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From a flight attendant on Delta Flight 15 - written after 9-11

Sail for America

By Daria and Alex Blackwell

Thinking back on Sail for America 2002 - in Memory of September 11th, 2001.

We transited the East River from Long Island Sound in the magical dawn hours of Friday the 13th of September 2002. It was crisp and cool, with the sunlight dripping gold on the water and off the buildings as we passed under the bridges and alongside the shores of Manhattan. We were traveling in good company, with the tall ship Pride of Baltimore II just ahead of us as we passed through the infamous Hell Gate.

Further down river near the United Nations building, we were approached by an ominous Coast Guard speed boat painted black bearing men in black carrying automatic weapons who questioned our intentions. They escorted us all the way past the UN, and in good humor wished us a good trip. This was an acute sign of change from the pre-9.11 world when we rarely if ever saw armed guards in our cities.

As we rounded the Battery and greeted Lady Liberty, the light streamed between the buildings of the World Financial Center where the twin towers had once stood so proudly. Our thoughts were solemn as we started our ascent up the mighty Hudson past the majestic skyline of the greatest city in the world.

We secured Espresso on her mooring off Pier 40 and walked down to Ground Zero. There, in the excavated earth, we felt a great emptiness – a monumental loss of spirit. There was no solace there, only pain. So we walked somberly down to Manhattan Yacht Club to retrieve the ten memorial flags we would fly in remembrance of the victims on the morrow.

Early Saturday morning September 14th, we rose to welcome our guests. We were being joined by two good friends and the family of one of the young victims who did not return from WTC1 on September 11, 2001. His parents, his sister and her husband were sailing with us, and we were prepared for a very emotional day.

Not wishing to linger, we left our mooring early – before 8 AM. We motored out nervously and, as far as we could tell, found ourselves to be the only boat in the entire harbor. It was an eerie feeling; very reminiscent of what we felt a short year ago when we sailed off - entirely alone at first - the weekend after 9.11. Every one of us felt trepidation being out there but kept it to ourselves. We motored on past Battery Park, then out to the Statue of Liberty and back.

As we returned to the vicinity of 'Ground Zero', the fireboat came on station. By now some boats were coming out of the marinas along the New Jersey shore far away. As the water started to shoot from the fireboat, it caught the light passing between the remaining WTC buildings in an almost surreal but beautiful way. We watched in awe and silence.

We raised our sails into a gentle breeze on schedule at precisely 9 AM. As we looked around, we realized we were still the only sailboat there in the vicinity of Ground Zero. It was very lonely, and yet spiritually perhaps even more dramatic than the hundreds of sails we expected would have been – like a solitary tribute to the heroes who’d lost their lives that fateful day. Other boats had raised their sails, too, over on the other side of the river as well as in the vicinity of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. We sailed on, past Lady Liberty’s torch accompanying the fireboat as it created rainbows in its plumes of spray.

A sadness settled in on us at this time. Where were all the hundreds of other boats that were to be part of this tribute? What if no one else showed up?

A short while later we came about to head back towards Governor’s Island and someone shouted, “Look, up the East River. The fleet is coming!”

It was like a dream. A forest of masts was passing under the Brooklyn Bridge. Soon after this, the boats were raising their sails as this armada approached New York harbor. We weren’t alone any more and our spirits soared.

It was awe inspiring to be in the middle of one of the greatest gatherings of sailboats we are likely to ever see in our lives. Scores of sails were filling the harbor with hope. People were lining the shores, the decks of cruise ships and passing ferries, and the balconies of buildings. It was a brilliant day, and a great day for everyone to begin anew.

Back ashore that afternoon, our friends thanked us profusely for sharing this experience with them. They had attended the ceremonies at Ground Zero on the anniversary of 9.11 and had been weighed down terribly by reliving the past. On the 14th, they felt very different – somewhat lighter-hearted. As one of new friends said, “Today, I feel that I can go on. This is not about looking back. It’s about moving forward.” He was there on 9.11. He witnessed the collapse. With the unity he experienced on this day he foresaw a new beginning.

We hadn’t known initially why we were so drawn to this event. We had just known that we had to take part and that we had to pass on the word. Perhaps it was our destiny to help one family heal. Perhaps we needed to heal, too.

Our gaze then shifted toward the Verrazano Narrows where the second fleet – this one flying spinnakers and poled out genoas – was heading toward us under the bridge from Sandy Hook and the Atlantic. And to the north, out of the mist, the Hudson River fleet began appearing. From all directions, fleets of sailboats were congregating in the harbor – countless boats meeting up by the Statue of Liberty and joining together to sail back up past Ground Zero to pay their respects. There were classic vessels of all shapes and sizes – from square rigged tall ships, to schooners and sandbaggers; there were brand new racing sloops and sleds; there were cruisers, day sailors and even some small dinghies. We all sailed together silently in memory and honor of those who gave their lives for our freedom, while healing the spirits of those who were left behind to rebuild.

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From a flight attendant on Delta Flight 15 - written after 9-11

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