AS IF sailing one of the most fearsome sailing races in the world was not tough enough, a group of yachtsmen are to overcome their own personal challenges.

Hampshire sailor Colin Rouse, 43, has overcome most that the oceans can throw at him, but his latest adventure is a voyage into the unknown, even for him.

The former RAF sergeant aircraft engineer lost a leg in an explosion on board a yacht and was deprived of a highly active life, running and cycling.

But he has learned to walk again and regained his love of sailing by stepping on the deck of a sailing boat only a few days after last year's accident.

He is now pooling all his experience of adventure training for the armed services and of overcoming his disability, to lead a new crew of ex-servicemen, also all with missing limbs, on the Fastnet race next year. He said: "My philosophy of life is that whatever setbacks happen in life, you can't waste time feeling sorry for yourself. I was so keen to get back on a boat after my accident, I was only in hospital for two weeks and for weeks after that I insisted on being wheeled in a wheelchair down to my boat."

Mr Rouse, of York Crescent, Lee-on-Solent, learned to walk again with a computer-programmed false leg, and moves around the 35ft Fastnet boat Watch Out with relative ease.

Between them, the ten crewmen have only nine good legs between them, but they aim to complete the tough race to Ireland and back with the benefit of military discipline, good humour and rigorous training.

They have yet to qualify for next August's 648-mile race, but have already beaten potential able-bodied qualifiers.

The crew, believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, has been assembled by the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association (Blesma), a charity for amputees. Some are novice sailors.

One lost a foot in the Warren Point explosion, Northern Ireland, that killed 18, while another lost part of a leg to a land mine in Rwanda.

Mr Rouse, who has previously sailed round the world, said: "The idea of this is to show people who have lost limbs, they can compete on equal terms with able-bodied people and even beat them.''

The team can be contacted for offers of sponsorship on 0208 590 1124, or e-mail