Interview: meet one former Royal Marine who overcame his injury to retrain as a RYA Yachtmaster

14th March 2019




After serving more than nine years as a Royal Marine Commando, Nick Pinniger (pictured right) was medically discharged with a shoulder injury in November 2018.

A rigorous toll of parachute jumps, assault courses and a love of playing rugby caused severe cartilage damage to his shoulders, and sadly, the end of his chosen career.

It was during his injury rehabilitation programme that Nick, 27, found out about Turn to Starboard and a chance to rebuild his life and start a new vocation. Although a member of one of the most elite amphibious forces in the world, Nick had never set foot on a yacht yet soon set sail on the ocean, including a long-distance voyage from Croatia to Portugal.

Just over a year later and following a steep learning curve, Nick has now qualified as a RYA Yachtmaster and is looking forward to new lease of life, and a brighter future.


How did you first hear about Turn to Starboard?

NP: After finding out I was being medically discharged and following my surgery, I went into rehab at 40 Commando. It was here I was talking to one of the other lads who said he knew of a sailing charity in Falmouth, so I looked at the Turn to Starboard website and thought ‘this looks really interesting’. I rang up straight away and spoke to Paul [T2S Ops Coordinator] who told me all about the charity and mentioned that another Marine had recently gone through the programme and landed a job on a luxury catamaran which sounded great. Paul invited me down to the office for a cup of tea, so I had a quick chat to my Warrant Officer who was happy to give me time off rehab, and before you know it I was on a Competent Crew course.


And what happened next?

NP: Unfortunately, the course I was booked on was cancelled due to bad weather, but I spent the week in the classroom learning sailing theory instead. When the weather improved I was able to get out on the water and although I’ve been on fast landing craft before I’d never actually sailed on a yacht, so it was a totally new experience. Two other guys were also on board who were brilliant and we had a real laugh, and I soon realised that half of sailing includes making teas, coffees and just chatting!
During the week our sailing instructor, Dan, showed me around the yacht and taught me many aspects of sailing. He showed me how to do things on my own like learning how to haul the sails, take the helm and utilise both winches. The best thing was realising that I could still do things with my shoulders which I didn’t think I could do, which was a massive insight as I was always worried it was going to make my injury worse. It was challenging yet the course gave me a new passion and overall I thought it was a pretty cool experience as everyone was so chilled.


Soon after you were invited to take part in an international voyage, how was that experience?

NP: I couldn’t wait to get on board again and a short time later I was asked whether I was interested in taking part in a section of sailing expedition from Croatia to Cornwall with the charity. I jumped at the chance and headed out to Croatia with the rest of the crew. After preparing the boat for the voyage and completing general maintenance and safety checks, we set off and this whole new world opened up to me. We sailed past eight countries and over seven different seas while experiencing all kinds of weather conditions, sea states and winds of up to 54mph. It was a challenging trip yet I learned how to adapt to different situations and crack on and get things done, just like when I was in the Marines. In total, I sailed around 2,500 miles from Croatia to Portugal which took around two and a half months. The trip was phenomenal, the crew were amazing and it made me realise I had a real passion for sailing, plus as an added bonus I was awarded my RYA Day Skipper on the voyage too.


Since returning home you have racked up a host of other achievements. Can you tell us about those?

NP: In the weeks after the trip I sailed regularly with the charity and also managed to complete the RYA Yachtmaster Theory course, Powerboat Level 2, Short Range Radio and VHF courses. The opportunities just keep flowing in from Turn to Starboard, it’s outstanding what the charity does and how they help people while not making a show out of people’s injuries, but actually trying to help.


In October 2018 you were also presented with prestigious The Croft Yachtmaster Award in recognition of your efforts progressing through the training programme. How did that feel?

NP: It was a shock to receive the award. It was presented to me at the annual charity awards dinner and I had to give a speech on the night in front of an audience. I was told the award was for giving it my all on the training programme and for getting fully involved with everything and for my positive attitude. It was brilliant and I felt honoured.


Earlier this month you were awarded the coveted RYA Yachtmaster Offshore qualification. What does it mean to you?

NP: It means everything. Sailing has given me a new lease of life as I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left the Marines. After stumbling across the charity I have now gained my Yachtmaster Offshore and the chance of a new career path. The opportunity has been unbelievable and I have found out there are people out there who want to help, and that means the world to me. My ultimate aim is to get a job in the maritime industry as a skipper, yet it’s still early days and I’m not sure exactly where I’m going to fit in yet. The plan, for now is to volunteer with the charity for a little while to help give something back to the Turn to Starboard family. I can’t thank Shaun [CEO and charity founder] and all the staff members enough as they all do their very best to make you feel comfortable, happy and feel belonged. Without their help none of this would be possible so it’s a big thank you to all of them.


Kind words! And finally, what do you enjoy about sailing?

The camaraderie and the way you can harness nature and utilise the wind to get from A to B. That’s just incredible on its own, never mind that you have an amazing family behind you offering support and the chance to get your Yachtmaster qualification.

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