Mini Transat: Why do it?

Published on December 28th, 2020

Why race in the Mini Transat, over 4,000 nautical miles, across the ocean solo, and in a 21’ sail boat? Peter Gibbons-Neff, racing in the 2021 Mini Transat as an ambassador for U.S. Patriot Sailing to raise awareness, explains.

U.S. Patriot Sailing supports the veteran community navigate the hardships of transition to civilian life, rehabilitation after injury, and the complex life challenges associated with combat deployments.The organization accomplishes its mission by welcoming veterans back onto a winning team, provides camaraderie, a sense of mission accomplishment, and new dynamic experiences.

I have sailed and volunteered with U.S. Patriot Sailing in Annapolis since 2018. Earlier that year, I had returned from a deployment in the Middle East, moved from North Carolina up to the D.C. area, and wanted to get back out on the water sailing.

We all have a story to tell, and this is just the beginning of mine. I don’t believe my story is special, nor is it easy for me to open up in such a public forum. I am here to start my campaign for a major ocean race and share the impact of U.S. Patriot Sailing. My personal story is just one example of hundreds of veterans this organization has helped.

In 2018, I returned from a fairly routine deployment as an infantry battalion’s senior intelligence officer, which was part of a Marine Expeditionary Unit. This reinforced battalion consisted of about 1,200 Marines and Sailors spread across three large amphibious ships.

The deployment mostly consisted of traveling by ship, providing intelligence support to quick reaction force (QRF) missions in support of various operations spanning the Mediterranean and Red Sea, and conducting training exercises in places such as the deserts of Israel, Djibouti, and Jordan.

The final part of our deployment consisted of transiting the Persian Gulf where we prepared to send forces into Iraq, however that mission did not come to fruition for the ground element. From Bahrain, I departed the unit to fly back to the U.S. in order to attend a ten month long resident professional military education course in Quantico, Virginia, called Expeditionary Warfare School.

Going into 2019, I was going through an extremely difficult time in my personal life, including going through a divorce, and knew I needed something more in life. The culmination of two deployments, to include nine months in Afghanistan, multiple operations, and endless days training in the field-took an emotional toll. In 2014 I spent most of my time advising the Afghan military and police.

While I was not part of a unit conducting endless patrols through the desert like many picture Marine Corps deployments to be, our mission and threats were different. Our threats were insider attacks from those we were training and supporting, and indiscriminate rocket attacks.

Overall, this experience had the greatest lasting influence on me as a Marine. I felt fortunate for the opportunity to support an international mission, but during my time in Afghanistan the war was transitioning as the coalition forces were ordered out of Helmand Province.

I vividly remember watching the news of ISIS launching their campaign in Iraq, which made our efforts in Afghanistan feel like they were on the back burner yet again for America. Marines were still making the ultimate sacrifice. More can be said about that whole experience, but I will leave it there for now. I will reflect on my experiences more with you as I go through this campaign.

On a cold February day in 2019, I started volunteering with U.S. Patriot Sailing in Annapolis. The time I could commit started off small, but it was time for me to get out of the house and get back to doing what I love. Preparing to sail meant lots of boat work. Freezing fingers and toes were worth it to complete all the projects on the boats during those winter days. Most importantly, it was impactful seeing the team come together with a shared sense of purpose.

This organization provided me the opportunity to feel the thrill of deployment again, in the company of warriors, from all branches of the military. The experiences of those involved with U.S. Patriot Sailing could fill history books, with hard fought battles both on and off the battlefield. Representing all branches of the military, the participants from this team bring diverse backgrounds to the race course.

The team, camaraderie, and sense of commitment, are what helped me get through those initial dark winter days. They also continue to support me through my current transition from active duty to civilian life. This is an experience most of our teammates have already undergone and continue to face every day. I have seen the effects this organization has on teammates and it is inspiring. I hope to bring international awareness to U.S. Patriot Sailing so that it can grow and continue to help more veterans.

This 100% volunteer run national organization is completely funded by generous donations that support all aspects of running a team: boat dockage, haul out, maintenance, safety gear, and regatta entry fees. Every dollar donated to the team directly supports its operations.

For more information about U.S. Patriot Sailing check out the team’s website here:

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