Set sail for a new career

12th October 2016

How one former Royal Marine found his dream job with the help of Turn to Starboard.

Medically discharged in 2008, former Royal Marine Dan Fielding was reaching the depths of despair.

“I just wasn’t sure what to do with my life and I just drifted around. It wasn’t long before I started having real problems with my mental health and ended up in treatment,” says Dan, 35.

An advisor at the C Group (now the Royal Marines Charity) suggested he contact a sailing organisation in Cornwall. Dan didn’t hold out much hope but he got in touch and went for a chat.

Fourteen months on and Dan, from Leeds, is happier than he has ever been after learning how to sail and qualifying as a Yachtmaster and Cruising Instructor.

His working day at Turn to Starboard, a charity that help veterans affected by military operations in Falmouth, speeds by. One minute he can be focusing on teaching other veterans how to sail, either on a yacht or a 92-foot long tall ship, and the next he’ll be repairing engines or stitching sails.

He says: “I came down to Cornwall and signed up for the charity’s Zero to Hero programme, which is a free 16-week flexible course designed to build confidence and teach you how to sail.

“Although I had been sailing a few times before, my knowledge was limited and I didn’t have any sailing qualifications – I had no real idea what I was doing.”

The course covers subjects such as sail training, engine maintenance and first aid, along with navigation and VHF radio operation. At the end of the training period, participants are awarded an internationally recognised Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Yachtmaster and Cruising Instructor qualification.

Dan successfully completed the course and decided to stay on at the charity as a volunteer. With his new qualification he was soon offered a permanent job as a sailing instructor – a role that he enjoys to this day.

“I was over the moon when I was offered the job full time,” he says. “Not only did the course help me to rebuild my confidence, I felt like I was finally starting to fit in to civilian life. When I was a Royal Marine I was at the top of my game, I knew what I was doing and felt valued. But when I was discharged it felt like I wasn’t any use to anyone. Now I’m right up there at the top again.”

Turn to Starboard was created from the personal experiences of its founder, Squadron Leader (retired) Shaun Pascoe. Shaun served on numerous tours during his 16 years in the RAF, including Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was Commanding Officer of a Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) flying in Chinooks to retrieve those significantly injured, often under heavy enemy fire.

After returning home from the high intensity of his operational work, Shaun found it difficult to adjust to normal life. A keen sailor, he had noticed the calming effects of the sea and began providing sailing opportunities for others. In 2012 he set up the charity to help those in similar situations.

“There is something really quite special about sailing,” says Dan. “It can provide a therapeutic and calming effect and when you’re out at sea there is nothing to trigger the unwelcome memories that are associated with past traumatic experiences.”

The charity’s support does not just stop at the individual. They also offer skippered sailing trips to Service families affected by military operations, with trips along the picturesque Cornish coast and to the Isles of Scilly.

Round Britain Challenge

To demonstrate his newly gained skills, Dan recently took part in a 2000-mile sailing expedition around the British Isles. He joined 38 other veterans – many with little or no sailing experience – on the Turn to Starboard Round Britain Challenge to raise awareness of the challenges veterans can face after leaving the military.

The two-month voyage took place on the ‘Spirit of Falmouth’, a tall ship donated to the charity by The Prince’s Trust. Dan played a key role as ‘First Mate’ – second in command of the crew.

“The expedition was amazing,” says Dan. “It showed me that I knew what I was doing as a professional sailor and it felt good that a lot of people depended on me to be a leader. Sailing is very similar to the ethos of Armed Forces life in that it needs everyone to work as a team.”

Marine industry jobs

Whether it’s for pleasure or ­business, life on the ocean waves is big business in the UK. The British Isles are, after all, surrounded by water.

“Careers in the marine industry are incredibly varied,” explains Dan. “The range of jobs calls for a variety of skills – from marine engineering and boat building to plumbing, carpentry and joinery.

“Turn to Starboard offer the chance for veterans to learn these skills, forge new friendships and experience adventure, which are all incredibly powerful in aiding recovery. Veterans who complete the courses often say they found an increased sense of purpose and pride, which boosts their self esteem.”

Dan was surprised at how ­satisfying he has found learning a new skill. “It came out of the blue but it has worked so well for me. I didn’t think I could find a job and actually enjoy work so much. It’s such an enormous bonus to be able to learn to sail, enjoy what I do and play a part in helping other veterans.”

To find out more, call 01326 314262 or visit for training opportunities.

Pathfinder magazine 


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