March 4, 2010

Captain pursues dream of taking handicapped kids sailing

DENNIS HOEY

— By

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Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer...... Thursday, October 29, 2009...Captain George McKay has sailed his ship, the Raw Faith, a reproduction of a 1600 era sailing ship, into Portland Harbor and will be offering free tours of the ship to the public this weekend. Built by McKay and his three sons in Addison, Maine, the Raw Faith's mission is to someday provide wheelchair accessability and take handicapped visitors aboard for trips. The ship is docked at Portland Yacht Services on Fore Street in Portland.

click image to enlarge

Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer...... Thursday, October 29, 2009...Captain George McKay has sailed his ship, the Raw Faith, a reproduction of a 1600 era sailing ship, into Portland Harbor and will be offering free tours of the ship to the public this weekend. The Raw Faith is docked at Portland Yacht Services on Fore Street in Portland.

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Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Raw Faith wasn't supposed to be in Portland on Thursday night, but there it was, a 118-foot, wooden, three-masted sailing ship looking ghostly in the rapidly fading light.

The ship, built to one day provide free sailing adventures for wheelchair-bound children and their families, had come to Portland Harbor the night before, as its crew sought refuge from winds that made most of them seasick.

Raw Faith, designed by its captain, George McKay, to look like a 16th-century English galleon, was given permission to dock at Portland Yacht Services.

The hand-built ship, which the Portland Press Herald first wrote about in 2003, was destined for Salem, Mass., when the storm knocked it off course.

''(McKay) just showed up. It's a small community of sailors, and we try to help whenever we can,'' said Phineas Sprague Jr., who owns Portland Yacht Services.

McKay gave up his job as a mechanical engineer to devote himself to the project. With help from his wife, Jo Anne, and three sons, he finished building the ship in August 2003.

He was inspired by his daughter, Elizabeth, who has Marfan syndrome, a rare hereditary disorder that confines her to a wheelchair.

In August 2003 in the Down East fishing village of Addison, Raw Faith was launched into the Pleasant River when a friend of McKay's used his bulldozer to push it from its wooden cradle. More than 200 spectators sang the hymn ''Amazing Grace.''

Raw Faith was moved to Jonesport, where it was outfitted.

It set sail from Rockland, headed for New Jersey, in November 2004. At the time, McKay told the Press Herald, ''My entire family believes that kids with a disability have faith that life is worth living. And that faith is raw. That is why we named the ship Raw Faith.''

During that trip, Raw Faith was damaged by stormy seas. That kept McKay and the ship in Rockland for several months to make improvements ordered by the Coast Guard.

In May 2006, the ship, headed for New Jersey again, lost all three masts in strong winds off Mount Desert Rock. The ship and crew had to be rescued by the Coast Guard.

Raw Faith spent most of this summer sailing around Penobscot Bay, and though it still doesn't have an engine, McKay says it is finally seaworthy.

He recruits crew members through his Web site and through ads.

''It's a really amazing lifestyle,'' said Brian Louisos of Boston, the ship's navigator, who sleeps on mats on the floor of his cabin.

''I've sailed before, but not on anything like this,'' said Lexie Cohn, a crewmate from Jacksonville, Fla.

McKay, who is divorced now, says he won't give up on his vision. His daughter, who lives in Virginia, still enjoys coming aboard Raw Faith.

McKay and his crew of volunteer sailors hope to generate enough interest in Portland to attract donations.

Raw Faith will be open for public tours during Halloween weekend. The tours will be free, but donations will be accepted, McKay said.

He said some people think Raw Faith looks like a ghost ship, but ''the tours won't be gruesome or scary.''

Raw Faith's Web site is rawfaithsailingadventures.com. McKay can be reached by calling 609-617-4129.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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