A crew including amputees - and one young double amputee - is making this great voyage

A group of injured soldiers is in the throes of an impressive expedition into the Arctic Circle. Impressive not only in the adventurous scope of it, but in terms of the personal hurdles.

A crew including three Army servicemen who are amputees and one who is a double amputee are taking a Joint Services Challenge 67 yacht round Greenland if ice conditions allow or into Scoresbysund, the biggest fjord in the world, then towards Jan Mayen and returning along the east coast of Iceland to Reykjavik, a voyage of around 2,000 miles.

The injured servicemen have just made it up the coast of north-west Iceland and will leave for Greenland this weekend on a good forecast. The Danish Meteorological Institute has said that the passage to Greenland should now be possible as the ice has melted sufficiently.

The soldiers are being accompanied by a team of medics, rehabilitation instructors, nurses and physios from the Defence Medical Centre Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court in Surrey. The expedition has been funded by the charity Help for Heroes.

“These are mainly young guys in their twenties, from a mixture of regiments,” explains Lieutenant Nikki Woodroffe, one of the organisers. “We have gone with a non-adaptive boat and the guys have had special stumps and sockets fitted for the trip.”

As well as training beforehand on techniques such as anchoring that are specific to sailing among ice, the crew have had to work out some essential logistics for a life at sea that is unavoidably difficult and painful for those who have lost a leg, including getting on and off the boat, especially for Private Josh Campbell, a double amputee.

So far, thankfully conditions have been “relatively kind,” says Lt Woodroffe.

“The winds have been relatively light and this has given crew a chance to adjust to living conditions. We have been sailing mainly with the larger sails the yankee 1 and the full main sail to make the most of the wind.

“As we head now from below the 66°N boundary for the Arctic Circle to above 70°N we will be on the look out for ice around the clock. All crew are well and with some careful consideration on the sleeping arrangements and sufficient space, injured and-non injured personnel are enjoying the trip.

“We have seen some amazing landscapes including glaciers and volcanoes and a variety of wildlife including whales, dolphins and puffins. The Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training Centre is also facilitating the crew to gain some RYA qualifications onboard as we go.”

Life at sea on board a yacht is difficult at times for most of
us who are able-bodied. I can’t imagine what it would be like, and how
frequently painful, if you were missing one leg, or both. I take my
hat off to those doing, and making possible, this voyage.