompanied by their parent(s) or caregiver and must be willing to wear a life preserver. “We are unable to accommodate wheel chairs; however, we are happy to transfer the child to the boat without the wheel chair. We’ve even lifted them on stretchers when necessary,” said McCabe. When they leave the dock, the child helps steer the boat as they motor out to open water. The child also learns knot tying, navigation and piloting of the sailboat along the way. Once the sails are raised by the child and captain working together, the child begins to steer the boat under sail. While at the helm steering the boat, the child is told they are the “acting” captain and therefore, get to wear the captain’s hat. At the conclusion, the child is awarded a certificate as well as a large medallion on a ribbon similar to an Olympic medal. Children are referred to Heart of Sailing by numerous organizations such as the Down Syndrome Association of Houston, Families CAN, TS Alliance, Archdiocese of Houston-Galveston, Houston ISD, Texas Children’s Hospital, University of Houston Parent Team, Circle of Friends, Family to Family, United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Houston, ARC of the Gulf Coast, Texas Autism Advocacy, Exceptional Parents of Little Angels, and FOCUS. “I’m working with Sunshine Kids and the Ronald McDonald House by offering our service to those patients as well. Referrals are welcomed,” McCabe said. Interested persons may support Heart of Sailing by making financial donations, adopting day sails or by making a donation of gifts in kind. To learn more about the Heart of Sailing Foundation and register for a free sail, please visit or contact Captain Dave McCabe at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 281-507-1867. Photo: Heart of Sailing Captain Dave McCabe, Carleigh Dunnam and volunteer Debbie Hughes sail aboard the Blue Marlin. Carleigh’s family and 3-year-old sister, Emma, a special needs child not pictured, enjoy a day sailing in the Gulf Feb. 22.

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