Mike’s epic voyage gives hope to blind children

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Bosham’s sea-faring Colonel Mike Brooke has gone into print with the tale of his epic fundraising voyage.

The voyage itself – 1,783 nautical miles around Great Britain in a 19-foot Cape Cutter Theo’s Future – raised a staggering £43,000 to help give blind children hope.

Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Now Mike has raised a further couple of thousand pounds for the cause with the book of his great adventure, Fight for Sight on Theo’s Future: A Voyage of Hope and Endeavour.

But as Mike says, the story is about so much more than sailing and fundraising.

Mike’s eldest son Simon Brooke was tragically killed in a road accident in August, 2003. Simon’s best friend George had a son, Theo, who was born happy and healthy on New Year’s Eve 2006, and Mike was asked to be godfather.

But tragically, at the age of six months, Theo was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition of the retina called Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). He is now blind, and there is no treatment or cure – yet. Finding a solution costs money, which inspired Mike to undertake his sailing marathon.

Mike’s response, five years ago, was to set sail around Great Britain on an 86-day trek to raise money for the internationally-renowned team at Moorfields Eye Hospital and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, which together are pioneering research and treatment for LCA.

The team has recently completed the world’s first-ever trial using gene therapy to treat LCA. Many of the genetic defects that cause LCA have not yet been identified, and the team is desperate to find them all, so youngsters like Theo can get gene therapy early, making successful treatment much more reliable. It really is a race against time.

Mike discovered that a light scanner system, costing £27,000, would speed up the process considerably. He was determined to fund one – and sailed way beyond his target. The scanner now means that potentially a cure could be just two or three years away.

Adding to Mike’s determination were fond memories of his son Simon, tragically killed at the age of 29. Had he lived, he would have been best man at Theo’s parents wedding; had he lived, he would have been Theo’s godfather, a role which passed to Mike.

As Mike says, it has all been against the odds, not least the trek which threw up its share of hairy moments.

“It took us off-shore around some of Britain’s fiercest headlands.”

The perils were enormous if Mike – sometimes solo, sometimes with up to three others – didn’t get it right. But detailed preparation and respect for the windows created by the tidal gates saw him through.

“When you are responsible for people’s lives and are a little bit off-shore in uncertain conditions, it make you concentrate. Your training as a military mind helps you look for solutions that are going to work, but the sea is never a finite environment.”

One of the worst moments came off Lands End; a rogue wave approached them out of nowhere: “I remember looking at it and thinking ‘I don’t think we are going to get over this’. I had two crew on board, one down below, and the other Claire was on her first-ever sea trip and was only there because her husband, who was going to go, had been called away for work reasons at the last minute.

“We climbed about half way up the face of the wave, and I said to Claire ‘When I say ‘duck!, duck!’ She didn’t. She was like a rabbit in the headlights. This great wall of water came over the boat and smacked her to such an extent that it knocked her into the cockpit.”

As the water dissipated, all they could do was look at each other and laugh. Fortunately, Claire had been tied on.

“It went from a moment of potential tragedy to elation!”

But every moment of hardship brought its reward. By the time he got back, Mike had comfortably exceeded his target for the light scanner system.

By the time he arrived 
home after 86 challenging days at sea, he’d reached £43,000 – to which sales of the book are now adding.

The story of his remarkable achievement is vividly told in the book, with all proceeds from its sale going to the charities Fight for Sight and the Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit.

Fight for Sight on Theo’s Future: A Voyage of Hope and Endeavour is available in paperback and costs £12.95 (ISBN 978-090353040-8) from www.theosfuture.org or from mpbrooke@neverlookback.co.uk. It has been published by The Royal Engineer Yacht Club.