A Benign British Invasion By Dan Dickison Adventure, sailing near Antigua, the stopover before the boats came to Charleston. Photo courtesy of Exercise Transglobe. www.exercisetransglobe.com
t was midweek in late May that three brightly adorned, 67-foot, cutter-rigged vessels made their way into Charleston Harbor, arriving after a 1,540-mile passage from Antigua in the Caribbean. That’s nothing special this time of year. Sailboats of all descriptions make port in Charleston throughout the spring season as they migrate north to ports with cooler climes. Though they’d depart in a few days for Boston, this trio was definitely different. Each vessel represented a branch of the British military (Royal Air Force, Navy, and Army), and on board were 42 individuals—airmen, sailors and soldiers—among them 12 crew who had lost limbs, the majority of those injuries sustained during service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Their arrival in Charleston was the culmination of the 11th leg in a 13-stage, ‘round-the-globe
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adventure dubbed Exercise Transglobe, a major expedition open only to members of the British armed forces. According to the organizers, Exercise Transglobe was created to test the physical and mental stamina of these servicemen and women while building confidence in themselves and their fellow crew. “We take the service personnel out of their comfort zone for team-building,” explained Ian Kane, skipper of the Royal Navy crew on the leg to Charleston. Talking to a crowd gathered at the Charleston Yacht Club to celebrate these sailors, he continued: “They ultimately find reliance on one another, and they end up better able to address some of the situations that they will find themselves in while serving.” This unique team-building circumnavigation began in July 2009 in Gosport, England, and the small fleet has since sailed port to port around the globe, accommodating more than 540 men and women in the process. At each port of call, new crewmembers are flown in to take over, and those who’ve just completed a passage fly home. In addition, the crews are as representative as possible of each branch of the armed forces, including varying ranks, ages, genders, areas of specialty and sailing experience. And, there were also a few Ghurka soldiers (from Nepal) on board as well. One of the more experienced sailors among them was Wayne Harrod, a color sergeant in the Royal Army from Wilkshire, who had served as watch leader on board the Royal Air Force boat. H, as he prefers to be called, is a jovial guy and career military man, but that profession hasn’t kept him from amassing an impressive sailing resume that includes the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers), the Fastnet Race and the Caribbean RORC. And, he’s done all of that with one artificial leg. “I really enjoyed it,” said H, smiling broadly to explain that only on this portion of the circumnavigation did the organizers include limbless crew. “It was actually the first time in a long time that I’ve sailed with able-bodied crew on board. Usually I participate in events that are part of BLESMA (British Limbless Ex-Servicemen Association). But what we learned from the skippers is huge. This passage was a good mental and emotional challenge for everyone.” H said that was especially the case for those crew with injuries. “You’ve been through hospital, you’re finished with rehab and now it’s down to you. What are you going to do to carry on? And the way I see it, it’s not what you can’t do, it’s what you can do.” H’s outlook was certainly admirable. And his enthusiasm was contagious; more contagious than he knew. One of the hosts of that gathering was Ron Acierno, a Charlestonwww.southwindsmagazine.com