An army veteran from Thetford struggling with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has found solace in a former hobby - sailing.
Ray Hoogendijk, 36, joined the Army in 1996 at the age of 17, serving with the Royal Anglian Regiment for nine years and seeing action in Northern Ireland and Afghanistan.
The father-of-two was medically discharged in 2014 after being diagnosed with PTSD, following an ongoing battle with ill health.
“It was a dark chapter in my life,” said Ray. “I was told I wasn’t suitable for the career anymore and needed to start the transition to civilian life.”
Keen sailor and qualified skipper Ray found out about Turn to Starboard, a charity which helps former servicemen and women to readjust by teaching them to sail.
Ray travelled to Falmouth, in Cornwall, to meet the charity’s CEO, former Army squadron leader Shaun Pascoe.
He is now enrolled on its Zero to Hero course, a programme which will earn him professional qualifications for yacht and cruise sailing.
Ray said: “Shaun offered me funding to go through the programme, and it was the best news I’d had all year.
“In Falmouth I was made to feel really welcome. There are a lot of people with a very similar background to myself.
“This has lifted the clouds and given me a new lease of life. It’s given me something to do which I truly enjoy.”
Ray is planning to take part in a sailing trip around Britain in the summer, organised by Turn to Starboard, and hopes to fund-raise for the charity through the effort.
Shaun started the charity by taking small groups of servicemen out on the waves, after finding it ‘challenging’ to come home from tours.
It now has 75 volunteers, support from Help for Heroes, the RAF and the Prince’s Trust, and is on track to help hundreds of people this year.
Shaun said: “Ray is an ideal candidate for us - came on hard times after coming home, with difficult personal circumstances too.
“He is incredibly enthusiastic. I think having something to look forward to is a real motivator.”
Ray said he wants to help the charity expand by setting up outreach programmes in Norfolk and Suffolk.
“I want to offer this service to more people like me, who don’t know what to do after leaving the military,” he said.
To sponsor Ray on his sailing trip for Turn to Starboard, visit the Just Giving website.