The team of 12 Colchester-based Gunners, many of whom had not sailed before, took to the cold waters of the Atlantic for Exercise Atlantic Challenge, raising £5,000 for Help for Heroes and the Royal Artillery Charitable Fund along the way.
After just a week of training in the Solent, the soldiers sailed on HMSTV (Her Majesty’s Sail Training Vessel) Endeavour from the Isle of Wight to Newport, Rhode Island, and then on to New York.
Winds of up to 40 knots sped the yacht on its way, making the 3,200-nautical-mile (6,000km) crossing in 18 days and 23 hours, several days quicker than expected.
The expedition leader and keen sailor, Captain John O’Keeffe, said:
Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean was a real adventure for us. It was every bit as tough as expected, but all of the crew rose to the challenge. We faced heavy weather and rough seas on the way, which tested the leadership and skills of the experienced sailors and resolve of the novices.
Despite some difficult moments, morale never dipped as we were conscious of the strong backing we had, which was manifested in the money pledged to charity, and I would like to thank everyone who has sponsored us.
After the arduous crossing, we were all delighted to step onto dry land in Newport, an emotion matched by the immense pride at telling our colleagues, families and friends what we had achieved.
In Newport, the crew was hosted by the New York Yacht Club, famous for ‘the longest winning streak in sport’ when they defended the America’s Cup between 1851 and 1983, and the Newport Yacht Club, with both clubs offering high praise for the soldiers’ achievement.
In New York, HMSTV Endeavour was moored in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty while the crew enjoyed a few days of rest and tourism, including laying a wreath at the site of the World Trade Centre, which was attacked by terrorists on 11 September 2001.
Lieutenant Colonel Gary Wilkinson, Commanding Officer of 7 Para RHA, said:
To sail the Atlantic Ocean is a significant achievement for any sailor. For a team of soldiers just back from a gruelling tour of Afghanistan, many of whom had never sailed before, to cross the Atlantic in rough seas in just 18 days is a truly magnificent feat. This terrific undertaking has also raised funds for military charities.
I heartily congratulate all members of the crew. They have upheld 7 Para RHA’s proud reputation of delivering not only operational excellence, but the added trait of being at the forefront of sport and adventure training.
7 Para RHA served in Afghanistan with 16 Air Assault Brigade on Op HERRICK 13 between October 2010 and April 2011. The regiment’s role was to provide fire support to infantry operating across Helmand and mentor Afghan National Army artillery units.
HMSTV Endeavour is a Challenger 67 (22-metre) yacht used by the military’s Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training Centre for large offshore sailing expeditions. She competed in the BT Global Challenge in the 1990s, which saw 14 identical yachts racing ‘the wrong way around the world’, sailing westwards against prevailing winds and currents.
To make a donation visit the Exercise Atlantic Challenge website at Related Links.