Setting Sail with the Duclay Brothers

Walt Whitman Principal Kathie Acker is proud of Sean and Kilian Duclay and their Sailing Initiative for Veterans.
Walt Whitman Principal Kathie Acker is proud of Sean and Kilian Duclay and their Sailing Initiative for Veterans.

With fall in full swing and the chill of winter not far ahead, two young students at Walt Whitman are ready to begin an annual adventure that would make most of us shudder. Zipping up their dry suits, Sean and Kilian Duclay are ready to slip onto the waters off Oakcliff Sailing Center in Oyster Bay for a day of winter sailing. And they aren’t alone. Each winter weekend, weather permitting, the Duclay brothers host Long Island’s men and women military veterans, many with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), serious trauma, or other illnesses.

Dubbing his project the “Sailing Initiative for Veterans,” Kilian, struck upon the idea last year when he was beginning this college search. “I was intrigued by the Coast Guard Academy and how they, as well as most colleges, are looking for students who stand out and are doing something different,” said the Whitman senior. Kilian and his sophomore brother Sean contacted the NYPD Marine Corps Association and told them of their plan.

“This is the best therapy I’ve ever had,” said a Vietnam veteran who quickly took to the fast-paced, adrenaline-rushing sport. The brothers sail Hobie Cats. Small, fast, and nimble, these racers are the Porches of sailing, a ticket to all-out thrills. “The vets are fast learners,” said Sean. “Many have experienced the worst conditions in war, so the cold, biting wind and salt water spray don’t seem to phase them a bit.” Many times over the winter, the brothers and their vets push through snow and ice to get into clear waters.

Both of the brothers sail out of the Oakcliff Sailing Center in Oyster Bay. Oakcliff offers a place for virtually every sailor, but it is famous for its unique student programs. Participants can sail everything from high-performance dinghies to match racing boats to offshore racers. Sailing is positively one of the best therapies for many.

“This opportunity gives both of us the chance to meet new people with really interesting stories,” said Sean. “And in turn we get to share our love for sailing.” Both boys have grown up in a family who feels strongly about giving back. “My grandfather was a prisoner of war in Germany, and when he was freed, he instilled in my dad to never take anything for granted,” said Kilian. “Both my mom and dad have instilled their strong community-service beliefs and have taught us to be thankful for what we have, in all of us.” Kilian shares his commitment with brother Sean and sisters Jennifer and Maya. Holding dual citizenships, the Duclay's spend each summer in France with their dad’s family. Kilian hopes to begin college in Paris next fall, and he is interested in studying engineering.

No matter which side of the Atlantic the brothers are on, the time they spend giving back to our military veterans has left an indelible mark on both of them. “I know they have gone through hell where they fought,” said Sean. “So it amazes me how kind they all are. And they are so happy to experience the therapeutic benefits of sailing.”

“Spending time with our vets and listening to their stories makes me realize that we all need to do more to welcome them home and help them adjust after what they have experienced,” said Kilian. “I started this program as a way to stand out on college applications, but now it’s become all about our veterans and the sacrifices they made for us.”


Want to see what Sean and Kilian are up to in the Winter: