Injured servicemen dip a 'toe in the water' with entry to gruelling yacht race

Amputees among 2,500 competitors in biennial 608-mile race featuring more women than ever

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The Independent Online

A crew including ten wounded and injured British servicemen, among them single and double amputees, set sail today in the world’s largest offshore yacht race.

Team Endeavour, who despite their injuries are all still serving members of the armed forces, joined the biggest ever fleet for the biennial Fastnet Race – a 608-mile round trip from Cowes on the Isle of Wight to Plymouth via south-west Ireland.

Among those on board the racing yacht Toe in the Water is Captain Pete Hayward, who suffered blast injuries while serving in Afghanistan.

Cpt Hayward, of the Royal Welsh infantry regiment, is skippering the boat along with Cpt Lloyd Hamilton of the Royal Engineers. He said the team were determined to complete the notoriously gruelling race which claimed 18 lives in 1979 when the event was hit by hurricane-force winds.

“A lot of time and effort has been spent and we’ve been looking forward to it,” he said. “There’s a lot of jobs on board we do which really improves our recovery, and it’s a new and interesting way of getting out of the gym.”

After finishing the race Cpt Hamilton will return to Afghanistan for his fourth tour of duty.

The crew, including four able-bodied sailors, will be racing in a Farr 52 yacht operated by the tri-service charity Toe in the Water. The boat’s owners include the former BP chief executive Tony Hayward and Centrica boss Sam Laidlaw.

This year’s Fastnet will include a record 2,560 sailors and is the largest fleet in the event’s 45-year history.  Some 328 sailors – or 15 per cent aboard the 347 boats – are woman, which is the largest number ever to take part.

The winning yacht has never had a woman skipper or crew member, but this year the race organiser, the Royal Yacht Squadron, whose Admiral is the Duke of Edinburgh, agreed to allow women to become full members, meaning the anomaly could be broken with some of the fastest boats now including female crew.

The Omani sailor Raiya Al Habsi will also make history by being the first Arab women to start the race, alongside her teammate and Vendée Globe heroine Dee Caffari.

Among the three boats with all-female crews is Redcoat, the first women-only Army team to enter the race. Its skipper, Cpt Lucie Allaway, said that despite women making up 10 per cent of Army personnel they were still unrepresented in inter-service offshore racing. She said: “The challenges of the race are similar for all the teams, indeed sailing is one of the few sports where men and women can compete on a level playing field.”

A spokeswoman for the race organiser said it was a similarly “level playing field” for the injured service personnel. “It’s a very challenging and gruelling, but exciting race,” she added.

The teams are expected to arrive in Plymouth between today and Wednesday.