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How We Began

Maine couple offer life-changing sailing excursions on 52-foot sailboat


Christina Montano and Nielsen van Duijn are as passionate about sailing as they are about nurturing and inspiring those around them. Working for more than two decades as healing practitioners and social entrepreneurs, the couple founded a scholarship-based sailing program for teens called Heart Of The Storm.


Through a unique and powerful program, young people from Maine and the Bahamas will not only learn both tangible skill sets and values, such as teamwork, as they sail in the islands around where they live, but will also learn about the importance of developing strong connections between themselves, and on a broader community level.

“We’re not taking the teens out so they can learn how to sail a boat and tie a knot, though that happens of course,” said Nielsen. “Our real goal is to build connections between these young people on the boat, and as importantly, to continue this growth back on shore within the larger context of their communities.


We’re building a sea and land-based program that builds real connections between individuals and groups of people that may otherwise not have communicated in a meaningful and positive way before.  We’re helping teens become stronger within themselves to weather the inevitable storms from a place of calm, and we’re also seeking to support their communities to do the same. 


HOTS is really a program for everyone interested in creating more meaningful connections.”

In 2012, Heart Of The Storm purchased a 52-foot, solid teak sailing ketch, Aliento. Her the former owner,  Rev. George Wilson of East Hampton, was very enthusiastic that Aliento would be an integral component in this new experiential education program for youth and their communities.  Aliento sailed its way north from East Hampton, New York to Blue Hill, Maine, where Heart Of The Storm is based.


For Rev. Wilson, bringing people together, literally and figuratively on the water, has been a strong component of his ministry. “Now I feel that my life is really complete, in a project such as this.” He commented.


Heart of the Storm’s first inaugural teen “sail-voyage” was July 11, 2012.  Christina and Nielsen, along with a small crew, led a co-ed group of six teens in life-changing experiences on the water.  Since that first voyage, Aliento has sailed up and down the east coast from Maine to the Bahamas, positively enhancing the lives of youth and their communities.


Future voyages will be documented and filmed in an ongoing series called “Sailing Bridges”. These narratives will be shared on social media platforms, within high schools, and middle schools, and in other organizations such as nursing homes, as a way to inspire and challenge others to also make connections within their communities.


Through this grass-roots effort,  Nielsen and Christina maintain a larger vision of replicating the HOTS model to create similar programs around the country.


Heart Of The Storm is funded through the generosity of private individuals, local community organizations, and business leaders. Local sponsors will have the opportunity to personally meet the young sailors during a ‘meet and greet’ that takes place on board Aliento prior to the sail.  Nielsen said they would like to secure at least ten base sponsors that they could count on each year. “Our intent is to invite on board every teen who would like to participate,” said Christina. “We do not want to turn anyone away.”


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