The welcome return of the Annapolis Sailboat Show brought crowds to downtown Annapolis with a diverse selection of tents and vendors. Amid the sea of high-tech sailing gear and impressive vessels, one booth stood out with a story that is bigger than sailing.
The Annapolis chapter of Sail Beyond Cancer was essentially born at the Sailboat Show, where Bay Bulletin first met its founder in 2021. She was looking for generous sailboat owners to donate their boats or volunteer to captain cruises for cancer patients and their families.
Originally established in New England, Sail Beyond Cancer has quickly grown and found an embracing home in Annapolis since that 2021 boat show. The founder, breast cancer survivor Suzanne Snyder Johnson, has been able to expand the nonprofit’s presence in the city since officially launching in 2022 thanks to the support of the local sailing community and a dedicated group of volunteers.
Johnson’s journey began back in 2014, when she established her first local nonprofit. After enjoying great success, she was implored to expand her efforts into new areas. The result is Sail Beyond Cancer, which offers a three-hour sail with trained professionals to those undergoing various stages of cancer treatment, as well as their families and caregivers.
“Once we get the sails up and the engine off, we put the patients behind the helm and they’re able to drive the boat and have something that they’re in control of for the first time since they’ve been diagnosed,” Johnson explains.
Her commitment to a mission of spreading the joys of sailing has quickly grown the organization from its chapters in Vermont and Massachusetts, leading to the birth of Sail Beyond Cancer Annapolis.
The organization is propelled by the help of local volunteers, of which there is certainly no shortage of in the tight-knit community of Annapolis, utilizing both donated vessels and those captained by the owners themselves.
One local sailor, in particular, has had an especially profound impact on the group’s efforts since coming onboard in the early stages of the Annapolis chapter. After leading numerous sails on the Bay, volunteer captain Joe Zebleckes became a cancer patient himself. After his own final sail with the team, he left the remarkable gesture of donating his personal sailboat, Anneliese, a Beneteau 40, to the organization.
“We were totally blown away. It was a powerful message that he really wanted this purpose to carry on,” Johnson told Bay Bulletin. The organization continues Zebleckes’s legacy by using this vessel in gratitude for the generosity that has improved the organization’s capacity to sail, allowing them to embark on 71 sails so far this year.
By harnessing the healing powers of wind, water and sail, Sail Beyond Cancer has become a testament to the incredible and restorative benefits of sailing. Its unwavering commitment to providing therapeutic sails to patients across the spectrum of cancer treatment has not only firmly established the organization within Annapolis, but also captured the hearts of its residents.
To volunteer, donate or learn more about Sail Beyond Cancer, visit sailbeyondcancer.org.