What a Single Sail Can Do: Sails for Sustenance

Who ever imagined that a sail could not only power a boat, but feed and shelter a family?

“When I bought a new boat a year ago, a bunch of old sails came with it. They wear out with time, and people throw them in the attic or basement,” says Allen Carter of Winnetka. “They are so heavy and cumbersome that there’s no easy way to dispose of them, and not really much of a system for reselling them.”

Carter, an avid sailor, started searching for places to take his used sails, and stumbled upon Sails for Sustenance. The Miami-based organization sends used sails to remote fishing villages in Haiti.

Carter was at first simply curious, then became completely enamored with the idea.

“Giving a subsistence fisherman a sail absolutely changes his life. They can achieve faster speeds, which lets them trawl for bigger fish. They fish for their food every day – so fishing is a matter of life and death,” says Carter.

Because sails are made from Kevlar and carbon, two of the toughest materials on earth, they are lightweight and durable – so durable that some families remove the sail from their boat and use it as a tent at night.

Carter decided to spread the word in the Chicago sailing community.

“Sails are expensive, sometimes costing $5,000 apiece, and racing sailboats sometimes purchase two new sails in a season, since they stretch out, and a new sail can mean much faster speeds,” he explains.

According to Carter, once in Miami, donated sails are inspected and cataloged according to condition, material, size, type, stripped of battens and tackle, flaked and rolled to specific dimensions, and packed into canvas bags. Because of the database, donors of sails can track their sail to the recipient community, often remote fishing villages.

Sails are then shipped to Port-Au-Prince through a partnership with Food for the Poor, and then additional partner organizations take the sails to remote villages and distribute them to fishermen.

Carter set up tables at regattas, and the Chicago sailing community was mobilized. Last year, he collected 29 sails, which he collected directly from the sailor’s homes, and drove in a van down to Miami. This year, he hopes to collect 100.

“The sailing community here is so close-knit, and willing to engage,” he says.

Carter is happy to pick up sails from anyone who wishes to donate, and Sails for Sustenance provides a tax letter as well. To donate a sail, contact Carter at [email protected]

Photo Caption: Allen Carter, right and his colleague Jeff Gockstetter, left.