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Steven Price Brown
Many servicemen go through their career with no underlying problems, but many do pick up the, often unseen, effects of service in combat areas. This book is about some of them who were finding it difficult to settle into civilian life and how an organisation, “Turn to Starboard”, has been put together to help them help themselves get through this traumatic experience. This is a charitable organisation that has three sailing boats ranging from a 92 foot tall ship “Spirit of Falmouth” to a couple of smaller yachts. ‘Turn to starboard’ is a sailing expression whereby when two boats are steering towards each other they should both turn to starboard to get out of danger. This is the expression used for ex-servicemen who have been finding the transition from military life to civilian very difficult. The organisation is generally aimed at those who have served in combat but not necessarily so. The tall ship “Spirit of Falmouth” was donated by Prince Charles when he heard the ethos of the charity from the originator, Sqn Leader (Retd) Shaun Pascoe RAF.

The role of the organisation is to take relevant people and train them to sail, some going on to gain yacht master certificates at various levels. However, the main aim is to get guys to come together to sail, even if the only boat they had been on before was a ferry, and get them to sail the yachts around the Channel area. While that was fair enough Pascoe wanted to have a real challenge that the guys have to face up to, conquer and thus help themselves readjust to life outside the Service.

The challenge therefore was to take a bunch of ex servicemen of all ranks, army, Royal Marines and of course the skipper was RAF, on a sail round the UK from Falmouth to Falmouth on a 92’ sailing boat. Some of these guys had obvious battle scars in that at least one had a prosthetic leg but many had the invisible scars that are difficult to deal with. That is what this book is about. Few of these were sailors or had any sailing experience but they did have the experience from service days of working together to achieve an objective. The author is an ex Grenadier Guardsman with PTSD following an arduous tour in Afghanistan in 2012 where he was the advance team medic, dealing with some horrific incidents. He had never sailed before and had not even thought about it until he was recommended to contact Turn to Starboard. This was not an easy decision and initially found him sitting in his car scared to go in. That did not last long once he had met the team running the charity.

The book takes us from Falmouth up the east coast to Newcastle on to Orkney then back down the west coast, stopping at the Isle of Man and Liverpool. Liverpool was an important stop and target date as the boat was a replica of the Liverpool Harbour Pilots of the late 19th Century and was expected as part of Liverpool’s celebrations. One thing is at every stop they made somehow or other they crew were able to find the local distillery, brewery or best pub and make the most of their output! Strange that for squaddies and booties.

Banter is a very important part of this bonding and it helps the ex-serviceman to perhaps settle into civilian life more easily; for instance, when someone was caught doing something wrong or forgetting something then a kangaroo court was held with all present and punishment duly handed out to the guilty party: in one case an ex-para was ‘sentenced’ to carrying a gold lamé women’s handbag for 24 hours for a minor infraction and in another the culprit had allowed the dingy to float away so was sentenced to showing a knot properly tied every hour, on the hour, to the mate for a period of 24 hours! When in a pub at one of the stops the one-legged Para was chatting to locals at the bar and naturally putting his weight on his good leg – his ‘mates’ unclipped his prosthetic leg so when he went to stand up over he went! Practices which the crew fell into very easily and with no rancour. A whole bunch of guys living virtually on top of each other means that each had to respect the other’s space so if a bunk had to be disturbed to get a tool or something from it then the person disturbing it put it all back together again, normal and good practice – this did not happen though in the case of one guy who brought his regimental duvet cover, pillow cover, and curtain who seemed to find his bunk messed up on many occasions!

This story of Paras, Marines other soldiers and sailors coming together, getting the job learned then done is truly inspirational. Some go on to working in the yachting industry but most go back with a bit more confidence to face the world as it comes at them. There are a lot of books that claim to be inspirational, this one truly is. The story is not about circumventing the UK, but the guys that did it.

The organisation is Turn to Starboard and can be found at Home - Turn to Starboard look them up for more info.

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