Army amputees in Fastnet race


Book Reviewer

On Wednesday, sailing at eight knots in a ten-knot breeze and poor visibility, the yacht Spirit of Juno rounded the Fastnet Rock off the south of Ireland, cheered on by the lonely boom of the rock’s foghorn.

Her 18-strong crew, all members of Blesma, the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen’s Association, had left Cowes on Sunday — the 65ft Spirit of Juno was one of the 300 yachts competing in the famous race over 600 miles of notoriously dangerous and exposed waters — and they crossed the finishing line at Plymouth yesterday.

In a burst of bad weather on Wednesday, Lance Corporal Jonathan Lee, 26, who lost his right leg below the knee in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2007, had struggled with his teammate Rob Copsey to keep himself and one of the sails from being dragged off the bow of the boat. As the waves crashed over him Lee’s legs were swept from under him, while Copsey was briefly unable to move as his life jacket inflated.

“It’s a big challenge for me taking such an active role on the boat,” said Lee, speaking from a position 60 miles north of the Lizard. He had just received a new prosthetic leg which means that he can move around more easily than some of the older crew members, some missing two limbs.

The watch system is difficult because not everyone can carry out all the tasks, such as going forward on deck to change the sails, especially in strong winds. The crew have a mix of sailing experience but they are aware of each other’s different limitations.

“The more active of us run about a lot more, but no one complains,” said Wayne Harrod, 41, a serving colour sergeant, based at Infantry Training Centre, Catterick. “Perhaps the biggest challenge is trying to keep your balance.”

They had no special treatment: Spirit of Juno was penalised at the start when her engines failed and she drifted over the line. “No special prep was done on the boat,” said Harrod. “We just take longer to carry out certain tasks.”

Lee said: “It’s the same as any other boat in the Fastnet apart from the fact that they have more legs and arms.”

The gruelling pressures of the race and the cramped conditions on board remind Lee of being on tour. “You maintain the boat, then you look after each other.” The food is limited, they wash with wet wipes and only get three or four hours’ sleep at a time.

Neither man ever thought that he would race across the Irish Sea. After two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, Lee struggled to come to terms with his injury at Headley Court in Surrey.

“I thought my life was over and I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life,” he said. “If you had asked me what rehab was before I lost my leg, I would not have said sailing.”

But he has now sailed more than 4,000 miles with Blesma, the charity set up to support and rehabilitate wounded ex-servicemen and women.

The race has been a very cathartic process for the men. “I have been an amputee for four years,” said Harrod, who lost his left leg below the knee when run over by a tank in Iraq. “I know how important being with other injured ex and serving soldiers is. You can do the same events together without feeling that there are differences.”

The Blesma events draw together people of different ages who have suffered different injuries. “The older members who have been amputees longer have a lot to share,” said Lee.

He is still serving in the Army and is based in Preston with the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment. “I’m hoping to go back to Afghan and prove that even if you lose your leg you can still have an active role in the Army.”

But for now, he is looking forward to more immediate things: seeing his girlfriend, a hot shower and a beer.
well done guys - good effort.

Anyone wants to learn more about BLESMA their website is HERE

Le Chevre
ex 2 Para bloke on that boat was elbow deep in some chick's clunge after my mate and I went through her...he was a legend...and so was she!!

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