Team Forces is excited to be supporting EX ATLANTIC QUEST, a highly ambitious sail training and mountaineering expedition which has been designed to test the mental and physical resilience of the soldiers who are taking part. The crews will also carry out research for the Global Oceanic Environmental Survey to discover more about the impact humans are having on the environment, carrying out research to examine how plastic waste is affecting the area’s wildlife and plankton, specifically that of microplastics.
The expedition was officially launched by the Chief Royal Engineer, Gen Ty Urch on 16 June and with that the journey started. The expedition set off from Chatham to sail some 15,000 miles to South Georgia in a 72ft Challenger Class steel yacht, Adventure of Hornet. Around 100 soldiers are involved on the expedition’s six legs, sailing from the UK to Lanzarote, across the Atlantic Ocean, towards South American and down its east coat towards Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands where the sailors will be joined by mountaineers for the journey east to the remote South Atlantic archipelago of South Georgia to conduct exploratory mountaineering. The yacht will then make its way back up to the Caribbean where the crew will hand the boat back to the Army Adventurous Training Group on the island of Grenada.
The first leg crew from 3 RSME joined the yacht shortly after the launch event and slipped sail for Lanzarote. Frustratingly, a problem with the engine occurred and, given the journey she was about to make, it was decided to have it fixed in Lymington which delayed their departure. After a rough channel crossing, the Leg one crew made impressive progress catching up the lost time to reach Lanzarote.
Leg two made fast work of the passage from Lanzarote to Cape Verde, but noted a problem with one of the sails. The brand new number 3 foresail – a sail designed for heavy weather – had faults. The hanks (small brass clamps which attach the sail to the forestay) were nearly all defective. Ever resourceful, the sappers from 39 Engr Regt replaced them with as many spares as were on the boat and used soft shackles for the remainder; quick thinking ingenuity under pressure made use of what was available. As a testament to their handiwork, their repair remained operational until Rio. Apart from some undiagnosed minor leaks, Adventure is holding up well, the incoming crew will bring the necessary spares with them and make repairs on arrival.
At Rio de Janeiro, the baton was handed over to Leg three’s crew, their voyage will head south tracking Brazil’s east coast to Paranagua, and then on to Punta del Este in Uruguay before crossing the Southern Atlantic to the Falklands. Rio marks an important inflexion point in the expedition. Going south in the tail end of the austral winter the crew can expect cold weather, high winds and rough seas, but the majority-Ghurka (Queen’s Ghurka Engineers) crew from 36 Engineer Regiment have trained for this and are looking forward to the challenge.
Leg four (24 Cdo Engr Regt) will sail from the Falklands to South Georgia to conduct exploratory mountaineering (alpine climbing and possibly some first ascents) on the island before crossing the 800 nautical miles back to the Falklands. It is the most challenging leg of the expedition. With unclimbed peaks, uncharted waters, wild landscapes and erratic weather, it poses unique challenges.
The final two legs (62 Wks Gp and 22 Engr Regt) will see the yacht make the return passage back up from Port Stanley to the Caribbean, where the crew will hand her back to the JSATC for her next voyage.
NOTES FROM LEG 2 – 39 Engr Regt:
Mastering the Rhythm
Our days on the open sea fell into a rhythm of two-day rotations, with 4-hour shifts on watch followed by off-watch periods. On watch, the real work began. We worked tirelessly, adjusting the sails to match the ever-changing wind speed. Hoisting and reefing the main sail, handling the head sail and stay sail—these tasks required seamless teamwork. There was a constant battle for sleep, off-watch, all we craved was rest, but the humid and often scorching conditions below deck made a full 4-hour sleep a luxury. Nevertheless, our love for the ocean kept us going. Once our two-day rotation was over, it was time for “mother watch.” This meant ensuring the boat was clean and providing three meals a day for the rest of the crew. Working below deck for a full 24 hours could be hot and occasionally mundane, but the sense of camaraderie of all watching Netflix round a small iPad together, sharing stories and shared adventure made it worthwhile.
The Culinary Challenge
Cooking onboard was an adventure in itself. Picture this: the boat sailing at a 30-degree angle on either a starboard or port tack, and you, trying to prepare a meal while everything rolls away from you. It was a culinary challenge unlike any other, but it added to the thrill of the journey. Catching dinner was one of the highlights of our journey was the thrill of catching our dinner. We reeled in massive Tuna and Mahi Mahi fish, their size and taste a testament to the richness of the ocean. Freshly caught and expertly prepared, these meals were a true reward for our efforts.
As we sailed across the vast Atlantic expanse, nature put on a show for us. Dolphins swam alongside our boat, their grace and agility captivating us. Flying fish soared above the waves, and we marveled at their ability to glide. At night, the ocean came alive with bioluminescent plankton, creating a surreal, glowing spectacle. Turtles, jellyfish, and even tiger sharks made appearances, reminding us of the diversity of life in the open sea. And then there were the humpback whales, colossal creatures the size of buses, breaching the surface and crashing back into the boundless ocean—an awe-inspiring spectacle that left us breathless.
The journey was punctuated by once-in-a-lifetime moments. Crossing the equator, we held a ceremony to become “shellbacks” and join King Neptune’s Corps—a tradition dating back to 1520. This symbolic moment bound us together as adventurers, sharing a bond that transcended our individual backgrounds. Another noteworthy event was our crossing of the Doldrums, a place notorious for its eerie stillness, where the sea turns into a vast, glassy expanse. Sir Walter Raleigh was stuck there for 40 days! It’s a place that has claimed the lives of many sailors and has an air of mystique that leaves a lasting impression.