04 Jun

I tried to take my boat out this week - note the use of the word "tried". To be fair, we did get off the pontoon and on to the river but that was where the problem became apparent. 

I have a 50ft, cruiser stern narrowboat, weighing quite a few tonnes and powered by a usually very sweet tempered Beta Marine 35 engine. But as I backed off the pontoon, I felt something was wrong. "Don't think I have any forward propulsion," I told my friend, still on the pontoon. "You must have," he says, "I can see prop wash,""Yes, but I need to come forward and she's still going backwards!" say I - getting a little concerned and before I can tell him not to, my friend gives the bow a push off the pontoon to take the nose over so I can correct my course - but I still need to go forwards to do that, I can't, the current has now taken her and we are off the end of the pontoon. I can't steer her way from the chestnut trees at the bottom of the sheer, 50ft river bank, so we crash backwards into them. 

OK, I think, I'll let the current push the nose out and then pull away forwards from the bank. Not on your nelly. We are straight facing down the river, stern caught in trees, bow caught in trees and grounded! Every time I push her off and try to go forwards, I get rammed further in to the bank! It's clear I am going nowhere by my own will, have a potentially serious mechanical issue, a friend 50 feet away on a pontoon and no way to get anyone on the boat to help. I chucked the anchor over the bow to make sure we didn't get dragged down the river and over the weir an 1/3 of a mile away, and tie the stern off to the trees. 

Then I phone the wonderful River and Canal Rescue, who are calm, reassuring and helpful and try to work out how to get an engineer to me quickly. One with a stand up paddle board to get to me on seems the best solution.Then there's a shout from the pontoon, 50ft away - "Get the boat hook and grab that life preserver!" calls my friend, throwing an orange ring on a rope towards me to drift down stream. I manged to grab it, "tie it off on the stern and push her off the bank," he instructs. So I do, and 5 nerve-wracking minutes later, he's hauled us back to the pontoon, facing the wrong way but safely moored. Thank goodness for my friend, and the rope!

And we all find ourselves in this kind of position at one stage in life - adrift, attached to nothing, staring ruin in the face, and unsure of how to turn things round. It's a problem Veterans in particular will recognise. That moment you're the wrong side of a line on a map, supplies haven't turned up, there's no air support available and reinforcements of any size are far away. The Armed Forces will re-group, stand together, implement Plan B and survive by using what they have and their training. Veterans on the other hand, can loose access to the equipment they need, are far from their friends, and don't have the skills, mental and physical, to get themselves out of an unfamiliar, difficult situation.

That's where charities can come in to their own. We are one, tiny one, doing our bit, and there are many here on #linkedin , all willing to help, along with companies who help that transition from military to civilian, and ones who specialise in finding the right job for Veterans. No home, no job, no mates, no relationship - it can get pretty grim when you loose control of the direction you are going in or the power to get it back. But help is there - even if it's one friend, seemingly miles away or a stranger, chucking you a life line, just reach out and grab that rope, and you'll be towed back to safety, just like I was.

Lizzie Lane, Co-chair, The Forces Veterans Afloat Charitable Trust

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