Quadriplegic sailor completes ‘amazing’ quest around UK for barrier free boating

Quadriplegic sailor completes ‘amazing’ quest around UK for barrier free boating
Quadriplegic adventurer Geoff Holt completes circumnavigation of UK for Wetwheels Foundation. (Wetwheels Foundation/PA)

A quadriplegic adventurer has completed a record-breaking trip around the UK by boat in efforts to raise funds for disabled people to share his “happy place” of the sea.

Geoff Holt and his small crew circumnavigated nearly 2,000 miles in four weeks, stopping at ports from Dover to Inverness in aid of his charity, Wetwheels Foundation, which provides experiences of barrier-free boating to people with disabilities.

The 58-year-old, who has competed in world disabled sailing championships, took on his final challenge called Finishing The Dream to help expand his fleet of specially designed Wetwheels boats from eight to 12 around the country.

He said since building the first purpose-built accessible power boat in 2011, now the eight boats collectively take around more than 10,000 people out every year.

The sailor has been paralysed from the chest down since a swimming accident aged 19, and has been using a wheelchair for 40 years, which he is marking as a “celebration” of life.

Mr Holt, who became an MBE for his services to disabled sailing in 2010, told the PA news agency: “Everything I’ve ever done in my life revolves around sailing and boating.

“The only reason I’ve ever done (challenges) is to try and raise awareness so more disabled people can come and have a go at it.

“I know sailing very, very well.

“But I was aware, the more I looked that there were people being excluded.

“And these were people who were often younger people who had more profound and complex disabilities.”

Wetwheels with Geoff Holt waving flagQuadriplegic adventurer Geoff Holt arrives back in London after completing circumnavigation of the UK for Wetwheels Foundation. (Wetwheels Foundation/PA)

The charity founder, from Portsmouth, said in a nutshell it is about “freedom” on the boats which remove barriers and allow disabled people and their families to share the experience, including being able to drive the boat themselves.

“You’d be amazed the amount of people we take who’ve never been on the water.

“It’s a very important experience for them.

“We have reports of people sleeping better afterwards, taking fewer tablets, and general wellbeing and demeanour improving after a few trips on Wetwheels.

“That’s why we do it.”

During the challenge the crew also stopped off to take people with disabilities out on trips and raise awareness of their work.

Of the challenge itself stopping off at 19 ports and navigating bad weather, Mr Holt said: “It was amazing. It was just a beautiful, amazing experience to see, to go to these places that you only ever see on a weather map on the news and meet some incredible people.”

But the father-of-one also said he struggled physically with waves smashing hard into the boat and causing injuries to him in his wheelchair, while he was driving the boat eight hours a day.

“So there was a lot of pain. It slowed us down a little bit,” he said.

“I took painkillers and just visualised the finish really and thought you know this won’t go on forever. And actually when you’re out there and take it, you’re often surrounded by beautiful scenery. We had dolphins and whales. It was just beautiful.”

Mr Holt said one of the highlights of the trip was the scenery coming up through the Inner Hebrides in Scotland.

“I stopped the boat. I turned the engines off, I just went off the deck and just looked and just smiled to myself and the pod of dolphins swimming by.”

The challenge is hoped to have kickstarted getting a boat, which costs a quarter of a million pounds each, in Wales and Northern Ireland in the next two years, while efforts continue to get a further one for the East Anglia region and a free-roaming boat for around the UK.

On his return from his final physical challenge, Mr Holt hopes to enjoy some fishing before continuing fundraising for the Wetwheels boats.

He said: “The love I have for the sea and the feeling of, it’s just like a sense of freedom. You feel alive.

“And because I know it’s my happy place, I try to share that with as many people as I can.”

The Just Giving page for Finishing the Dream – Wetwheels, has so far raised more than £77,000.

The Conversation (0)