PEI

Soldiers with PTSD learn to sail — and heal — on P.E.I.

Eleven members of the Canadian military are learning to sail on P.E.I. this week to help them cope with injuries, both physical and mental.

Soldier On program comes to P.E.I. for the 1st time

Retired captain Kendra Mellish is among 11 soldiers learning to sail as part of the Soldier On program on P.E.I. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Eleven members of the Canadian military are learning to sail on P.E.I. this week to help them cope with injuries, both physical and mental.

They're participants in the Soldier On program, which is run by the Canadian Armed Forces.

Among the participants was retired Air Force captain Kendra Mellish.

"For me personally, I can say it is calming," said Mellish.

"It is a wonderful experience just being out on the water, challenging myself with new skills, just being with veterans who understand mental health injuries and illnesses."

'Creating a bond'

Mellish served in the military for 27 years and knows the intense stress it can bring.

Her late husband, Frank Mellish, died in combat in Afghanistan in 2006. She has a son who is currently serving in the military. Another family member who also served in the military took his own life.

It's a kinship you cannot have anywhere else.- Kendra Mellish

The four-day sailing program began Sunday in Charlottetown harbour.

Mellish and the other participants, all from the Maritimes, are learning to how to rig, sail and navigate keel boats, and to perform necessary safety skills, such as responding to a "man overboard."

"Just to be here with these fellow soldiers, it's a kinship you cannot have anywhere else,"said Mellish.

"We're creating a bond."

For the first time, keel boats are being used in the Soldier On program. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Keel boats used for 1st time

For the first time in the Soldier On program's 10-year history, participants are sailing in keel boats.

The boats — with their distinctive rigid keels below the water line — are a common recreational vessel in P.E.I. waters.

A reception for the keel boat participants is slated to take place Wednesday at Government House when the sailing course is done.

Organizers say they intend to bring the Soldier On program to P.E.I. again — perhaps with a focus on golf or other outdoor sports.