The Spirit of Falmouth glided serenely into the Dart

2 October 2017

On a misty morning, Monday, September 25, the Spirit of Falmouth, a tall ship of The Princes Trust, glided serenely into the Dart.

Crewed by 13 ex-servicemen, all injured during service and now recovering physically and mentally, the 91-foot Mersey pilot schooner, moored perfectly in the middle of the river after being met by the Dart Harbour inflatable.

Captained by former Royal Marine Dan Fielding, the Spirit is nearing the end of its Round Britain Charity Expedition, with Falmouth its last port to complete the circumnavigation. The Spirit is crewed by Turn to Starboard, a registered charity that uses RYA sailing courses to support Armed Forces personnel that have been affected by military operations.

Dan, born and bred in Leeds miles from the sea, is now a ship’s master and he recounted that the schooner is a replica vessel. He said: “The Spirit was built in 1984 and is one of the few replicas on the National Historical Ships Register and is considered a boat of National Importance.

“The beginnings of these pilot schooner goes back to 1764 when a lot of ships ran aground on the Mersey and local businessmen, shipowners and charterers, began boycotting the Mersey. Subsequently, in response, the Port of Mersey became a piloted port.

“Nine Mersey pilot schooners were built for the expert navigators, the pilots of the Mersey. However, none survived the days of steam. They were sold off, the last one at the beginning of the 1900s. It sank in the Falklands.

“A businessman in Liverpool and the Mersey Trust built the Spirit. It was commissioned in 1984, re-named in 1985 and then again in 1992. The Princes trust got involved in 1996 and, in 2014, Turn to Starboard changed the Spirit’s name back to the Spirit of Falmouth.

“Sailing her is a challenge. It is a challenge for all of us. I started crewing and eventually got my master’s ticket. We learn gaff-rig and schooner sailing. We were taught a little, bit by bit. She creaks and groans but slowly we gain confidence in her and ourselves. That is what it is about, regaining confidence for all on the Spirit.

Dan introduced one of his crew, Patrick Provis, who was willing to discuss the events that led to his inclusion in the Round Britain Challenge. Don explained: “I joined up in June 1986 and served with 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers. In 1987, I was serving in Northern Ireland. We were in South Armagh at Crossmaglen.

“The IRA were using improvised mortars which threw 20 pounds of Semtex which exploded with devastating effect. Three of the four of these launched and two of the three detonated. I was part of a four man ‘brick’ taking fire.

“We’d been there a week. When the mortars detonated, I lost my right hand except for my thumb. I lost my right forearm and had quite a few internal injuries; one piece of shrapnel went under my armour.

“One of the brick, Lance Corporal Don Hewer, took a piece of shrapnel to his right leg, through his knee. He was never the same man again. He had survivor guilt. He was a good mate of mine.

“He died in 2012 of cancer. It was the moment I knew I had to go and talk to someone. I realised I wasn’t bomb proof and I had to unload some of it. The physical trauma I can deal with. The physiological is a lot more difficult. Since then, I’ve worked along with the MoD to help train our combat medics. What better man to train them?”

Patrick’s wife is an Army nurse. They were married in Exemouth and they now live in Aberdare in South Wales and have five children, ranging in age from 16 to 27. Patrick’s physical injuries are apparent but the effect of the incident on his mental health is not so apparent. It is the aim of the challenge to improve both and instil confidence in dealing with an unfamiliar environment.

One of the two female members of the crew, Debbie Frew, explained how the Spirit was an important part of her recovery:”I was in the Wiltshire. I have a husband and son. When I came back from Germany, I had done 20 years in the Gunners [Royal Artillery], I was house bound for 18 months.

“After such a long time [in the Army] it is difficult to understand who you are. You lose your self-esteem; you don’t know your place. I was house-bound for 18 months.

“This is a massive confidence builder. I was on the Spirit last year. My biggest challenge is a personal challenge and I know I have progressed.”

Debbie piloted the Spirit into Dartmouth this year.

Matt Southwould, also a member of the Spirit crew and an ex-Medic from the Devonshire and Dorset regiment who had lost a leg below the knee, said: “Sailing on the Spirit is a challenge. It’s a challenge because of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and my balance.

“I’m not able to do this on my own; I’ve been on my backside a number of times. We’ve had to pull into places because of inclement weather. My mental and physical confidence has been built on this boat.

“We have twelve strong opinions on the boat and conflict management is key. We have to deal with issues there and then. We have to respect everyone’s space; you’ve got to be on top of it.

“This is a taster for me and next year, I’ll do my competent YHA crew, then day skipper and then yacht master.”

Matt’s ambition to go further in yachting was a common theme amongst the crew. It is part of the future for another member of the crew, ‘Ash’, who The Chronicle interviewed. His candid responses to our questions can be seen on a video on our web-site

Big Al, summarised the need for the Spirit by saying:”Mental health: we still haven’t got it right. It wasn’t for the charity we’d be at home, isolated.”

Source: Dartmouth Chronicle, Monday 2 October 2017

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