Would you compete in the Rolex Fastnet as an amputee?

By | August 5, 2019

It takes determination, physical endurance and skill to compete in the Rolex Fastnet Race.  The world’s largest offshore race.  Competing with a physical disability takes the challenge to another level, but Dave Hawkins a production team member at Barton Marine, will be doing just that over the 605 nautical mile course. Barton Marine interviewed Dave to find out more about his challenge:

Having been a dinghy and sports boat sailor since the age of eight, sailing is in Dave’s blood.  There are few small boat classes he has not sailed, reeling off a list which included Mirrors, 12s, Merlin Rockets, Lasers and much more.  As a member of Whitstable Yacht Club, the only member competing in the Fastnet this year, he has been racing round the cans for decades.

However, large cruiser racing has not been a regular activity until this year.  Following an invitation from his wife’s cousin, Andy Fennell, Dave is now one of a crew of four racing Morpheus, a one off Shuttle 39 high performance carbon fibre trimaran, designed by well respected John Shuttleworth. Skippered by owner Andrew Fennell alongside Nigel Hartley (boat builder) and Sam Curtis (sail maker) the team including Dave have considerable sailing expertise.

Dave’s sailing career has not been straightforward and took a major setback following a serious accident in a boatyard where he was working several years back.  Shattering his ankle led to him undertaking five years of corrective surgery, living off pain killers to get by from day to day.  Such were the complexities of and restrictions caused by his injury that he eventually took the decision to have an elective lower leg amputation.  Dave described the huge relief he felt after the surgery and that with a long term solution he was back out sailing as part of his rehabilitation within nine months.

It turns out that a sailor is not a prosthetic consultant’s most pleasing client. A standard prosthetic leg is not designed for an avid sailor who has been landlocked for several years and following a number of expensive rebuilds they finally gave in, providing Dave with a waterproof, titanium, high activity option, which has ticked the right boxes for everyone involved.

Dave says: “It was great to be back out on the water with all the freedom that brings. I returned to a happier place and haven’t looked back.  However difficult and challenging a situation may be, you should never give up.  Sailing is a fantastic sport, pitting yourself against other people and the elements.  There are so many variables involved from mastering the wind, tides and technical skills, that it can never become dull.”

Dave is really positive and clearly hasn’t let his disability get in the way of his passion. He is the epitome of showing that no disability should hold anyone back from something they love.  In fact he is more driven and challenging himself further than most fully able bodied peers.  He has been involved with the British Para-Olympic Sailing Team helping to train the team and also participated in the development squad for a while.  The Fastnet is his latest challenge.

Morpheus is competing in the 40 strong IMOCA class, with a top 10 class finish as the goal.  Having never competed in the Fastnet or in fact any offshore race previously, Dave’s biggest concern is the forecast for light winds.  The rest falls into place from training and the three races the team have participated in together so far this season.

Morpheus is kitted out a with a number of Barton Marine products including Mainsheet Traveller and Self Tacking Jib Systems both upgraded with high strength ball bearings to cope with the three ton loads being transferred from the sails.  She also has many Barton High Load / Low Friction Eyes throughout the rigging.  They are Dave’s number one Barton recommendation for racing sailors, as they are incredibly light and provide great line control due to their smooth running.

Barton Marine is renowned for its cruising products, but Dave strongly believes that the Barton range is great for racing as well. He says: “The strength and reliability is second to none.  We have been pushing the traveller systems really hard on Morpheus and they perform perfectly.  It all comes down to perception – and it’s a false perception that Barton is only for cruising yachts.  Barton has high performance products winning in the racing circuit.”

When it comes to final words of sailing advice, Dave is keen for more people to get involved out on the water. “Just give it a go. Watersports are fun and don’t need to be expensive.  There are so many options to be out on the water from the relatively new trend of SUP upwards. It is a great way of meeting people and a local club will welcome you in and help you get started.”