Sail a Little, Raise a Lot

In 2018, the Leukemia Cup Regattas raised $4.3 million for blood cancer research.

Leukemia Cup regattas
Since 1988, the Leukemia Cup regattas have raised $66 million for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.Photo courtesy of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Here at CW, we hear all sorts of reasons why people go sailing, but I think I like Tracy Howard's the best. Last year, racing in Columbia Yacht Club's Chicago Leukemia Cup Regatta, she raised $130,034 — top in the nation — to help fight blood cancers.

Donald and Margaret ­Steiner and team My Girl put a day on the water to good use too. Their crew collected and ­donated $130,010 during the New York Yacht Club’s ­Leukemia Cup in Newport, Rhode ­Island, earning them the ­Robert ­Edward Maher ­Memorial ­Trophy, a new award to honor a lifetime member of the ­Southern Yacht Club who died last fall after a long fight with multiple myeloma.

New Orleans’ SYC ­hosted last fall’s Leukemia Cup ­Regatta Fantasy Sail, an annual affair where 100 or so top fundraisers from around the country and local volunteers gather for a couple days of festivities and racing alongside celebrities, who this past year included Steve Callahan, the survivor of 76 days at sea in a life raft and author of the acclaimed book Adrift. He spoke about that ordeal, as well as his own recent battle with leukemia. Other fantasy guests and speakers were Olympic sailors John Dane, Annie Haeger and Luke Ramsay; America’s Cup veterans Suzy Leech and Kyle Smith; and three-time U.S. Adult Sailing Championship winner Benz Faget. An “incredible slate of celebrity sailors,” says Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Marty Siederer. “All of them were so nice and outgoing with our folks.”

The fantasy sail is open to racers who raise $15,000 or more. In 2018, about 75 people qualified, says Siederer. The 40-plus Leukemia Cup Regattas in total raised $4.3 million for ongoing research efforts. Since 1988, when the races began, $66 million has been given.

After Howard, the top five individual fundraisers included Ted Hannig and John McNeill, from the Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon, California; Diane Simon of Deltaville, Virginia; and Robert Kottler from New Orleans, whose Team Zephyr was also recognized. Other top national team fundraisers were Team Compass Self Storage and skipper Tom Purdy from the Cleveland Yachting Club; Team Jahazi, skippered by Frank and Lori Giampoli and Brad and Debbi Polivka from Chicago; and Dharma/Twilight, skippered by Doug Robinson of Charleston, South Carolina.

Out on the water in New Orleans, the race boats with celebrity sailors along for the ride were first over the line — go figure. The J/111 Zydeco, owned by Burt Benrud, with Haeger and Ramsay aboard, took top honors in the PHRF Performance Class. The Classic Class winner was Mystic, a Newport 41 owned by Guy and Pam Brierre, with Callahan and Faget aboard.

The Leukemia Cups hosted by clubs around the country are just the most visible form of fundraising for LLS. A lot of other events contribute as well. Next year, for instance, Howard’s Columbia Yacht Club is also planning Red Sky Night, a gala the evening before the ­regatta; the Dock Dash, a day-long paddleboard and kayak race and party; and a Poker Run/Cooler by the Lake event so the powerboat crowd can get involved too.

Next year’s Fantasy Sail will be hosted by the Pink Shell Resort and Offshore Sailing School in Fort Myers, Florida. The school, run by Steve and Doris Colgate, has been a national regatta sponsor for the past decade and has donated more than $140,000 to LLS so far. This year the school celebrates its 55th anniversary and will run a Round-Up campaign to encourage students to pad their tuition payments for the cause.

The obvious theme here is play hard and work hard to make good things happen, which Bay area sailors took to heart in a big way. For the 12th consecutive year, the San Francisco Leukemia Cup Regatta was the top-netting event, raising $700,000, and earning yet another Jobson Cup, named for Gary Jobson, National Leukemia Cup Regatta chairman emeritus and a longtime fixture at the annual Fantasy Sails.

For Callahan, it was his first LLS weekend. How did it go? In a note he recounted, “I was impressed by all the folks at the Fantasy Sail event. From fellow survivors to all the fundraisers, I was often deeply touched, to the point of tears at one point. Within our current highly divisive world and its polarizing rhetoric, it is heartening to find folks of good hearts and doing so much for others across the socioeconomic and political spectrum.” Or to put it another way, “We had a great time!”