Spring Boat Show in Essex Raises Money Toward a Good Cause

Sophia Muce, CT Examiner

Bob Davis leaving the marina office to rejoin the boat show (CT Examiner)

ESSEX – Local boaters and vendors overlooked weekend-long wind and rain at the Connecticut Spring Boat Show in hopes of raising $30,000 for Sails Up 4 Cancer.

Boaters from across New England traveled to Safe Harbor Essex Island last weekend for WindCheck Magazine’s seventh annual in-water boat show which, this year, featured local vendors, musicians and maritime and fishing talks.

But for Bob Davis, the founder of Sails Up 4 Cancer, the show was also an opportunity to reconnect with cancer patients and survivors.

Escaping the rain for a moment, he sat inside the marina office on Saturday and told CT Examiner about an old friend he ran into a few moments prior. About a year ago, Davis recalled, he received a call from his friend who told him that he had terminal prostate cancer.

“He told me he wanted to live long enough to see his daughter get married,” Davis said.. “And so I talked to him, gave him some advice about second opinions.”

Davis said he also reminded his friend, Chris, that his only job was to take care of himself, and suggested holistic approaches like meditation and yoga. When he saw Chris on Saturday, Davis said, they embraced and caught up.

“Basically, he just had his tests done two weeks ago, and the doctors say he’s a miracle. They can’t see any cancer,” Davis smiled. “And he said, ‘Bob, I can’t thank you enough.’”

A two-time cancer survivor himself, Davis founded Sails Up 4 Cancer in 2011 to help fund cancer education, prevention and care. He said the organization used to donate to cancer research, but recently shifted his focus to holistic solutions.

“We can only make a small dent in research, as opposed to what the billionaires do,” he said. “It’s really about education, prevention and cancer care.”

Davis said the organization holds sailing events to fundraise for programs like the Spinnaker Fund, which donates money to those with cancer who may be struggling to pay for their bills, groceries or medicine. 

A spinnaker, Davis explained, is a sail made to travel in the same direction as the wind.

“When the wind’s behind your back, you have to have all sails out or you’re gonna go nowhere,” Davis said. “The Spinnaker Fund metaphor is ‘we have your back when all else fails.’”

He said it is important that Sails Up 4 Cancer works to improve cancer patients’ quality of life, as he believes stress and uncertainty destroy immune systems.

In addition to the Spinnaker Fund, the organization also hosted an event for seven years with Sunshine Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to children with cancer. Davis chartered a sailboat for the children and traveled down the Mystic River to watch the Sails Up 4 Cancer Regatta, eat pizza and paint. Later in the day, the group would go out for ice cream and visit Mystic Aquarium.

“I’m talking about 40 kids,” Davis said. “…A lot of kids had to back out at the last minute because they became sick with their chemo. A lot of the kids, I found out later, didn’t make it.”

Davis teared up as he recounted his time with the children, which he said came to a halt because of the pandemic. Sarah Wadle, the owner of First Position Media, sat beside Davis. She asked him what the organization needed to restore the Sunshine Kids event. 

Volunteers and donations, Davis responded.

Wadle told CT Examiner that when the Connecticut Spring Boat Show first began, admission was free and a small percentage of the food sales went towards Sails Up 4 Cancer.

“We really wanted to double down on raising more money for Sails Up 4 Cancer… They do tremendous work,” Wadle explained. “So we implemented a charge, and now we donate 50 percent of the ticket sales.”

Wadle said she got involved in the event about six years ago, as Windcheck Magazine, a monthly editorial for Northeast sailors and boaters, was looking for a local agency to help promote the show.

“[The show] was really to bring together the boat industry in Connecticut,” Wadle said. “Instead of having boat brokers have their own individual mini shows, it was to get a group and really support the industry.”

She said the staff implemented the maritime talks and live performances to attract a variety of people to the show. Each year, the event generally brought in anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 people.

This year, Wadle said, the show was sponsored by businesses like Hoffman Audi of New London, Essex Boat Works, Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, The Griswold Inn and Avelo Airlines, who donated three pairs of round-trip tickets to raffle off. She also highlighted the many vendors that attended the event.

“We have some really unique vendors, too, this year,” Wadle said. “There’s just kind of a nice variety.”

One vendor, Melissa Kalicin, sat beside colorful bags and cushions. She told CT Examiner that her company, Oceanum Vela, launched only six months ago. It was her first time at the show. 

Kalicin repurposes authenticated race sails – akin to the spinnakers that inspired Davis’s successful fund – and lines to create the ocean-friendly bags.

“A percent of proceeds do go to ocean conservation,” she said. “I’m very mission driven.”

Displays ranged from Kalicin’s eco-friendly bags to wood-burnt signs to local, draft beer, and vendors sat beneath tents to avoid the rain. While attendance was lower than they’d hoped, they all said the same of the boat show – “it’s for a good cause.”