Raising a sail and saving a life

  • Wednesday, August 20, 2014

  • Updated Wednesday, August 20, 2014 11:47 am

At left, event organizer and team captain Griffin DesMarteau inspects a sail while skipper Matt Staub keeps a close eye on the weather prior to the start of the inaugural Winyah Bay Regatta to benefit the S.C. Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and the Charleston Leukemia Cup.

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A group of young Georgetown County mariners set sail Aug. 17 to bring help and hope to leukemia patients and their families by participating in the first annual Winyah Bay Regatta.

The regatta combined the joy of sailing with the important task of raising funds to find new treatments and cures for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, and help people afflicted with the cancer live better, longer lives.

Griffin DesMarteau, a junior at Waccamaw High School, is credited with both the organization and success of the event.

“We put this regatta on in support of the Charleston Leukemia Cup,” explained DesMarteau. “We have sailors of all ages skippering and crewing Opti Pram and ‘420’ sailboats.”

DesMarteau was thankful to the South Carolina Maritime Museum for donating the Optimist Pram boats.

“These are small sailboats, normally just one person sails them, today maybe two, but it’s usually someone between the ages of eight and 15,” DesMarteau said.

The “420” sailboats were donated by the Winyah Bay Sailing Club, whose mission is to promote and provide sailing opportunities in Georgetown County.

“The name ‘420’ describes the overall length of the boat,” DesMarteau explained. The “420” boat is 4.2 meters long, and requires both a skipper and one crew member.

The Winyah Bay Sailing Club maintains a fleet of boats available for community use through high schools, instructional programs and public rentals.

Elaine Hume, director of the S.C. Leukemia Cup, was on hand as the sailors were divided into skippers and crew.

“I am so proud of Griffin,” she said. “He has done an unbelievable job putting this event together.”

She knew the sailors were anxious to board their vessels, but also wanted them to take the time to understand the importance of their participation in the regatta.

“In 1960, a child diagnosed with leukemia had a three to four percent chance of survival,” Hume related. “Today, in 2014, a child diagnosed with cancer has an 80 to 90 percent chance of survival.”

Hume thanked the young sailors for their participation and told them their $30 registration fee would go a long way to help defray the monthly cost of a leukemia patient’s medication.

With dark skies churning overhead, the sailors were anxious to board their sailboats and get the regatta underway.

“We are watching this weather very closely,” race manager Bob Tucker told the young sailors. “We are going to be safe, and if you hear four blasts of the race horn, you are to immediately abandon the race format and sail towards the city dock.”

Luckily, the sailors did not have to abandon the race, or their ships.

After a few downpours, the skies cleared up and Mother Nature provided plenty of wind for their sails.

The skippers and their crew provided ample excitement for the crowds forming along the Harborwalk in downtown Georgetown.

As the boats raced up and down the Sampit River, observers could hardly believe the boats were being sailed by youngsters.

“Those are kids out there, those aren’t adults,” a surprised Mary Morgan commented. “They are really going fast. How are they doing that? They are amazing.”

Morgan, vacationing from Roanoke, Va., was stunned to find out that one of the sailors was only eight years old. “I can’t believe that child is sailing that boat. That is incredible.”

Eight-year-old Evelyn Moore, a Waccamaw Elementary third-grader, was more concerned the weather would keep her from sailing than she was about controlling the boat once she set sail.

“I’m not really worried about the weather, because I love sailing,” she said. “It is so much fun. It’s hard work, but so much fun.” Moore said her “favorite” part of sailing is “controlling the boat.”

Her crewman Cooper DesMarteau reported, “I told her I would do the tiller for her, but after a little time out there, she was in control and I was just looking for fish.”

Griffin DesMarteau was pleased with the outcome of the regatta. At the end of the day, between sponsorships, registration fees, donations from silent auctions and raffle items, his skippers and crew were able to raise $1,517 for the 18th annual Leukemia Cup Regatta, which sets sail in Charleston Harbor on Sept. 27.

Since 1997, the South Carolina Leukemia Cup Regatta has raised over $1.9 million for lifesaving research and patient services, bringing help and hope to patients and their families.

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