Across the US today, people will pause and reflect on the terrible tragedy that befell all Americans last year on September 11 when four commercial airliners were hijacked and caused to crash, ultimately taking the lives of over 3,000 people. In Manhattan, NY, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, PA, friends and loved ones were lost. Unequalled courage was displayed by those who sought to aid the victims in the face of horrific adversity, and then became victims themselves. In these three places and elsewhere across the country, those most closely affected still grieve, and continue to grapple with the enormity of what took place that day.
Today and in the coming days there will be many tributes staged to honor those that were lost. One of the most ambitious undertakings will occur on New York Harbor—an occasion entitled Sail for America. The intent of this cooperative effort is to honor the anniversary of this tragedy by filling New York Harbor with sails. On Saturday, September 14, the organizers of Sail for America say they have a simple goal—to creat the greatest gathering of sailboats ever in the history of New York Harbor.
“This event will be three things,” says co-organizer Michael Fortenbaugh of the Manhattan Yacht Club. “First, it will be a memorial to the people who died. Second, it will be a symbolic rebirth for the City of New York. And third, it will be a tribute to the soaring spirit of America—out of great tragedy and destruction, we Americans create a symbol of hope and beauty.”
Among the more than 700 crews that are expected to gather on the waters adjacent to where the twin trade towers used to stand will be many sailors with friends or family that perished in the terrorist attacks of September 11. In remembrance of those who were lost, the organizers of Sail America plan to have the participating boats hoist pennants bearing the names of all the victims—one pennant for each person.
One of those pennants will bear the name Martin Coughlin, a sailor who worked as a carpenter at the World Trade Center. We're indebted to Kelly Arguello for sharing this story about his friend: “I've registered to sponsor a flag for a victim of 9/11 and just wanted to say thank you to whomever is behind this amazing event. Martin Coughlin was a carpenter on the 103rd floor of the first tower to go down, and although I only knew him for a short time, I can tell you that he was a truly good man. My wife and Martin's daughter Denise have been best friends since childhood, and it was through her that I met Martin. I met him about one week before he died and we talked about my boat project of all things.
I had just bought her that week and both of us, being carpenters, had plenty of tips to discuss. His neighbor was and is a NYPD cop and boater, so all three of us chatted that beautiful afternoon about nothing but boats. A week later, that cop was at Ground Zero looking for his neighbor and good friends' remains. It's still totally surreal for us New Yorkers, even a year later. It was exactly during that weekend (September 15th) that I started work on my boat at the marina in Long Island. The place was empty and quiet on that Saturday and you could feel a really heavy vibe in the air. I remember riding on the train out of the city and looking back to see Manhattan still covered in smoke. Right then and there I wanted to build that boat for a different reason—I had a new motivation. As the city would rebuild and heal, so would my little boat.
So, here we are exactly one year later and she's almost ready after hundreds of hours of work. We'll be sailing for 3,000 lives lost and their memory on the 14th, and I'm honored to be a part of it.”
Martin Coughlin's is just one of so many touching stories that could be told. These stories sadden us, yet they also connect us, and in doing so they offer the chance for some well-needed healing. Regardless of the turnout, regardless of the weather, what will take place on New York Harbor with Sail for America will manifest itself as a magnificent statement. Indeed, the pursuit of sailing anywhere is statement in and of itself. Sailors, perhaps more than all others, understand the freedom that is integral to this pastime. To sail—to harness the wind and steer a course of your own choosing—is to endorse freedom and to execute that freedom at the same time. And at its best, sailing can offer us a oneness with the natural world and a peace, albeit fleeting. But within that moment of peace, we have a chance to find the means to endure, to abide, to understand, and to carry on. Sail on, sailors—in New York, and everywhere.
Sail for AmericaAn extensive schedule of shoreside and on-the-water events regarding Sail for America is available on line, as is additional information about the event and its organizers. Log on to www.sailforamerica.com.