I started my sailing adventure later in life.
Deployed to Iraq in 2005 as a Navy Corpsman assigned to the Marine Corps, I found myself on many a mission sitting in a hole with a sniper team just talking to each other. Everyone contemplated ways to spend their deployment money. The majority of guys wanted Harleys. A few wanted cars. I wanted a sailboat. Which is crazy considering I had never actually sailed at this point. But something about it always seemed so peaceful… no engine, just me and the winds of Lake Erie.
My time serving our country ended sooner than anticipated thanks to a suicide bomber. I’d been hit previously by two IEDs where the vehicles took the brunt of the force, but as they say, this time – the third time – was the charm. I came back on a stretcher with four chest tubes and a tracheostomy. My dreams of sailing were replaced by simply wanting to live and speak again.
When I made it back stateside to Bethesda Naval Hospital, the Wounded Warrior Project happened to be cruising though, dropping off swag to the injured veterans which my family set aside for me. A few years later while finally getting around to sorting through that bag I read about bicycling events for wounded vets. I signed up, even heading to England for one of the outings. After that, I explained to the Wounded Warrior Project that I was thankful and done with these events and to please give my space to other vets.
A few years later, sailing once again entered my mind. I knew that since there were veteran organizations for practically everything, there must be one for sailing. Google proved me right and directed me towards Warrior Sailing. After making contact, I then found myself in sailing camp the following year in Annapolis, Maryland. They also connected me with a local sailing crew who took me out on the water for a cruise. After some time had passed, this same crew reached out once again and asked if I would like to help them take out vets from Wade Park VA Medical Center. I took a few days off work and headed out to a local yacht club where we assisted vets onto the boats and went out for a cruise.
As appreciative as I was, it wasn’t what I had in mind. Warrior Sailing in Annapolis is what I had in mind. We were taught how to sail and crew each position. For three summers I sailed with Warrior Sailing, eventually receiving my keelboat certification. Last summer I competed at Charleston Race Week in SC. I knew how to sail, versus just go along for a ride.
This is what I would like to bring to Northeast Ohio. The Warrior Sailing has offered guidance to
help me get started. I have the skills, support, passion and commitment. Only thing missing is a boat. Sort of.
A friend and fellow firefighter, Drew Ferguson, invited me to help crew a sailboat for weekday racing three years ago. During the hours “at sea” I shared my vision for a veteran-operated sailing program for fellow vets. He in turn shared his successes in creating opportunities for urban youth in the aerospace and maritime industries. We knew that by working together we could launch a program.
Coincidentally, he recently called me one afternoon to say he found my vessel: the Intrepid, a 44 ft Luder yawl custom designed and built for the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. It operated from roughly 1967 until 1983. Drew was offered the vessel as a donation and he knew it perfectly fit my mission.
This is where you come in.
Through our joined efforts, we will completely restore this vessel with the support and effort of local veterans and maritime enthusiasts. In 2021, we will relaunch the Intrepid – not as a vessel preparing young Navy and Marine officers for their careers, but by serving them as they transition away from military service. The Intrepid is a vessel that can assist with both physical and emotional recovery for veterans and their families. It will be a platform upon which we feature the courage and strength of our future, current and former service members. Intrepid is the boat that has erased any further hesitation I’ve had in pursuing my dream.
To restore this beautiful vessel, I am hoping to raise $35,000 – 100% of which will all be used towards her restoration and launch. Any financial assistance you can give, will help us get on the water sooner and safely, thus assisting my fellow veterans in their transition and recovery. This is not exactly the vision I had back in 2005 – it’s better. And together with your help, we can serve those who serve for us.
The Nitty Gritty.
The Intrepid Sailing Corps will operate under the umbrella of Phastar Corporation (501c3). This nonprofit is run by a fellow Chagrin Firefighter.
It’s not easy to ask for financial help, but frankly it’s a lot easier when I know it’s going to help fellow veterans… men and women who so freely help protect each and every one of us.
Cleveland is home to the 4th largest VA hospital in the country. The Intrepid Sailing Corps will be the forever home to the 3/25 Marine unit who on a 2005 deployment, lost 48 Marines and Sailors, plus 200+ wounded in action (WIA). Myself included.
Anything you’re able to give will 100% fully support the restoration of our donated ship and provided much needed support to our veterans.
Jim Alunni Finley