It was the biggest transatlantic sailing incident last year: The “Atlantic Rally for Cruisers”. Almost 3,000 sea miles from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean. Supported by sponsors, the British veterans’ organization BLESMA (British Limbless Ex-service Men’s Association) sent the “Spirit of Juno” into the race. On board was a team of 14 men, all of whom were leg amputees.
The preparation stage was already a challenge in and of itself. A fierce storm delayed the transport of the “Spirit of Juno” to its starting point and already marred the boat with several damages prior to start. With makeshift repairs, the ship then embarked on the high seas three days later. Then the motor suddenly caused problems: diesel gas was flowing out, soiling sails as well as contaminating drinking water supplies. For days, the crew sailed and slept in the diesel fumes.
Ten days later, the ship and its exhausted crew entered port in Las Palmas. By then the clock was really ticking. Prior to starting their Atlantic crossing, there was still a lot to do: buy provisions, mend sails, repair the motor and, last but not least, check prostheses. Some of the crew had lost their legs more recently and could hardly imagine the peak performances they would accomplish in the course of the journey. For almost three weeks, they were left entirely to their own devices. They worked hard at each wind and managed to stay on deck even at the most turbulent sea conditions. Finding a firm footing on planks sprayed with ocean water was not always easy. Caution was also advised in the cramped cabins where the floors tended to be lined with the prostheses of sleeping comrads.
Despite all these obstacles, “fun” kept its place, allowing the crew to overcome crises with a sense of humor and creativity. The sailors thus joked about the “Atkins diet” they were all doing…after both refrigerators lost power, the crew raced to devour the supply of fresh meat before dropping temperatures would have made it inedible. They also perfected bread baking in self-made pressure cookers, and, when the doldrums caught the better hold of them, they invented invocations and rituals. Cameraderie and self-confidence grew with each day. One crew member jokingly described the 20-meter yacht as a “wonderful, rocking self-help group.”
When the “Spirit of Juno” entered the port of St. Lucia on December 9, 2005, these 14 men had proven far more than having reached the destination of the regatta: “We wanted to show that an amputation is no reason to retreat from active life.” Hardly anyone would argue that they didn’t achieve that!