In 2016, the Spirit of Falmouth embarked upon a two-month, 2,220-mile trip around the British coast. This replica of a 92-foot 18th century pilot schooner would visit Newcastle and the Orkney Islands, Liverpool and the Scillies, beginning and ending its journey at Falmouth. The crew was unusual. Brought together by the military charity Turn to Starboard, everyone on board had served in the armed forces and their return to civvy street had been challenging. As Steven Price Brown, a veteran of conflict in Afghanistan, puts it ‘we had changed from being sharp-seamed, uniform-clad warriors to hoody-wearing civilians and it had not been an easy transformation.’
The men had carried home horrible images, physical and mental scars, and the book provides frank, first-person narratives of the crew’s experiences both during and after their tours of duty. It sometimes makes for a difficult read: Bosnian memories of ‘heavily pregnant women who had been strapped to lampposts and had their stomachs cut open.’ The epic journey around the coast was, Brown writes, a ‘cathartic process for a lot of lost souls’, offering camaraderie and a welcome sense of achievement.
Many of the crew had little sailing experience, so the learning curves were sharp, but as former soldiers they brought discipline and resolve to the task. Everyone, Brown writes, had their bad days but no-one ever missed their watch. Tempers sometimes flared, the elements were sometimes reluctant to co-operate, but good humour and resilience usually won the day.
Brown’s narrative is winningly straightforward, free from artifice and captures the essence of the whole adventure: ‘helping people get their lives back.’ The project is set to be repeated and we should all wish it fair winds.
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