35 Years: Sailing

L to R: Jacque Spence and Jamie Spence—founders and Executive Vice President and President, respectively—in the early days of Canvasback Missions.

L to R: Jacque Spence and Jamie Spence—founders and Executive Vice President and President, respectively—in the early days of Canvasback Missions.

Canvasback Missions, Inc. celebrates in 35th year of service, this year. That's an incredible feat: the mission has served the Micronesian nations for almost as long as they've independent states. To celebrate these 35 years of service, we'll be sharing those early stories from the mission. This week, we look at the origins of the mission: sailing. From touring the Pacific to serving remote islands, Canvasback is firmly rooted in the sea.

The story starts with Canvasback's founders, Jamie and Jacque Spence. (They continue to lead the mission, as President and Executive Vice President, respectively.) In the '70s, they left their careers to sail the Pacific, searching for adventure, meaning, and something more. They toured for an astounding seven years, during which they came across island after beautiful island of inspiring people. They saw, they listened, and they came to understand the health disparity across Micronesia: people did not have access to the most basic of health services, such as primary care or medicines.

Eyes, teeth, skin, etc.—there was a clear need for health care in the remote islands of the Pacific.

Eyes, teeth, skin, etc.—there was a clear need for health care in the remote islands of the Pacific.

The Spences returned to the United States and began construction of a ship, of a means to deliver the critical health care that wasn't available. This was 1981—35 years ago—the start of the mission. The most effective way to travel among these small islands, many of which were only accessible by infrequent ocean vessels, was a sailing catamaran. This double-hulled vessel was wind-powered and had plenty of space for doctors and medical supplies.

They settled on a design: they would build an aluminum catamaran. At 71 feet long, it was the largest aluminum sailing catamaran, at the time. Utilizing volunteer power and donations of equipment and supplies from local businesses, they launched the ship on June 16, 1986. They named it Canvasback.

For years, the Canvasback served the islands, ferrying volunteer physicians and delivering free medical and dental care and health education. As happens, though, the mission's needs outgrew the vessel. Operating and maintenance costs grew, and a transition to providing specialized health care—and the subsequent requirement for fully equipped operating rooms—meant the vessel wasn't what we needed, anymore. In 1998, Canvasback Mission sold its catamaran and continued expanding its programs and reach in the Pacific.

We miss the Canvasback, but we're proud of how we've expanded into specialized surgeries and new nations. The mission was inspired by years of sailing and started by sailing to the aid of people who were isolated. Although the ship is gone, our founders continue navigation of a different sort in the Pacific: of government and regulations, of politics and fundraising. God's call to two individuals has led to a 35-year mission running strong and reaching more people than ever before. That's worth celebrating.