As the Founder and CEO of Sails Up 4 Cancer, Bob Davis is a two-time cancer survivor who’s using the sport he loves to help countless people in southeastern Connecticut.
“Compared to the guys I sail with I got started pretty late, sailing an old Sunfish around Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey,” says Bob, a longtime resident of Niantic. “It was really cool to be out there sailing alone, especially at dusk. If I had to pick a sailing mentor, it would have to be Jeffery Lutz from Point Pleasant, NJ. I always admired his skills and the fun he had…not taking himself too seriously. Much later, I had the good fortune to race a Colgate 26 with Gary Jobson at the helm. I was starstruck! Gary was incredibly calm and focused, and it was a tremendous experience.”
Bob is an enthusiastic member of the Mystic River Mudhead Sailing Association. “The Mudheads is a fantastic organization with great sailors, and it’s a real honor to sail with and learn from some of the most talented sailors in our area,” he says. “I volunteer for a variety of events and committees, and I’m ecstatic that they perform Race Committee duties for the Sails Up 4 Cancer Regatta. They’re the best – no one comes close. The entire membership is such an integral part of our community in so many ways.”
“When I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2004, I wasn’t prepared to just sit back and not become actively involved with my prognosis, although at the time was ‘watch and wait.’ I became involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, who at the time had a regatta run by the Mudheads in Mystic. That was all it took to appreciate how many sailors were affected by leukemia and committed to raising money to put an end to these cancers. It was very moving. In 2010, I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. They call it ‘The Beast.’ It’s a horrible cancer with a low survival rate and grueling treatment. Well, I beat it. I was incredibly lucky and knew I needed to do more to return my good fortune to the cancer patient community.”
“We held our first Sails Up 4 Cancer Regatta in June of 2011,” says Bob. “I was pretty stressed, but it wasn’t as chaotic as it could have been. We had a great group of volunteers and I had quite a bit of experience with the Leukemia Cup Regattas. This was my baby and it was important to me for it to be successful, not only as a regatta but also as a fundraiser. We’re now in our seventh year, and the event is pretty much on autopilot. We’re set with the Eastern Connecticut Sailing Association, which has been great to us. We’re dialed in with the Mudhead Race Committee, and we have a much larger board and volunteer base. We have a great group of repeat sponsors and donations for our silent auction. Jeff Marshall and the staff at Mystic Shipyard are a tremendous source of support, having hosted the event under the big tent and helping out with the stage, power, ice and overall logistics.”
“We now dedicate our efforts from the Sails Up 4 Cancer Regatta to Hospice of Southeastern Connecticut, and we continue to raise the bar with participants in our Wellness Expo, which is near and dear to me. As a cancer survivor, I believe it’s extremely important to integrate traditional treatment with stress reduction modalities to increase your overall wellbeing and survival chances. Acupuncture, meditation, nutrition, yoga, massage therapy and many other things carry substantial benefits for cancer patients.
Sails Up 4 Cancer (su4c.org) is the beneficiary of the Connecticut Spring Boat Show, hosted by Brewer Essex Island Marina in Essex. “This was our fourth year, and it’s a great show where we garner a lot of really sweet connections,” says Bob. “We also work with Marley’s Café in Essex and Bartenders Express in Branford, who donate a percentage of their revenue to us. We have lots of fun while raising some much-needed funds.”
“The Sunshine Kids are our guests of honor during the regatta, which will be held June 17. They and their families sail down the Mystic River on Mystic Harbor Cruises’ Prudence to watch the start of the race on Fishers Island Sound, and Captain Jonathan Wilkes is also donating a percentage of his year-end revenue to Sails Up 4 Cancer. The Pirates or Free Men of the Sea greet them when they return to Mystic Shipyard, Mystic Pizza provides lunch, and Drawbridge Ice Cream provides ice cream. They have a painting class supervised by Julie Garvin-Riggs and the Florence Griswold Museum. Josie Davis from the String Theory School of Music puts together a group of students for The Kids Playing for Kids Band. Mekhael Srour and Martha Slater of Allure Dance Studio conduct line dancing classes, April Brunnell makes balloon sculptures, Tracey Anderson paints faces, the Mystic Fire Department brings a truck to the Wellness Expo if they’re not on call, and the Mystic Aquarium donates 50 tickets.”
“One of the reasons for starting Sails Up was to earmark funds raised for what I felt was critical, and we specify how we want donations to be used. For example, we requested that our $10,000 donation to the Lawrence + Memorial Cancer Center be divided between their transportation fund and their new Single Woman Head of Household Fund. Through our Spinnaker Fund, individuals going through cancer treatment can apply for financial assistance. If they’re approved, we send them a check directly.”
“The most rewarding thing about Sails Up 4 Cancer is the number of people we have been able to help. It’s the smiles on the faces of children when they’re on a boat for the first time. It’s the Thank You cards we receive from financial assistance recipients. Knowing that we’re making a difference in the lives of cancer patients is what it’s all about!”