A HARDY group of former soldiers will be storming Normandy like it was 1944 next week, as they complete a gruelling Channel crossing in canoes for charity.
The 40-hour endurance challenge will see a team of six complete the 200km crossing, paddling through the night to reach Arromanche Les Bains on Friday morning.
Scheduled to land on Gold Beach at first light – like D-Day boats had precisely 70 years before them – this mission aims to pay respect to the thousands who made the crossing.
It will also raise money for six charities; The Royal British Legion, the Clock Tower Fund supporting HQ Hereford Garrison, the Special Care Baby Unit at Hereford Hospital, The Cycstic Fibrosis Trust and Help For Heroes.
Hereford's Stuart Gilks, one of the six men taking on the challenge, said: “As far as we can determine, this has never been attempted before – and will be a fitting way to demonstrate our respect and admiration for the men who departed England to secure the drop zones and beaches of Normandy in June 1944.
“Their endeavours benefitted future generations; we hope that our endeavours will benefit our six chosen charities.”
The team – including five former soldiers – has an average age of 45, and has faced mountains, deserts and jungles across the world, as well as Ultra Marathons and cross-Channel swimming.
However facing 200km of open water and shipping channels in nothing more than an army canoe, or ‘klepper’, poses a unique challenge for all involved.
The kleppers will be named after Normandy landings operational names; Neptune, Tonga and Overlord.
They are designed to be used either as a sailing craft or a paddle boat, and the team had initially intended to sail the route.
However at a training session in February, just a month into the project, it became apparent the team were too inexperienced to use the sailing rig for such a hazardous open-sea route.
The group met again in April at Portland – the departure point for the crossing, and key naval base during the D-Day invasions – where they worked with local watermen and undertook a small night paddle to get a feel for the conditions.
And they will return to the south coast port on Wednesday, this time to go a little further than the harbour walls.
If you’re unable to see the team off from Portland at 2pm, you can follow its progress on Facebook, Twitter and updates on its website www.normandyklepperchallenge.co.uk , which also includes information on how you can donate to the charities.