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Starlight Sailors Remember Overdose Victims

A photo gallery in the vessel’s lower deck features images of those remembered Aug. 25.

By Eric Conklin

WILDWOOD CREST – The Starlight Fleet, based in Wildwood Crest, which runs fishing charters throughout summer, sailed a late-evening back bay trip Aug. 25 with a deeper meaning than fish limits and pool winners. 
The cruise was the fourth opioid awareness event held on behalf of Cape Addiction Recovery Services (CARES), a drug treatment program founded by Cape Regional Health System. Usually held on land, it was the first time the event took to the water to remember those lost to drug use, some of whom had families on board the Atlantic Star, which was decorated with purple lights for Overdose Awareness Day, recognized annually Aug. 31. 
The trip set sail shortly after 6:30 p.m., as nearly 100 sailors mingled about the double-deck vessel. The trip went through Wildwood Crest’s backwaters, under Middle Thorofare Bridge, and into the Atlantic Ocean in front of Cape May and its surrounding boroughs, returning through the Cape May Canal.  
On its return, the captain took the boat through Lund’s Fisheries’ dock, where several boats’ masts were also bedecked in purple lights to welcome the group’s return. A house in the distance featured purple lights, too. 
The event recognized local commercial fishermen for their work in helping expel drugs from their industry. Substance use is common in it, and many are taking steps to end it.  
“I think last night really highlighted how strong we all are, as a community,” Patrick Miller, of CARES and one of the event’s organizers, told the Herald, in a post-event email. “There were overdose survivors, family members, law enforcement, individuals with criminal histories, teachers, and everyone in between in attendance, but all of us came out in force to honor the commercial fishing industry professionals, who help keep our country fed.”
“It’s just an amazing thing how all these different people are linked by an inherently negative thing, substance use, but we all have the power to come together and create something beautiful, as a community,” Miller added. 
Launched Aug. 1, 2017, the CARES program, bred with grant funding, helps those under Cape Regional Health System’s care who suffered a non-fatal overdose. When a patient is being treated, a CARES specialist is assigned to the patient, where they help them with additional treatment for substance use, in an effort to prevent that patient from repeated use and possible overdoses. 
The event’s most impassioned portion came as several speakers shared stories about their experiences and losing a loved one to opioid use.  
One speaker, Tonia Ahren, told the story about her son, Rory, who died July 9. She described Rory, a commercial fisherman, as someone who felt the sea was “the only place he felt peace.”  
Ahren told the sailors that her “courageous” son was a teacher, and that he allowed his mother to share his story with drug use the past nine years because he knew he wasn’t alone in the struggle to address it. He also longed for a family, a motorcycle, a boat that ran, and to become a commercial fishing boat captain. 
He left behind a niece, Westley, who celebrated her first birthday on the cruise. 
Personally, Ahren learned what resiliency looked like. 
“No matter where someone is that you love in their journey, remember that they are not their illness,” Ahren said. “Don’t let fear and anger keep you from cherishing every moment of joy and letting them know they are loved. I’m grateful that even when we were challenged by Rory’s struggle, he always knew he was loved by his family.” 
After sailing to Cape May’s seaside, the boat ventured toward Cape May Point, passing the Cape May Lighthouse, Sunset Beach, and halting in the ocean for a lamp-lighting ceremony. As the sun finished its curtain call over the Delaware Bay, those sailing the Atlantic Star were directed to one of the specially packaged purple bags aboard, where they’d find a hot-air lamp light and a lighter to sail it over the water. 
Those wanting to light a lamp wrote messages on them to loved ones lost to drug use. Most, unfortunately, didn’t fly far, landing in the ocean below, but those that made it to the sky provided a source of light, like a series of newly made stars. 
To contact Eric Conklin, email econklin@cmcherald.com. 

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