Elaine Lilli Timmins
There are some remarkable similarities between human blood and sea water—the ionic composition of each, for example, is nearly identical. This would come as no surprise to Immaculata alum Elaine Timmins, R.N. (formerly Elaine Lilli ’83) who, in addition to being a nursing care manager at Woodmere Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Woodmere, NY, is also a devoted sailor. She would take it for granted that sea water flowed through her veins.
“I grew up power boating with my family,” said Timmins, who grew up on Long Island, spending family vacations sailing up the Hudson as far as Canada. “I always liked being on the water,” she said.
In fact, she liked it so much, when she married her husband—another dedicated sailor that she “met on the dock”— they lived on a boat for a couple of years. But as Timmins admitted, “It was cold there in New York and shoveling the snow off the docks was a challenge. But it was fun and I loved it.”
Eventually they bought a house and settled down, but never lost their love of the sea, and Timmins jokingly refers to a stretch when they didn’t have a boat as “the Dark Years.”
For the past decade, Timmins and her husband have owned Calico Jack, a 39-foot, cutter-rigged, doubled-ended Vagabond, a vessel built to be good in rough seas. They named it after a pirate who dared to defy the superstition that women on board were bad luck, and who sailed with not one, but two female crew members. As Timmins put it, “That boat won’t leave without this woman on it!” And Calico Jack is the boat that Timmins and her husband sailed to Bermuda in 2003.
When a friend mentioned that he’d like to sail to Bermuda, Timmins said she would love to do that too. When that same friend spoke to her husband Brian about it, at first he said no. “We had just gotten the boat, we were working on it—the timing was wrong,” said Timmins.
But the friend went back to her husband and announced, “Well, your wife is going.”
“I had small amounts of offshore long-distance experience,” said Timmins. “Going out for the day is no big deal. Block Island is a 24-hour run; it’s two-and-a-half days out to Nantucket, so you’re taking shifts.
“But Bermuda is a 700-mile run over open ocean, crossing the Gulf Stream,” said Timmins. “I just thought, you know, talk is cheap. Let’s do it.”
And do it they did, first taking a “Suddenly Alone” seminar, a sailing safety training workshop, in Connecticut to prepare. “You have to be fully capable of handling everything alone,” said Timmins, “of getting that boat to port. So rule number one for me was ‘everyone stays on the boat and no one falls off!’”
Timmins and her husband set sail from Brooklyn on a Sunday in June and, for two-and-a-half days, it was rough. “The boat was fine, my husband was fine,” said Timmins, “but I didn’t have my sea legs that season yet and it was my first big voyage.”
Four boats left Brooklyn that weekend headed for Bermuda, but as Timmins noted, “It’s a big ocean out there. It was so rough that every day we didn’t see anybody.” They tried to make radio contact with the other crafts, but to no avail.
By Thursday, they were 200-250 miles outside of Bermuda, and Timmins said, “I was on the radio Thursday afternoon calling and paging the other boats when Bermuda radio came on and asked me when was the last time I had contact with any of them. They had received an emergency signal from one of them, and all we could think about is what happened to them.”
Timmins and her husband pulled into Bermuda that Saturday morning and, when they checked in at customs, learned that theirs was the only boat that had made it so far. “Those other boats had left a day before we did,” said Timmins, “and we kept thinking about those couple of rough days.”
Finally, the other boats straggled in, and nine days after it had sailed from Brooklyn, the final boat arrived. “He had some ripped sails and had a rough go of it,” said Timmins, but fortunately everyone was safe and accounted for.
They all relaxed for a week on the sands of Bermuda and Timmins discovered that a couple of their fellow sailors were planning to combine their talents on one boat and sail from Brooklyn to Greece, a trans-Atlantic, two-month journey, in time for the Olympics.
“I did the next best thing,” said Timmins, who flew over and sailed from Corfu to many of the Greek Islands, and got to Athens in time for the closing ceremonies.
“Before we got married, we sailed in the Bahamas for our honeymoon, and that’s some beautiful sailing,” said Timmins. “But Greece is a fantastic place to sail. All the islands are very different— Rhodes has a very Italian influence, Corfu is very Venetian, the Ionians are very rugged—the food, the architecture, they’re all different. And I love the ruins—you’re tripping over ruins there, and it just amazes me.”
Timmins is studying Greek now to learn more of the language. “It’s a backup retirement plan,” she said, “to crew a charter boat there. It’s just a phenomenal place to sail.”
Another dream of hers is to sail the South Pacific. “It’s a sailor’s dream because of the waters and the islands,” said Timmins. “Places you go to now, their harbors are more crowded, and you’re not hearing that of the South Pacific.”
The challenge, of course, is getting there. “If it’s in retirement years,” said Timmins, “you go through the Panama Canal. If it’s before retirement, you fly and charter a boat within that area.”
While sailing requires physical strength, skill and balance, Timmins noted that some things, such as navigation, have gotten much easier. “Now there are GPS systems, where before it was charts and compasses. Of course, you want to keep those skills,” she pointed out, “because if the devices fail, you’ll need them!”
Timmins belongs to the Deep Creek Yacht Club in Brooklyn, and for two years has been Commodore of DCYC for the Blessing of the Fleet at Sheepshead Bay, a maritime tradition in which six local sailing organizations take part. As Commodore, her vessel leads the participating boats from her club as they pass the reviewing/blessing dock.
“I think that kind of event is important,” said Timmins. “I think it helps preserve those waterways, especially in New York.” Timmins knows that people don’t always realize or appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds them, and an annual public blessing ceremony “keeps people aware,” said Timmins. “It’s a time to look at things from the other side, so to speak, the birds, the wildlife…just looking at the skyline of Manhattan.
“I’m forever telling people how much fun sailing is,” said Timmins. “There are some great Women at Sea seminars for women who want to get away from the husband, who usually assumes the role of captain.”
But she cautions that, before actually buying a boat, those who are interested but inexperienced should charter, take some courses, and go out on the water with experienced sailors. “Sailors are really friendly. They’re always willing to take someone out.”
As far as Timmins is concerned, the rewards of sailing are more than worth the effort. During one of her night watches on the way to Bermuda, in the wee hours of the morning, she woke her husband because dolphins started playing next to the boat. “It’s very humbling,” she said. “You feel very small. And believe me, you do pray. The rosaries are always there.
“You’re at the mercy of the elements,” said Timmins, “but it’s so beautiful with nothing around you but the stars. It’s awe-inspiring.”