Inspired by the renowned and record-breaking British Adventurer Mark Beaumont, approximately 200 members from across the RAF Regiment celebrated the Corps’ 75th Anniversary by ‘getting stuck in’ to a series of demanding expeditions that have visited 17 countries, 4 continents, 2 of the world’s greatest mountains and criss-crossed the Atlantic 4 times under the banner of Exercise Diamond Rock. The stats were impressive: the teams cycled well over 10,000km through the Rockies, the Great Divide, Central and Southern America, gaining 127km in altitude on their bikes, climbed to 6,195m and 5,600m in harsh mountain conditions, and sailed 23,000nm. It was an awe-inspiring year of good old-fashioned adventure.
Exercise Diamond Rock’s aim was to mark the RAF Regiment’s anniversary in 2017, by providing a range of ambitious and demanding expeditions and re-enforce adventure through the controlled exposure to risk in a variety of challenging outdoor environments. There were 14 legs to the exercise: 2 mountaineering legs climbing Denali (formerly Mt McKinley) in Alaska and Aconcagua in Argentina; 6 cycling legs, transiting from Canada to southern Chile; and 6 sailing legs, completing a figure of 8 around the Atlantic.
The Ulysses Trust supported the following stages of Exercise Diamond Rock:
Atlantic Rock 2017
From October 2017, and concurrent to the MTB legs, the Ocean Sailing element of Diamond Rock set off from the Joint Service Adventure Sail Training Centre on the 72 foot yacht Adventure of Hornet, starting an epic voyage that would criss-cross the Atlantic 4 times in a figure of eight. The Six crews of 15 (including a number of reservists) would take in Grand Canaria, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, Salvador in North Brazil, and Antigua before heading back to the UK, it was always going to be an epic trip.
As with all ocean sailing, you are at the mercy of the weather and all of the crews experienced heavy weather and storms – notably Storm Ophelia which battered the UK in October, causing the crew to seek shelter in France soon after setting off! The challenges and experiences were diverse: equatorial squalls and learning to appreciate the welcome warm rain and the free on-deck showers; favourable winds producing record speeds; line fishing and catching elusive tuna; ever-present ocean swells which began hampering even the most basic tasks from cooking to basic admin at a 30 degree pitch and the inevitable sea-sickness; and the heat and cramped spaces challenging the field trained crews skills and their senses of humour. This was a sensational trip which saw Adventure battling the big swells and strong winds that many associate with ocean sailing but very few ever get the chance to experience in real life.
This type of ocean sailing – long legs unsupported in the shortest possible times – is normally only undertaken by professional ocean racing crews not novices who have undertaken intense but limited training. The challenges for these young men were numerous and varied; from Force 8 storms battering the boat in the supposed calm of the Caribbean to the other extreme of trying to get a 57 ton boat moving without any wind and a temperamental engine. All of the legs reported that the experience was amazing, and whilst not all will sail again, visiting Brazil, South Africa and the West Indies has given the RAF Regiment a core of experienced sailors to continue the legacy of Diamond Rock for years to come. No matter what the problem, the Regiment’s motto of Per Ardua – Through Adversity – is a worthy description of how the crews dealt with the challenge of trans-ocean sailing.
In sum, as a multi-activity, multi-phase, multi-country expedition, Diamond Rock has proven to be an ambitious, truly adventurous and challenging endeavour that has enhanced the personal resilience that military personnel require on operations, by developing self-reliance, fortitude, rigour, robustness, and initiative. It has re-introduced and highlighted to all RAF Regiment ranks the AT opportunities which the Service provides, after an extended period of commitment to deployed (and concurrent) operations. It has also allowed us to integrate our Whole Force (Regular and Reserves) into cohesive teams, understanding a bit more about each other’s unique skills and strengths. Finally, it has built a lasting legacy of experience and qualifications to ensure there is sufficient human capability to plan and conduct demanding AT pursuits into the future.