Catastrophically injured playing rugby after returning as an Army captain from a tour of Afghanistan, Tom Hughes has continued to live a life full of challenge and adventure.
Now he has embarked on another adventure, having proposed to his girlfriend Hannah after they sailed through on one of the toughest parts of a round-the-world trip on his accessible catamaran, Artemis.
Having planned the trip for six years Tom set out from Plymouth. Now he has taken a break, leaving the vessel in Chile after an 18,000-mile trip. Tom and Hannah met 13 years ago but says Hannah “I moved to Chile and he went to Afghanistan. Then I was in uni in Canada and he was in England. The timing was never quite right but we kept in contact for a few years and then Tom invited me out to the boat. The Caribbean wasn’t a bad place to resume our relationship!”
Having taken a break from her job in Canadian immigration, Hannah joined the Artemis in Grenada in December 2021, with no sailing experience whatsoever. She learned the ropes in calm waters, and Tom and Hannah have sailed by themselves from the Caribbean for the past year.
Rarely Seeing Another Human Being
“The Caribbean was the perfect place for me to learn but South America was a whole different ball game. Not many people do it, only about five sailing yachts each season go through the channels as it’s quite tricky. We worked well as a team – when something broke there was a bit of shouting about passing tools, but things went well. We were on the boat together for two months straight, rarely seeing any other human beings,” says Hannah.
So well, in fact, that when the couple came back to England for a break and Hannah to complete her Masters degree, Tom decided it was time to buy a ring and ask her to marry him. First, he had the talk with Hannah’s father out in Canada and then on a trip to visit her family, he popped the question in Banff where they first met 13 years ago.
“We had talked about marriage, which we both wanted, and had known each other a long time. Going back was perfect, nostalgic. Dad knew for a couple of months that Tom was going to propose but kept it quiet and Tom had always been curious about the style of ring I liked. He chose an emerald surrounded by diamonds and I love it. I keep staring at it in different light.
“When we first met Tom was on a break from an Army exercise and I found him charming and handsome. It was a year and a half before his rugby accident. He’s always talked and dreamed about sailing around the world and in that sense he hasn’t changed, if anything he has more drive, more ambition. Having had the injury pushes him even more. Different ports presented different challenges in how to get off the boat but the two of us made it works. He takes that approach with most things in life and has a zest for life I find inspiring.”
Zest For Life
That zest for life has seen Tom become a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, well equipped for exploration on land, coast and beneath the sea, having qualified as a technical diver and diving instructor since his injury. He’s also trained to use a rebreather, allowing him to dive for longer and without the bubbles that would stop him getting up close to marine creatures.
His catamaran, Artemis, was designed and purpose built in Millbrook, Cornwall, by Dazcat Multimarine. Named after the Greek goddess of hunting, it’s also a nod to Tom’s mother Diane, as Diana equates with Artemis in Roman mythology.
On Artemis Tom sailed to some of the most beautiful and remote outcrops of land. Various crew members joined as he headed from Plymouth to Gibralta, Lanzarote, Cape Verde, and Grenada, where Hannah came on board, then the two of them journeyed on to Mustique, St Lucia, Antigua, Barbuda, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Dominica, Surinam, French Guyana, Brazil, Argentina, on to the Beagle Channel and Chile, round Cape Horne and into the Chilean channels of Patagoni for two months’ tough sailing in spectacular scenery. That’s where he determined to ask Hannah to be his wife, with the wedding likely in Spring 2025.
Tom has been a client of the RFU Injured Players Foundation ever since he broke his neck in a rugby match as he built towards selection for the Army v Navy game. He thinks the charity is “absolutely fantastic. I can’t speak highly enough of the help they have given to me and all the other clients.”
He reels off a list which includes helping him buy a home, get specialist physio, purchasing his Terrainhopper he calls ‘The Beast’ which goes everywhere, including on an African safari before the pandemic, his rebreather and funding his PHD. Since his injury, Tom has completed a Defence Fellowship at Oxford, a Masters Degree via Glasgow and a PhD in International Relations at St Andrews.