Sailing into calmer seas: Clondalkin man faces his demons

by Gazette Reporter
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By Rose Barrett

For Chris McDonald, facing his addiction demons proved a major challenge which has opened new doors for him.

The 47-year-old from Clondalkin completed the rehabilitation programme at Tiglin and is now a now a trainee project worker with its aftercare day programme based at Greystones.

One of the most invigorating outings he experienced in aftercare was ‘Sailing into Wellness’, where he felt he reconnected with the sea and nature.

Chris told Dublin Gazette: “It was challenging, a completely different experience for me but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I first participated when I was on the day care programme with Tiglin.

“It was for six weeks in 2018, one day sailing per week. We had an experienced sailor/instructor with us, that is five to six residents in small boats.

“More recently, I went out with Colin and James on the Ilan, a bigger boat and it was amazing. It was an overnight sail from Dublin port on the Ilan. We sailed around Howth and then back to port.

“It was all about team building, and we learned sailing skills. We were shown how to steer, to raise and lower the sails, repack them. We were all integral to running the boat. We would literally never have moved it unless we all worked together so it really did work as a team building exercise.

“It was a brilliant experience, lovely to be able to get up early and see the sunrise; even listening to the ocean, so calming and the sea itself was so smooth, like glass – it was stunning.

“There was great comraderie and craic sleeping down in the belly of the boat and we shared cooking duties in the galley.”

A planned trip to the west of Ireland had to be deferred due to Covid-19 but Chris is hoping it will be rescheduled for later in 2021.

The dad-of-two, who left school at 17, has since completed a Level 5 in Community and Addiction Studies and is now studying for a Level 7 degree in Community Drug and Alcohol Work at UCD.

Inspiration for well-being

Colin Healy, co-founder of Sailing into Wellness, knows better than most the calming and invigorating experience the ocean brings.

“In 2013, when I myself was in recovery, a friend brought me out on a boat so I came relatively late to sailing. It was a powerful and empowering experience,” he explained.

“Together, James Lyons and I founded Sailing into Wellness in 2016, a not-for-profit organisation that uses sailing to help people overcome life’s challenges.

“James had vast experience through his business, Sovereign Sailing and together we ran pilot programmes initially in Limerick and Cork.

“Sailing is a wonderful experience for team building, as an educational and therapeutical tool. We use boats from different yacht clubs in Dublin from the INNS, Dun Laoghaire, the Howth Yacht Club.”

Colin, who has experienced the full cycle of addiction, said the experience on the ocean is wonderfully effective for those in rehabilitation or recovery.

He said: “They’re coming from a place where they’re extremely vulnerable. What the sea does, and what we do – they can feel vulnerable in a different way and a different space.

“But together, they are learning skills through experiential learning, leadership skills, communicating with each other, depending on each other, it improves their self-esteem within a strange environment.

“With the right encouragement, they can take on something they never thought they would. We want to develop an adventure therapy programme to add value to what organisations like Tiglin offer. We’re currently developing a longer programme including land based development skills”. See or contact [email protected] for further enquiries.

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