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The SCENE Magazine

“Hydro Therapy at Sea” with Sailing Angels

One of the best things locals say about living in the Clear Lake area is the opportunity to enjoy boating on Galveston Bay. Another great amenity is the compassion and giving spirit of the people who live here. The members of Sailing Angels Foundation have blended these features to create the only non-profit charitable organization in the U.S. that serves the special needs community, military veterans and many others in such a unique way by taking them on a free sailing excursion and immersing them in the joys of being on the sea!

Sailing Angels provides recreational therapy and education on both sailing and power yachts. While onboard, the participants enjoy a memorable experience of what the volunteers fondly call “hydro therapy,” an opportunity to experience the tranquility of being on the open waters of the bay, to learn about sailing, and to escape their condition for a little while. 

Sailing Angel’s founder, Captain Dave McCabe, is a trans-Atlantic sailor and a true humanitarian. His passion has inspired and transcended to the many volunteers who have joined his team. The numerous excursions Sailing Angels performs throughout the year would not be possible without these amazing, dedicated volunteers. According to Captain Dave, “Our volunteers may get as much satisfaction from this charitable service as do our 'special' patrons. We are truly blessed, being gifted with these skills and empathy, to 'pay it forward' in a very special way!” Long-term volunteers include Debbie Hughes and Ken Gallia, who serve on the board of directors, and who have been an integral part of their success.

The organization now has over 130 volunteers, and a fleet of more than 35 power and sail boats. They have provided excursions for more than 15,000 participants since 2007. The majority of the guests are children with special needs and veterans who have suffered from the violence of military service. 

Recently they welcomed patrons from the Santa Fe High School tragedy along with first responders, teachers and their families. There are no restrictions; the organization serves everyone in the special needs community: all physical, mental and chronic illnesses and those “at risk” (e.g., low income, broken families, survivors of domestic violence) of all ages are welcomed. Patrons with autism often come with their families to sail. These have been some of the most rewarding experiences. The day occasionally starts out with the child being very reluctant to board the vessel to the point it appears the journey will not occur. However, after about 30 minutes, smiles appear and laughter fills the air as the children settle in. After the return to the docks, the kids do not want to disembark because they have had so much fun.  

Debbie Hughes, Chairman of the Board and Founding Director says, “Parents tell me that the day spent on the water with the Sailing Angels is the best day that their child has had all year. It is the best day for me, too, and I am happy to serve these families and to be a part of the wonderful family of Sailing Angels.”

The adventures are on large boats – 35 to 70 feet long – and can accommodate five to 50 passengers. They are thankful for their experienced captains, skippers, and volunteer crewmembers who run all of the boats in their fleet, and they have a perfect safety record.

Once everyone is on the boat, the sails are raised by the participants (with the Captain’s assistance), and they begin to steer the boat under sail. While at the helm steering the boat, he/she is then the Captain (i.e. “the boss”) and, therefore, gets to wear the Captain’s hat. Sometimes dolphins appear during the journey. At the conclusion, the patron receives a Medal of Accomplishment and other awards. 

"The ocean has long had a healing effect on our 12-year-old son Garrett. Challenged with autism, the ocean gives the perfect amount of therapeutic input that his sensory-sensitive body needs. And there is never any mistaking what he is communicating with his shrieks and giggles: Sheer joy!” according to his mother.

Military veterans are also a huge focus for the Sailing Angels Program. The therapeutic benefits of these sailing excursions have been widely recognized by the VA Hospital in Houston, and include them as a part of their therapy program. When the veterans show up for their excursions on the boat, many are suffering from PTSD. Once onboard, each receives a stone from the Veteran’s Advocate. When out to sea, the warriors are given guidance to think of a negative experience, person or tribulation that is troubling them. The advocate then instructs them to toss the stone into the bay and let that problem go, forever. Guests have said it has been very cathartic and healing for them. 

Board member Ken Gallia shared, “On my first experience, I was able to see firsthand what Sailing Angels was all about, and what it meant to the child, the veterans, and the families they service.  After one rewarding experience I was hooked.  I have been a member of Sailing Angels for the past 6 years. Every Saturday, you will see me out on the water servicing needy families.”

On Saturday, October 20, Waterford Yacht Club’s Annual Charity Regatta will benefit Sailing Angels this year. This event will provide an opportunity for sailors to enjoy an afternoon of fun and competitive sailing. All proceeds go directly to the Sailing Angels Foundation. Post-race activities take place at Sundance Grill II at 6 p.m. at Waterford Harbor Marina. The event will feature dinner, music, awards, and a silent auction. For tickets and additional information visit

 By Diana L. Rodgers

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