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

Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
Queen Elizabeth II sends the first royal tweet under her own name to declare the opening of the new Information Age Galleries at the Science Museum, South Kensington, London
media... and the BBC was there to document one of the worst reactions
News
politics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker