Steve Van Vlaenderen and Darlene Hildebrand head out on the last leg of their Great Lakes sailing journey. June 10, 2019 Photo by Melanie Irwin

Couple shoving off on last leg of sail for Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s may slow down Steve Van Vlaenderen, but he isn’t about to let it stop his dream of sailing the Great Lakes.

The 69-year-old Winnipeg man and his partner Darlene Hildebrand, 65, kicked off the final leg of their journey to raise awareness for the disease from Andrew S. Brandt Marina at Sarnia Bay Monday morning.

They’ll spend the next two and a half months travelling 1,700 kilometres down the St. Clair River and through lakes Erie and Ontario.

Van Vlaenderen said he wants others coping with the disease to see that you can still live well with Parkinson’s. He said being on the water is very therapeutic.

“When I’m sailing on the Great Lakes, I don’t think about Parkinson’s at all, to me, it doesn’t exist, I do have the tremors, I do have the slow movement, but I don’t think about it at all,” said Van Vlaenderen.

The couple sailed from Gimli, Manitoba to Georges Island, Nova Scotia, and back in 2017, and around 1,400 kilometres on lakes Superior and Huron in 2018.

“On a typical day we sail on average 42 to 45 nautical miles and depending on the wind it could take us eight to 12 hours on any given day,” said Van Vlaenderen.

Hildebrand credits Van Vlaenderen for extensively planning the trips.

“We sailed last summer with another couple that we met half way through our journey, and in the mornings we would get up and what might take our friends half an hour to prepare, would take Steve well over an hour, so he has to plan for that extra time,” she said.

Hildebrand said Van Vlaenderen’s small motor skills are affected by the disease.

“The big motor skills, [like] lifting, surprisingly aren’t affected by Parkinson’s, but things like tying a knot, will just take him longer to do,” she said.

More information about the disease and the couple’s journey can be found here.