Putting the wind back in soldiers’ sails

READY TO RACE Dee Caffari with, from left, Captain James Morgan, and craftsman Isaac Darko. Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (131481-2)
READY TO RACE Dee Caffari with, from left, Captain James Morgan, and craftsman Isaac Darko. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (131481-2)
Brian Andrews, Frances Leppard and Charles Mobsby with their trophies

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Taking in some fresh sea air is usually an invigorating and refreshing experience.

Couple that with competing in a high speed yacht race, then you are guaranteed an adrenaline rush.

But for one Gosport charity, it is much more than that.

We all know that warm, inspired feeling that follows taking part in a competition and playing a part in a team’s success.

Toe in the Water was set up in 2008 with the aim of giving injured servicemen and women an experience that they could be part of, and to help them in with rehabilitation.

‘About six years ago, when we first set it up, we had an increase in the number of casualities coming back Afghanistan and Iraq,’ says Major General Mike Von Bertele, one of the founders and chairman.

‘One of our physiotherapists had the bright idea that if we could get these young men and women out sailing it would take their minds off of their injuries.

‘She thought that this was a really new and exciting way to do it. It was a new concept to everyone.

‘They had to focus on the physical and mental activity rather than their physical problems.’

The initiative has so far helped more than 200 injured servicemen and women.

For some, it is the first time they have been out sailing, and this can take them out of their comfort zone.

‘Quite often it can be daunting, it can be cold and wet, but I have never seen anyone who didn’t enjoy themselves,’ says Maj Gen Von Bertele.

All the participants are in active rehabilitation and competitive sailing offers them the opportunity to push themselves in an environment that is medically supported.

The charity’s ambassador is record-breaking yachtswoman, Dee Caffari MBE.

Dee enthuses: ‘I love it. It is so rewarding to see the transformation of those girls and guys that have been serving and through their service careers they have been injured.

‘You seen them at the start as a shadow of themselves and they come back into a team environment and are pushed in an area they never thought they could excel in and become an integral cog in a high performance team.

‘It’s so lovely to see their transformation and to see them come back from a race buzzing.’

Toe in the Water uses competitive sailing as a rehabilitation tool.

The boats have not been specially adapted, and the men and women have to adapt themselves to the situation instead.

The injured service personnel can be suffering from any kind of injury, from back pain up to amputations. The initiative shows no discrimination.

Chris Herbert, 25, stood on a roadside bomb and lost his leg in Iraq in 2007. To him, finding Toe in the Water has meant much more than just competing.

He is now studying for a degree at the University of Portsmouth and attributes his success to Toe in the Water.

‘When I first came here, I didn’t know what to expect or what I was going to be doing in terms of my future,’ explains Chris.

‘I went on the boat and when I got off on the first day, I thought “if I can do this, then I can do anything.”

‘I fell in love with sailing and I was on the first team to compete in Cowes in 2008. I started off sailing as an injured sailor but now I am classed as one of the able-bodied crew members.

‘When I first came, I was down in the dumps and I had no focus, but Toe in the Water changed that.’

The initiative gives support both on and off the water and the patients race with and against able-bodied crew.

‘The services are like the biggest family in the world,’ says Captain Lloyd Hamilton, Toe in the Water’s racing director.

‘What we are doing is giving them back that family. We give them the inspiration and the feeling of worth which we all strive for.’

Toe in the Water relies entirely on voluntary contributions.

‘Once people meet the guys and girls they understand how much this means to them and what a positive thing it is,’ says Capt Hamilton.

‘We’ve had people loaning us their yachts so we can compete in races and people making donations. Sailing is really hard work and it can be expensive, so we really appreciate any offers of help.’


THE charity has the royal seal of approval. Its entry into the JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race, which took place earlier this month, was supported by the Endeavour Fund.

The fund was set up by The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry to enable more injured servicemen and women to take part in sporting challenges. The grant enabled Toe in the Water to enter two boats into the race.

Nick Booth, chief executive of The Royal Foundation said: ‘We hope that this race will inspire many more wounded servicemen and women to explore new physical challenges as part of their recovery.’

The team competed on the Farr 52 which was skippered by record-breaking yachtswoman, Dee Caffari MBE.

Dee, who is an ambassador for the charity, was joined by a number of injured servicemen for the 50-mile sprint around the Isle of Wight.

Dee said: ‘This is such a fantastic event. It is a very competitive environment and it can get quite tense out on the water due to the sheer number of boats taking part.’

The team came 23rd in their class, finishing in five hours, 35 minutes and 28 seconds. A second yacht had been loaned to the charity by supporter, Tony Langley.

Tony leant the team his Farr 42 which was skippered by Captain Lloyd Hamilton MBE and finished the race in five hours, 59 mins and 15 seconds, 19th in its class.


THE Toe in the Water team is getting ready to compete in one of the world’s most infamous and arduous races.

The team are training hard for the iconic Rolex Fastnet Race, which takes place on August 11 and starts from Cowes.

Over 3,500 competitors will be taking part in world’s largest offshore yacht race.

Toe in the Water doesn’t usually enter offshore races, so it will be a new experience for the team.

The team will be skippered by the charity’s director of racing and serving Royal Engineer, Capt Lloyd Hamilton MBE.

Capt Hamilton said: ‘When we were approached about the possibility of entering a mixed-ability crew into the Fastnet race, we immediately saw an opportunity to not only support the injured guys to advance their sailing experience, but also to enable many of them to develop broader skills like planning and organisation. Racing offshore will be a new experience for most of the crew and we are really excited.’

Team Endeavour will be racing in the Farr 52 race yacht, which was donated by former BP Chairman Tony Hayward, Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw, and Rob Gray, in 2012.

The project will be led by Capt Pete Hayward, who was injured in Afghanistan in 2010. It will be the last race he competes in before being deployed to Afghanistan on his fourth tour in October.


TOE in the Water regularly takes part in events throughout the year. Here are a few of the events the team will be entering this year.

· Friday, July 5 until Sunday, July 7 - IRC National Championship

· Saturday, August 3 until Saturday, August 10 - Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week, a three day inshore regatta in the Solent, with lots of competitive racing.

· Wednesday, July 28 until Saturday, August 31 - Dartmouth Regatta Week, a programme of rowing and sailing events

· October - Garmin Hamble Big Boat Series, held over two weekends in October and regularly attracts around twenty top class entries from IRC 0 and the Farr45 Class.


Toe In The Water relies entirely on voluntary contributions. For further information go to toeinthewater.org, or to request a fundraising pack email info@toeinthewater.org or write to Toe in the Water, JSASTC, Haslar Road, Gosport, PO12 2AQ.