Lending a Hand

They're taking the plunge and setting sail with a humanitarian agenda and high hopes of helping others. "Cruising Connections" from our September 2008 issue

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Relaxing before the next ocean passage, Harriet and Tom Linskey take a refreshing dip off their Dolphin 460 catamaran, Hands Across the Sea.Tara Lumpkin

It really hasn't sunk in yet. Even though my wife, Harriet, and I are anchored on our new bluewater cruising boat, Hands Across the Sea, a Dolphin 460 catamaran, on the Rio Paragauçu, in northeastern Brazil, it hasn't completely registered that we've made it-that we've successfully completed the leap from land life to the cruising life.

Within the space of a single year, we'd sold our previous boat, a 32-foot coastal cruiser, wrapped up our careers, sold our house, stored our possessions, sold our cars, found a home for our cat, worked with our Brazilian boatbuilder to customize our new boat, and bought a boatload of equipment, from solar panels to a watermaker. It feels like a miracle how quickly the trappings of suburbia-home insurance, property taxes, traffic, mowing the lawn, blizzards, consumerism, the roar of media, the neighbors' barking dogs at midnight-have fallen away astern. We're just as astonished by what's ahead-a life with an open horizon, promising equal measures of freedom and challenge. No, I really haven't absorbed all of this yet.

Back in 1986, when we were poised to try bluewater cruising for the first time on freelance, our 28-foot cutter, three questions loomed: Would we like living on a boat? Did we have the right stuff for crossing an ocean, just the two of us? Would we like the cruising life? By the end of three-quarters of a Pacific Ocean circle, from Southern California to Baja, the South Pacific, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan, the answer to all three questions was yes. But five years on, and with us feeling restless, another question had arisen: Now what? Harriet's a type A personality, and I'm pretty close. We like to kick back and relax, but we also need to accomplish things, and we weren't sure how to do that while cruising. Sailing in Tonga, we'd met a husband and wife, both medical professionals, on Christopher Robin, a Valiant 40. They were island-hopping the Pacific with sail bags full of donated prescription glasses, which they fit for locals during shoreside eye clinics; they also performed the occasional cataract surgery. They were having a great time putting their professional skills to use and collecting friends wherever they wandered. All of which got us thinking: Was there a similar "something more" component that we could add to our cruising adventures?

Before we found an answer, life intervened. To be closer to our aging parents, we sold freelance and moved back home. We bought a house and immersed ourselves in new careers. We always knew we'd go cruising again, but we didn't know when or how. In a flash, 16 years went by. Harriet's parents and my parents had died, the rewards of work had become only monetary, and the time seemed right to go cruising again.

As for the "something more," it began to dawn on us that while we weren't doctors, maybe we could use some of the skills we'd developed in our careers to lend a hand to local folks as we sailed. Harriet, a former teacher with sales experience, could try to get donated goods for an educational cause. My skills are in writing, photography, and website design, so I could raise awareness for a local school or clinic. Oh, yeah-I'm also able to heft sail bags of heavy stuff, such as books for a small school's library, from boat to dinghy to dock.

From scribbled notes, the idea progressed. We're calling our program Hands Across the Sea. Our plan is to deliver school supplies to communities in need; a 46-foot cat can carry quite a bit of cargo. We also hope to host educational or, possibly, medical professionals on our boat while they work ashore. Most likely, we'll be assisting local aid organizations as well as working with other cruisers. The idea of helping, of course, isn't new; cruisers have come to the aid of local communities for years now, from ferrying needed goods to remote islands to holding Christmas fund-raisers for orphanages. Taking it a step further, we incorporated Hands Across the Sea as a 501(c) III nonprofit organization, expressly to give companies a tax-exempt way to donate educational and medical materials, which we'll then get to where they're needed.

We'll be on the scene to find out what local groups need. It's certain that we'll be logistically challenged, because everything is harder to do from a boat. And we'll certainly be rewarded with a richer cruising experience every time we can help someone along the way. As we begin this journey, you can help shape our course: If you know of a school, clinic, or community along a cruising route that needs a hand, please send us an e-mail by clicking on the "Contact Hands" link on our website (www.handsacrossthesea.net). Also, if you know of a company willing to make a tax-exempt donation of goods or services to a worthy cause, please tell us who to contact.

Will it all work? We're just getting under way with Hands Across the Sea-the boat-and Hands Across the Sea-the charitable organization-and our new cruising life. As every cruiser knows, when you begin a passage, there's no guarantee of the wind or the seas you'll get or the course you'll need to steer. You've just got to make a big leap.

Meet the Linskeys at the "Hands Jump Up" aboard Hands Across the Sea at 5 p.m. on Saturday, October 11, at the U.S. Sailboat Show in Annapolis. Hands will be berthed at The Multihull Company display. For more information about their appearance and their organization, contact the Linskeys (617-320-3601) or check their website (www.handsacrossthesea.net).