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Incredible voluntary effort by sailors is producing 5,000 PPE gowns a week

Sailors and marine companies across the UK are engaged in an extraordinary drive to make vital PPE for health workers.

One voluntary initiative in the New Forest has supplied more than 16,000 gowns to Southampton General Hospital – and has become the hospital’s main supplier of protective gowns.

Peter Sanders, MD of Sanders Sails in Lymington, said: “At one stage Southampton General was going to run out of these gowns within a week. It was a desperate situation.”

Volunteers worked day and night over one weekend to find the right plastic material, simplify the pattern so it could be welded together with domestic irons instead of being sewed, then distribute the plastic and pattern to marine firms with the cutting ability, then have the pieces ironed together by volunteer seamstresses and finally rush 250 of the gowns to the hospital to “keep them going”.

Peter said: “The community spirit we’re seeing is incredible. People are going to huge lengths to help.

“It’s a monster and a very demanding monster.”

Sanders Sails has been joined by fellow marine companies Fibre Mechanics, AC Marine and Composites, Typhoon International (part of Ocean Safety), Dolphin Sails, Dimension-Polyant, Trenchard Aviation, Flexicovers, Rain and Sun, and MDS Leisure, whose staff have been cutting the gowns out by hand.

Emma McEwen

The extraordinary voluntary effort to produce and supply the gowns has been coordinated by Emma McEwen, former RS800 European champion with husband Luke.

Emma said: “We have been trying to meet the 5,000 gowns-a-week requirement for the Covid-19 wards, from a standing start of nothing. We’ve been going nearly a month. It’s been a full-time job. We’ve got marine companies cutting whenever they can. It only works because everyone is involved. The volumes are not achieveable by any one company.”

Sanders Sails started making protective bags and face visors in March, giving away 400 of the latter in 24 hours. The protective bags are adapted Sanders sailbags, in which NHS workers can carry their hospital scrubs without contaminating areas such as their car and home.

Word spread and Sanders Sails staff have since made 1,600 of the bags for health workers as far afield as Belfast and the Outer Hebrides, and many for London hospitals – all free of charge.

Sarah Bishop of Sanders Sails constructing the protective bags

Then in early April, New Forest businessman Gavin Jones started volunteer group ‘New Forest Sewing for the NHS’ and asked Sanders if they could cut out hospital scrubs for them.

Sanders digitised the pattern, vastly speeding up production and supply. Almost 900 sets of the PPE scrubs have now been cut out by Sanders Sails and delivered to ‘New Forest Sewing for the NHS’, ‘For the Love of Scrubs’, ‘Lymington Town Sailing Club Sewing Group’ and other teams of volunteers, before being delivered free to the NHS, as well as to carers and others working with Covid-19 patients.

Peter Sanders said: “We’re still going. This is just us filling a temporary gap in the supply chain. Normally it comes from abroad but we hear a UK supplier could be coming in at the end of June. Many companies have temporarily closed due the Covid-19 pandemic but we have continued to work, sharing our time between sails and PPE. Due to the recent easing of the lockdown we are now manic with both operations.”

Sailmaker Steve Moatt

Meanwhile fellow sailmaker, Steve Moatt, based on Osprey Quay, Portland, has been making face shields for health workers in the UK and also in Madagascar, which he knows from a charity bike ride he did there.

He said: “On the island there are few health services and many people’s immune systems are already compromised. It is predicted as much as 10% of the population may die from Coronavirus.”

Steve is making and selling face shields to those who need them in the UK, for £3 each, with all income donated to the Masks for Madagascar appeal.

To buy a face shield for £3 contact Steve at skmoatt@btconnect.com or 07833 383221. He is aiming to raise £1,000 for more material to make more shields.

Barton Marine, too, has been providing hundreds of face shields to key workers around the south east.

Barton CEO Suzanne Blaustone said: “We are honoured to be able to offer these masks free of charge to front-liners in need of PPE who are taking care of those in need. 200 will be sent to the Met Police in London and the rest to food banks and care homes in desperate need of PPE. We salute those in every sector who take care of others and continue the effort to keep our countries and communities stable in these troubled times.”

British America’s Cup challenge INEOS TEAM UK, led by Sir Ben Ainslie, has been manufacturing as many as 1,000 PPE face shields per week, for key workers in the local area around the team base in Portsmouth.

Utilising the manufacturing capacity and resource within the team base, including 3D printers and sailmakers, together with additional resource from the team’s partnerships with Mercedes-Benz Applied Science (MBAS) and Spinlock, INEOS’ sailmakers and other technicians have been working round the clock during lockdown.

Finally, in Spain sailors and shore crew from the 52 Super Series are also putting their skills to good use. Palma-based sailmakers such as Phoenix’s Mathieu Cassanas, Jordi Calafat from Platoon, Martin Winter of Quantum Racing and Provezza’s Gwenael Le Guen are helping make cloth gowns and masks in an initiative coordinated by Pablo Torrado from the Maxi72 Cannonball. Others, such as Gladiator’s Feargal Finlay and Azzurra’s Ross Hunter are making use of 3D printers to manufacture plastic protective masks and visors.

In Valencia, Bronenosec sail maker Alfredo Roberi is spending his days producing protective masks and gowns having obtained a special permit allowing him to work in his sail loft.

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