The afternoon of the World Pilot Gig Championships day two started with heat one of the main competition, spanning four rounds over two days. It is a ranking race, with the number of boats being ranked this year spanning 148, stretching almost a mile on the start line off St Agnes in a repeat of the over 40s course of the night before.
A good start saw the Help for Heroes crew sitting in the middle of the field in the Scilly sunshine. The first sea row for some of the team proved tough. With their eyes on a top 100 finish, they came just outside of that to go into the next round in group I.
Rounds two and three work on two up, two down with 12 in a group and 4 in the final group M. The race from Nut Rock near Tresco back to St Mary’s Quay is a somewhat faster race and with only 11 other gigs to compete against it really is a fight to the finish. Help for Heroes in Valiant took their time to settle down but once into the rhythm and with the pressure of seeing their competition they pulled away and brought it back to finish in the middle third in eighth place.
Leading Seaman Specialist Craig Taylor joined the crew for his first competitive sea row in heat one. Craig has spent 20 years serving in the Royal Navy and is expected to be medically discharged shortly, after being diagnosed with PTSD last year.
“At that time I was extremely low,” explained Craig. “I was on the verge of finishing everything. A friend of mine encouraged me to get in touch with the Royal British Legion and they suggested I contact Help for Heroes. I thought they were only there for those with physical wounds but they educated me about their Hidden Wounds service and I was then introduced to the team in their Recovery Centre in Plymouth. Everything started improving from then.”
Craig’s mental illness has had and still does have a massive impact on his life, putting an end to his social life and leaving him unable to leave the house on his own for fear of having a meltdown, which can take the form of a physically emotional breakdown or a violent eruption.
“I’ve pretty much lost my identity as a person. I’d like to be able to walk out of my house and down the street to the shop without relying on someone. For me at the minute that’s my biggest goal. The small things that people take for granted I’ve lost somewhere and I’m keen to find them again.
“Since getting involved with Help for Heroes I’ve slowly regained a social life. Just being in the Isles of Scilly, I’ve made a journey with a group of fantastic blokes who are going down similar paths as I am and I’m starting to feel human again. I’m slowly starting to find myself again.”
Craig joined the gig rowing team after arrangements were made for some of the team to visit him at his house for a chat. He now trains three times a week.
“It’s amazing, it’s a great headspace when you’re rowing and you’re with a good group of guys. I’m part of a team again and I feel like I belong. Being away in my civvies although I’m still putting faith in my stress balls I feel more alive. I’m reliant on my team mates to go for a walk down the beach but I can be more myself. If I want to sit and cry I’m not going to be judged by it because the people I row with, they understand, they know what it’s like and I think that’s very hard to explain and for people outside the forces to understand.”
While he admits he still has a long way to go in his recovery journey, Craig can see how big the steps are that he is taking each day and can see a positive future, which he hopes will include a job in the maritime industry.
“This type of experience will aid me to leave the house on my own, to have the confidence to talk to strangers and my next step is to sit comfortably in an interview and get a job outside of the military.
“I’d love to get a good result in the rowing but I’m just happy to be taking part in a World Championship. Maybe I’ll push a few boundaries, maybe I’ll take a walk down the beach on my own knowing the lads are close by. A year ago there’s no way I could have imagined I’d be where I am now.”