BLESMA Crew – Victors in Forces Challenge
A crew of 14 sailors, nine of whom have lost at least one of their limbs whilst serving in the Armed Forces, successfully completed the Rolex Fastnet Race early this morning. The jubilant crew are currently lying 30th in their class (IRC 1) and the race is one of BLESMA's showpiece rehabilitation events of the year. BLESMA (British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association) was formed in 1922.
Sailing on Spirit of Juno, Ondeck's Farr 65 for the first time was double amputee, Alan Roberts: "I wanted to give myself a challenge, especially since the accident and losing both my legs. I like to set myself goals and I've achieved that today! The whole race was brilliant from start to finish. I'd never sailed before and both training for it and actually taking part was brilliant, really good. There was so much banter on board, typical military banter, jokes being cracked even when it was raining, soaking wet and cold. The jokes were flying round all day and night and it kept morale up so everyone stayed in good spirits. Now I've been introduced to sailing, I would definitely like to do more. Hopefully with BLESMA and then look at the bigger picture, maybe get myself on a Day Skipper course and then work my way up to watch leader."
"We're really pleased to have won our challenge between the Forces boats - the other boats are still out at sea and may be for some time. In a way, it's sad that the race has finished as we've bonded really well, but even if this part of our voyage is over, I'm sure there will be more opportunities to meet up," continued Roberts.
Ernie Staples, the Assistant General Secretary of BLESMA has spent 40 years in the Military and 5 ½ years at BLESMA. "The Rolex Fastnet Race is a fabulous opportunity for the crews. BLESMA go forward on the twin pillars of welfare and rehabilitation. Welfare is making sure they get all the allowances and everything they deserve and on the other pillar, the rehabilitation activities. Challenging, adventurous pursuits like sailing, diving and skiing which we do throughout the year. The Rolex Fastnet is something really big and some of these guys on the race have never sailed before, so it's quite a fantastic achievement for them."
"Crew members like Alan who lost both legs in Iraq 12 months ago, thought he'd never be able to walk again. He's never sailed before and all of a sudden, he's on the Fastnet. It's a massive achievement in his life. If you've got confidence that you can achieve something, you've got confidence you can do anything in life. This whole thing is not about disability, it's about ability and what you can achieve."
Skipper, Paul Burns: "It's a life changing experience and these guys will now go on to influence the other limbless servicemen. I lost my leg in 1979 and I was in exactly the same situation as these guys are now. I know what they are going through and I know what I have achieved. I am now a qualified Yachtmaster and I've gained that coming through the system, learning through BLESMA and I want to influence them to do what I've done. They can be skippering a crew in the Rolex Fastnet Race. They all want to go and sail again and are itching to take part in the next event, that's my payment for doing this."