The crew of the Spirit of Falmouth, a star turn in Stornoway Harbour yesterday, spoke of the great welcome they had received on the Island - including a special mention of an excellent breakfast in the café in the Bayhead Bridge Centre.
The crew - all but one of whom are ex-service veterans - mentioned the care given by the port with someone available to assist with mooring despite their early morning arrival.
And they explained they had found great sympathy and support from all the ports and communities they had visited in their long voyage from Falmouth in Cornwall up the east coast of the UK - with every port so far, waiving its mooring fees in support of their venture.
It was on June 1 that Spirit of Falmouth set off - accompanied by two other vessels operated by the same charity, Turn To Starboard, which aims to give veterans of military conflicts a chance to give their civilian lives a new shape and meaning.
Spirit of Falmouth is their 91ft wooden gaff rigged Mersey Pilot Schooner which was built using traditional methods in Liverpool in 1985. Gifted to Turn to Starboard in 2014 by The Prince’s Trust, she has a core crew of six with the capacity to carry 12 passage crew and a total of 38 veterans will be benefitting from the journey as they change crew during the 2000-mile voyage as part of Turn to Starboard’s Round Britain Challenge 2016. The other two sailing ships, with smaller crews passed down the Minch on the eastern side and they aim to meet again in Oban.
Based at Falmouth Marina in Cornwall, Turn to Starboard are a group of Yachtmasters and volunteers – civilian, ex-service and serving – who help military veterans get on the right track.
Turn to Starboard was founded by retired RAF Squadron Leader Shaun Pascoe and the idea of using sail training to help Forces personnel overcome the challenges of transition to civilian life was inspired by his own personal experience.
Shaun served on numerous tours during his 16 years in the RAF, including Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and repeatedly to Afghanistan as Officer Commanding (OC) of the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT). MERT is a medical team that flies forward using the Chinook aircraft to retrieve those significantly injured at the point of wounding under heavy enemy fire. Back home, Shaun found it difficult adjusting to normal life, he felt isolated and found it difficult to share his experiences, even with his loved ones.
After his second tour of Afghanistan Shaun raised £8,300 from various charitable sources and purchased windsurfing equipment and a rescue boat. As a windsurfing instructor Shaun taught those returning from operations with an emphasis on meeting others in similar positions.
Approaching his last year in service, Shaun decided to spend his resettlement time and money on a Royal Yachting Association, Yachtmaster Offshore course with Cruising Instructor. Using this qualification Shaun began providing sailing opportunities for others. The success of this meant that Shaun registered a charity with the Charity Commission in July 2012 and Turn to Starboard was born. And the positive outcomes and benefits for those taking part have meant a dramatic increase in funding and support from other charities and organisations supporting veterans.