Photo: Newcastle Saltwater Veterans

More than 30 years ago, Darren Harvey suffered an accident that changed the course of his life. While clearing grenades on a training exercise at the Singleton Military Area, one of the live grenades exploded. Darren bore the worst of the blast that wounded 16 other soldiers. What followed was years of rehabilitation. Darren suffered spinal, nerve and lung damage. To this day, he still carries shrapnel in his body.

Darren still has pain, arthritis as well as emotional trauma. But then something happened that lifted Darren in a way nothing else had. He discovered sailing.

The physical act of being out on the water, with a close-knit team around you, focused on the job of sailing a small craft: it was rejuvenating.

Buoyed by the benefits it had given him, Darren, along with three mates, established a group they called ‘Four Men in a Boat’ in 2017. Since then, they have morphed into Saltwater Veterans. The group is family-operated and volunteer-run. It aims to support the health and wellbeing of veterans and current-serving Australian Defence Force members who have been wounded or injured. They do this through fostering an inclusive and supportive community of veterans and veteran families in and around the water.

Since 2017, Darren has been determined to help others access sailing and enjoy the same opportunities it gave him. Importantly, Saltwater Veterans also offers people a sense of community.

Fellow sailor, Nick Grant said, ‘Veterans are looking for a tribe, a sense of community out there. When you jump on a boat you are in a small team, so that’s the first community’.

Gaining access to a community of like-minded people who understand the realities, hardships and challenges of service can be beneficial for veterans. To foster greater access, the group has launched the Saltwater Veterans Sailing Project. It aims to create overlapping veterans’ sailing communities across the country. Saltwater Veterans are active in Sydney, Newcastle, Nowra, Perth, Mooloolaba, and Adelaide. The group offers monthly get-togethers on the water as well as regular regatta and race days.

If you’re Adelaide-based and are interested in trying your hand at sailing, the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron offers a veterans’ sailing program, with funding support from Defence company Northrop Grumman Australia. They were the first club to offer vocational qualifications for veterans accessing DVA rehabilitation funding. Saltwater Veterans offers those who completed the initial sailing course a way to continue regularly sailing and to meet with other veteran families.

There are no simple answers when it comes to recovering from physical and emotional trauma. But being part of a trusted community with shared interests, and finding a safe space to talk with people who understand can make a difference.

For more information on Saltwater Veterans visit their website


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