A dusty and desolate landscape revealed itself when I first landed in Afghanistan two days after my 21st birthday, what lay ahead was to shape my future forever.
Having had the tattoo on my hand removed I had the okay at 18 to join the Marines, a dream come true. It has been what the men in my family did. It was what I was going to do. Having passed out from training, I was now on the frontline. Fear. Would I show it? Who knew? But it wasn’t long before this was tested. As we walked in a line at dawn a sudden cloud of smoke appeared in front of me, then with it the carnage. I was number six in the line, the souls that made up one to five were now part of the dust. Brutal. Proceeding this I found myself carrying my roommate, with no life in him, towards an awaiting helicopter. That was the last I saw of him. The day continued, as did the operation in the searing Afghan heat. Drinking stream water whilst the flies used me as a landing pad. When was this day going to end? That night I returned to our tent, all too soon the face of war was showing her prowess.
Day after day we would repeat the drills, move in, move on and our job was done. Many night’s would roll into endless skies which at times juxtaposed the heat of the day, extremes are all part of the expectation of being a marine as is the desire to carry on regardless. This is a job, a way of life.
Having grown up in the Quantocks I had lived between the moors and the sea. The ocean peeped over the North Devon coastline and was often the joy of many a day trip spent with my grandparents. Little did I realise that post the Marines this was going to become my calling, my place of safety, my heartbeat.
Back in the desert, War continued as did the daily onslaught. Many of my comrades were injured or dead and I still stood standing, sometimes I questioned why. I asked myself this as War does not only have produce physical scars but also mental ones, many who I served with still suffer from PTSD, once again I was lucky enough to sidestep this cruel facet to combat.
Another year, another 365 days at my unit and I was becoming all too aware of the casualties and atrocities of war. I felt lucky to be alive. The tides were turning. The little things started to eat away at me, they then became bigger, the buzz was going. I watched the people I adored get medically discharged. Things were not adding up for me, neither was the realisation that I had grown up too quickly. This was the moment. I didn’t want to end it like this, but it was inevitable. I was one of the lucky ones. The hearing to my left ear was damaged but that was it.
Coming out was like a thunderstorm, all my emotions were on high alert which was then followed by relief. Then the cloud of what next. The question everyone asks, all the time, day in, day out. WHAT next.
As Summer 2016 draw to a close I began brick laying again, but my heart wasn’t in it. This was not why I left the marines. The next chapter then began with a trip down to Falmouth in Cornwall.
On arriving in the Cornish town, I was struck by its vibrancy. That was even before I had reached the harbour, there in front of me lay my future. Masts, bowsprits and the eclectic mix of sea life immediately captivated me.
On leaving the Marines I had wiped the military from my mind, that was then this was now. But this is when the magic of the old and the new became my future. I signed up to a military sailing charity called Turn to Starboard, who are based in Falmouth. Over the course of a year their novice to nautical sailing programme was going to give me the tools to embark upon my sailing life. Helping ex-service people learn and understand about the sea is what they do and with my enthusiasm and passion it was a brilliant combination. Once again I found life and with it a confidence and happiness which I had eluded me for a long time. From a dark place to a new horizon, this is where I was at.
With every exam achieved came a renewed sense of hope. During the course of my time with Turn to Starboard I also had the opportunity to explore the coasts of Cornwall and Devon, my love affair with sailing was not only in full swing but also that of the West Country. From Gaff rigs to Swan 42s my sailing remit of different boats was building. As with everyone there are always the comedy moments when learning something new. With no wind and engine problems I had to engage the inner sailor and come up with a plan B. It worked and a potential concern was evaded and the comedy was less black. Even though I had to request a tow from my old sailing instructor, that I will never live down.
After two years I had successfully qualified as a sailing instructor. A dream come true. Next stop various odd jobs on boats, including rigging, painting, varnishing and general boat maintenance. My goal was to learn as much as possible, you couldn’t just sail a boat, you had to understand how she was put together. During my time learning to sail my funds were low, I was grateful for the financial support from The Royal Marines Charity (RMC). They kindly purchased all my sailing gear which was a lifeline when sailing in cold Cornish conditions.
The phone began to ring, trips and work started presenting themselves. An 800 mile trip departing from Falmouth to Scotland awaited, my first trip as a Skipper, left to my own devices. Then followed Grecce as an instructor, and teaching children the basics of traditional sailing in New Zealand. I have not looked back since and as I write this feel thankful to all those that have helped me come this far. There are more adventures planned, including that of my own sailing business. When you start out on one journey it often leads you to another, I feel lucky to have made the adventure from marine to mariner.
Ross Brady Sailing Scallywag