First Words — 06 April 2013
A few good men, and women

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

Capt. Sean Kennedy, at the wheel of the Mariner III, points out the sights on Lake Worth Lagoon.

The 34 military veterans on board this Saturday afternoon – many old Navy salts – dutifully look left as the captain directs, then right, as they munch sub sandwiches donated by the Freedom Waters Foundation.

The captain, in khakis, shirt-sleeves and Ray-Bans, keeps a steady hand on the course up the Intracoastal between Palm Beach and West Palm Beach; but, perhaps in respect for his passengers today, he pauses to adjust the narrative.

“Of course what these guys really want,” he says, smiling, “is a bikini cruise.’’

Whoops of approval follow from among the vets, lounging from the sundeck to the fantail of the 122-foot yacht.

Sean Kennedy, at the Mariner III wheel since 1986, has hosted weddings, social events, celebrities – even the occasional film crew using the classic yacht (built in 1926) as a backdrop for movies, TV and fashion ads. But today, he’s turned his vessel over to Freedom Waters, a non-profit “Enhancing lives by providing boating opportunities for people with disabilities, life threatening illnesses, youth at risk and others with special needs.” The veterans are guests of Capt. Sean and FWF, in appreciation of their service.

“Least we could do,’’ Capt. Sean says, an orange ball cap not quite containing his curly gray locks. “Although, we should maybe have put some white tablecloths on the tables.’’

For many of the vets aboard –  who have served from Korea to Iraq –  this is more than a pleasure cruise. It’s a break.

“There is something about being on the water,’’ says Debra Frenkel, founder of Freedom Waters and a licensed clinical social worker. “It’s calming. People open up about what’s troubling them.’’

And there are troubles rippling these waters – troubles with family, the V.A., the adjustment from war to peace. Frenkel paces the Mariner III decks, at once the life of the party and the patient ear some have been waiting to bend.

“Some of the guys talk, but some sit quietly,’’ she says. “I go up to them all, with my plate of cookies, ask them how they’re doing. Some just open up – they really do want to talk.”

And she listens. Sometimes hearing what they have to say for the first time.

You would think in a country that owes so much to these fine soldiers, people would listen, or make an outing like this a common experience. But, it is not – in fact, the buzz aboard is that it’s hard to find boat owners like Capt. Sean willing to donate a little time. Organizations such as Freedom Waters (freedomwatersfoundation.org), and United Way of Broward/Red Cross’ Mission United (unitedwaybroward.org/missionunited), are often the first – sometimes the only – to help.

Before our stories this issue on advances in medical treatments, on world-class dining, on Jordan Wall, of A&E’s The Glades and, yes, on swimwear, I’m proud to bring such worthy forces for good to your attention. They don’t always get the respect they’ve earned, and deserve.

And, sometimes, they do.

Toward the end of our cruise, a power boat comes alongside Mariner III. The young man at the wheel and two women – in bikinis – look up and wave.

“Hats off to you,” the skipper of the smaller boat says, “thank you!’’

The vets smile down at this sight, on Lake Worth Lagoon. And not, I think, just because of the bikinis.

“This was so relaxing,’’ a Marine says, stepping off at the dock. “I feel like a new man.’’

“Honor to have you aboard,’’ Capt. Sean says, smiling. “Welcome back.’’

 

mgauert@cityandshore.com

 

 

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