Epic voyage of the veterans

It is a story of adventure in the face of adversity: twelve ex-servicemen, each missing a limb, braved high seas and dodgy prosthetics to cross the Atlantic. Terri Judd introduces the inspiring diary of their journey

With every man on board missing a limb, their journey was an epic of courage and endurance: a dozen seriously injured British servicemen have become the first all-amputee crew to complete the Atlantic Race Challenge. Accompanied by a maimed American ex-para, the members of the British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association (Blesma) completed the 2,700 nautical miles from Sao Vincente in the Cape Verde Islands, to Bridgetown, Barbados, on the 65ft Spirit of Juno, finishing third.

Among them was Captain Bernie Bambury, 33, who survived Iraq only to lose his right leg competing on the Cresta Run in St Moritz. Capt Bambury, who still serves with the 4th Battalion, The Rifles, says that alongside such seriously injured colleagues, his below-the-knee amputation was considered merely a "flesh wound". Here are extracts from his diary.

2 November 2008, 00.10

So we've formed up. Our youngest member is Lance Corporal Chris "Herbie" Herbert, 21. Shot in the leg in Iraq, he recovered and was deployed to Afghanistan as a sniper, where he was blown up and lost his other leg! A surprisingly mature character. As for the others: Wayne "H" Harrod has a fearsome Viking tattooed across his back in honour of his Royal Anglian Battalion's title "The Vikings". Jonno Lee is sadly still struggling to get on with his prosthetic leg.

5 November 2008, 08.25

After a 22-hour journey, we finally arrived in Sao Vincente, Cape Verde, and set eyes on Spirit of Juno. A few of the more adventurous souls visited the bar at the end of the quay. The locals did not know what to make of a group of amputees suddenly descending on their town. No doubt the sight was a shock, but as ever, people get over it quickly.

The preparatory workload was quickly divided according to ability, with the below-knee amputees working above deck where greater mobility is required, and the more seriously injured looked after the galley and cabin.

8 November 2008, 08.12

One final beer in Club Nautica and we retired to our bunks. I could hardly sleep. We set sail in a couple of hours.

11 November 2008, Armistice Day

Day four of the race; seasickness has kept me from my diary so there's some catching up to do. The two watches work a daily routine: two six-hour watches during the day; and three four-hour watches at night. By the end of the first night we had nothing on the horizon and could no longer see the opposition ahead. Already the sense of being isolated can become overwhelming.

Our second day was Remembrance Sunday. We gathered on deck and Peter, our oldest member at 67, led us in a brief but moving service. We observed the two minutes' silence marked on his bosun's whistle by "Pipe Down" and "Carry On". Dry eyes were not universal. My thoughts were with the families of those outstanding men from my battlegroup who were lost last year in Iraq. The skipper cast one of our wreaths overboard and our position was logged. The other wreath was saved for Armistice Day.

12 November 2008, 14.00

We have set the clocks back an hour and are approaching halfway. During our first watch of the night we were privileged to witness the most incredible meteor – a large yellow highlighter that traversed the whole night panorama. As I write this, Herbie is at the helm for the first time and loving it. Big Chris is about to give it a go, which should be interesting since without a leg to wear, he will have to sit.

13 November 2008, 11.30

The spinnaker is no more! Last night, during a beautifully moonlit moment with Rob at the helm, the spinnaker [sail] split. We are sailing further south in an effort to get more wind for the limited rig we have remaining.

Without the shield of the main sail the sun is suddenly uncomfortably hot.

14 November 2008, 15.45

Having reverted to a direct course towards Barbados, we encounter much bigger waves. Cooking on a slippery floor when the world is shifting substantially brings its own challenges. Today is the nine-month anniversary of my amputation.

16 November 2008, 13.15

I was struck by the size of the swell in the mid-Atlantic. The waves must be between two and three storeys high. In this expanse of water one quickly feels insignificantly small.

As I write, the first mate's watch have just disappeared for their afternoon rest. As H stepped off from the cockpit his entire leg fell off! Tim, our bipedal cameraman, had to ask if he was allowed to laugh!

17 November 2008, 14.52

Only 140 miles to Barbados. The last 24 hours have been manic. A pod of dolphins visited us at 17.30 yesterday. For 30 minutes, they played in our bow wave and wake. Once the dolphins left, my watch went to bed. Sleep was not an option as we were thrown about in our bunks for the whole four hours and kept awake by the heavy rain. When finally we were roused, we emerged to find both the foresail and staysail packed away.

An astonishingly heavy downpour flattened the seas. It came at the cost of a massive reduction in visibility. This should not have posed a problem; after all, in the 1,700 miles we had covered so far, we had seen only two ships.

I was quite surprised when, as the downpour lifted and visibility increased, I spotted a freighter bearing down on us at a range of about 500m. We turned to port. For a moment, it looked as though we had been seen. The ship was changing course. We breathed a collective sigh of relief, only to be stunned to see her turn and bear down on us once more. Our skipper had me turn a full circle to port to avoid the otherwise inevitable collision. We passed with only about 200m between us.

18 November 2008

Barbados hove into view at 02.30. At 06.00, we woke the rest of the crew for our last, short, leg. It seemed appropriate that our most disabled crew member, Steve Gill, should be at the helm as we crossed the finish line at 07.00. The journey had taken us nine days and 19 hours. This would be an impressive time for able-bodied sailors. We have shown, I believe, that disability, certainly in terms of limb loss, is not a barrier to achievement. Any barriers that may exist, exist only in people's minds.

The crew

*Skipper

Colin Rouse, 51, ex-RAF sergeant from Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire. Lost leg in gas explosion on yacht

*1st Mate

Paul Burns, 47, former lance corporal with Parachute Regiment, from Farnborough. Lost left leg in 1979 after Provisional IRA bomb at Warrenpoint

*1st Watch

Charley Streather, 50, Army Catering Corps lance corporal, from Sutton-on-Sea, Lincolnshire. Lost leg in motorbike crash

Captain Daniel Psoinos, 26, ex-101st Airborne, US Army, injured in Iraq

Colour Sergeant Wayne Harrod, 39, 1st Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment, from Melksham, Wiltshire. Injured in exercise on Salisbury Plain

Steve Gill, 39, former private, 2nd Battalion, the Royal Anglian Regiment, from Cosby, Leicester. Lost legs and eye in bomb in Northern Ireland

Private Johnathan Lee, 25, 2nd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, from Newark. Lost right leg in Afghanistan*2nd MateNigel Smith, 49, Royal Navy Marine Engineer Mechanic, from Aylesford, Kent. Injured in road crash in Cyprus

*2nd WatchRob Copsey, 38, ex-Royal Engineers Sapper, from North Petherton near Bridgewater, Somerset. Injured by mine while on UN duties in Rwanda

Captain Bernie Bambury, 33, 4th Battalion, The Rifles, from Salisbury. Lost foot in Cresta Run

Chris Stewart, 56, former private, Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, from Nottingham. Was shot and lost right leg in Northern Ireland

Lance Corporal Chris Herbert, 21, from Barnsley. Territorial Army soldier, 1st Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment. Injured in Iraq and Afghanistan

Peter Sherston-Baker, 67, former leading seaman, Royal Navy, from Bournemouth, Dorset. Lost leg while in the Merchant Navy

News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
people

Tennis star is set to marry his long-term girlfriend, Kim Sears

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Marketing Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading Renewable Energy compa...

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?