Former SAS soldier shares the impact the Round Britain Challenge is having on his life

Rob MacKenzie, a former SAS soldier, joined the SAS in Rhodesia in 1979 and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) last year. He is taking part in the Turn 2 Starboard Round Britain Challenge. Halfway through sailing 2,000 miles around the British Isles aboard a 92-foot tall ship called the Spirit of Falmouth he shares a personal account of the impact the Round Britain Challenge is having on him and all other veterans onboard.

“You need to meet the Skipper” I was told, “He had bad PTSD, so much so he did not leave his house for four years”. Just then i had the honor of meeting Dan Fielding. In his late thirties, an ex Royal Marine who exuded humour, confidence and a love for the sea and people.

Under the able direction of Dan on board the Sprit of Falmouth a total of 18 veterans, battling with various medical issues be they physical or otherwise face the challenge of traveling Round Britain. Even the qualified crew have had to face their issues and come to a place of healing.

The short list was long for the Round Britain 2017 Challenge and those chosen by the veteran founder Shaun Pascoe were told that the we could look forward to finding mindfulness on the water. From different regiments and backgrounds the battle started. The biggest though is from within. Lacking confidence, nervously one took to the 92’ gaff Schooner. After leaving Falmouth over half of the new crew were heaving regurgitated cornish pasties into the Atlantic Ocean. We were quickly told that the lee side (apparently the side blowing away from the Ship) is the side of choice, otherwise the Helmsman is reintroduced to former culinary delights.

Gradually as sea legs are found the challenge takes root. Forces humour evolved as friendships formed. Upon offering my bottom bunk to a double amputee, Pat, he told me that he would give me free lessons in unarmed combat (he lost his left arm below the left elbow and his right hand, baring his thumb, to an IRA bomb). 

As with anything in life one gets out what one is prepared to work for and Turn To Starboard has a very high ethos in getting veterans through his or her issues and onto a new course. The right course. Several on board are already aiming towards achieving the Day Skippers Certificate.

On the ship all have to contribute. Muscles and brain cells are forced out of self-pity and retirement as sails are hauled up and down. Navigation charts are meticuloulsy studied as new skills are learnt. Suddenly the forsail purchase is not just something refering to a bargain in the Christmas rush and the stern is more than a bad look one gets in traffic. Time at the ship's wheel is testing as the ship moves disjointedly to the beginners moves, but suddenly the lovey Spirit of Falmouth becomes one with the novice when the sea with its tides, waves and surface wind gel together.

In the confines of the late night watch as the Spirit glides through the ocean, souls are bared and problems aired. One veteren of thirty five years and many battles, was suffering from PTSD so that prior to the trip he could not enter the local Tesco with us. Now on board his confidence restored he braved the imposing isles and tacked to the left and right as he bobbed and weaved his way through the shop. Another victory on this new journey.

Another recruit, who was on the Challenge last year, Big Al, took a hit to the head some years ago and spent months in a coma. Last year, suffering from memory loss he sat and ate a boiled egg whole. After a good laugh his dignity was restored, not until he had tried his hand at an orange and a banana.  Now Big Al is completing his Yacht Master Certificate as well as enjoying new edible delights.

So as one endeavours to seek the necessary healing it is most certainly a challenge but just as the ships off Dunkirk rescued so many, so too does Turn to Starboard and the Spirit of Falmouth aim to rescue so many veterans granting them renewed hope and energy to face the storms of life.

Find out more about Turn 2 Starboard at http://www.turntostarboard.co.uk/