Raising Sails and Spirits

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A crowd is gathered in the handsome barroom of the Essex Yacht Club in Essex, Connecticut. Heavy rain falls outside, but spirits are high, warmed by a fire on a late afternoon in early spring. I’m seated at one of the wood tables, along with tuckered-out sailors who nurse beers as the regatta awards presentation begins. Everyone applauds when Ruth Emblin stands at the front of the room.

Emblin is co-chair of this year’s Connecticut Leukemia Cup, one of many races organized at venues throughout the
United States that benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The Connecticut regatta has been underway for 17 years, and while there’s always been solid support, organizers need to get creative to keep competitive racers engaged. Emblin—a sailor who loves to spend time aboard her 1980 Doug Peterson-designed 40—is good at engagement.

Back in 2018, Emblin and the race committee moved the regatta off Long Island Sound, where participation had started to dwindle, and onto the Connecticut River. They also turned the race into a one-design event, a change that generated interest from new participants with smaller boats. This year, they kept the location, but moved the date from late summer to early spring in an attempt to catch the interest of frostbiters as their season ended.

Then, Emblin and the race committee asked four local yacht clubs to do something new: partner up to sponsor the Connecticut Leukemia Cup. “It’s inspiring to see four groups shed their yacht club pride to do something for the community,” she says. “It makes sense, because we all have the same goals: We love sailing, and we love helping out others.”

The creativity paid off. The 2019 Connecticut Leukemia Cup raised more than $40,000, even with challenging weather.
Determined skippers showed up ready to race with no wind on the first day, and with rain the next. And they came out in force for a party the previous night, with guests including Steve Benjamin—the Etchells world champion and national chairman of the Leukemia Cup Regatta Series—and Theodore “Bear” Hovey.

Hovey is a marine tradesman in the area who worked as a rigger on sailing yachts until he was hospitalized from a vertebral collapse caused by multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. Stem cell treatments saved his life. Donations from events like the Connecticut Leukemia Cup help to fund research and treatments for blood cancers.

After the awards are presented and as guests are saying their goodbyes, Emblin is in the corner of the room, closing out the silent auction, still filled with energy and enthusiasm—the qualities of a seasoned fundraiser. She plans to co-chair the event again next year. “It’s a great group to work with. These people are as serious about racing as they are about helping others.”

More than $66 million has been raised since the first Leukemia Cup in 1988. To find an event in your area, or to start your own, go to leukemiacup.org.

Jeanne Craig

JCraig@aimmedia.com