Bob Ferri's military service in Vietnam ended 47 years ago. But he never talked so much about the continuing effects of his time there until he went sailing Saturday with fellow veteran Josh Hartley.
Ferri and Hartley were among about 90 veterans and their family members who spent most of the afternoon sailing on Long Island Sound during the largest event yet for Sail Ahead, a group created by two Huntington Station teenagers.
The teens, their parents and two sisters started taking veterans sailing in 2013. The group has attracted more volunteers since then, some of whom donate the use of their boats.
There are sailings most weekends, said Kilian Duclay, 18, who founded the group with his brother Sean, now 16.
Usually only a few boats set sail. On Saturday, about 30 set out from Northport Harbor.
Sail Ahead uses sailing as a form of therapy for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, though the trips are open to all vets. The outings forge kinship among veterans who can relate to what other vets are dealing with, Duclay said.
Ferri, 66, of Stony Brook, said he thinks about the war every day and sailing takes his mind off it. "It's like yoga on the water," he said.
Hartley, 32, of Union City, New Jersey, a Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been sailing since September. In the winter, with the bracing cold and high winds that are typical on the Sound, there's no choice but to concentrate on sailing and not war, he said. "When you're on a plastic dinghy and if you fall in the water, it's zero degrees -- it's very focused and intense."
Saturday's outing was leisurely, with volunteers hoisting and bringing down the sails and maneuvering the boats. On typical outings, veterans learn how to sail, which promotes teamwork, Duclay said.
"You create a strong bond with who you're out with," Duclay said. "You depend on each other. Teamwork is almost like a healing process, a therapy."
Ferri and Hartley had never met until they set out Saturday on the Bon Couers boat with several others, including Hartley's three children and girlfriend.
The boat belongs to a friend of Ferri's, and he was the co-skipper. He went out as a volunteer but ended up thanking Hartley for the conversation and camaraderie.
Ferri said that for more than 40 years he never talked with anyone about what he went through in Vietnam -- not the physical pain that came from being wounded twice, nor the psychological toll, nor the ringing in his ears he experiences to this day.
"In my era, you didn't say anything," he said. "You didn't talk to anyone. But it doesn't help to keep it to yourself. It helps to have someone to talk to."
Hartley suffered traumatic brain injury from the explosion of an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010. Since then he has had intense, constant ringing in his ears, which he uses white-noise devices to counteract, and endured severe migraines, he said. When he returned from Afghanistan, "I'd wake up and I wouldn't know where I was. I thought I was in Afghanistan. I'd forget people's names."
Ferri's experiences weren't exactly the same. But Hartley said he quickly related to him in a way that he couldn't relate to nonveterans, many of whose first question after finding out he served in Iraq and Afghanistan is, "Did you kill anyone?"
At sea with a fellow veteran, the conversation is different.
"You're all going through the same thing," Hartley said.