RETIRED army major Guy Mewburn is helping former and current defence force personnel improve their mental health by teaching them how to fix boats and sail.
Shocked by the high suicide rate among defence force veterans, Mr Mewburn founded the not-for-profit Sailing On, which gets them bonding through teamwork and sailing education.
Male veterans are 24 per cent more likely to die by suicide than the general population and female veterans are twice as likely, according to a recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report.
Between 2001 and 2019, there were 1273 deaths by suicide among serving ADF personnel and veterans.
“With my military history of 25 years in the regular army as a major, I knew too well the stresses on service people and of the terrible suicide rate,” Mr Mewburn says.
“I wanted to do something to help ease those stresses and came up with the idea by combining the two ingredients of teamwork and mateship through sailing.”
Mr Mewburn realised that a lot of older sailors let their boats fall into disrepair, so he spread the word he would fix them up for free, and was inundated with requests from local yacht clubs.
Sailing On have now setup base at South of Perth Yacht Club in Applecross, where Mr Mewburn is a member.
“We have developed our relationship with the yacht club through a memorandum of understanding, and see this as a win-win situation with benefits for both associations,” he says.
“At the moment, while most of our members are beginner sailors, we are focusing on the smoother waters of the Swan River.
“Once our members develop their skills we are expecting that some of them will want to experience the more extreme sailing on the ocean.
“With time, we envisage having some yachts based in Fremantle for ocean sailing.”
Formed this year, Sailing On already has 39 members and is planning to run formal sailing classes at the South of Perth Yacht Club. It has also organised front line mental health courses through Open Arms, which provides counselling and support to defence force veterans.
“We sail every Wednesday afternoon and twilight as well as Saturdays where skippers are available and qualified people can sail any time of the week,” Mr Mewburn says.
“For only $65 a year membership, where else could you get free training, all the safety gear and a yacht to sail any time you want.”
Mr Mewburn adds that if you don’t want to get your feet wet, there’s plenty of skills to learn on dry land including boat maintenance, fibre glassing and rigging. Recently Sailing On held an open day at the South of Perth Yacht Club.
For more info visit sailingonwa.org.au
by STEPHEN POLLOCK