Disabled sailor Geoff Holt has achieved a great deal over the past 20 years. He has broken world records, been made an MBE and honoured with a Yachtsman of the Year award.
But now he wants to use his experiences to inspire others with disabilities to achieve.
Geoff, 45, from Shedfield, near Fareham, is quadriplegic following a tragic accident in Tortola in the Virgin Islands in 1984, when he broke his back. But he has never let that stop him achieving his dreams.
Early last year he became the first disabled sailor to sail across the Atlantic unassisted. And last November he was made an MBE for his services to disabled sailing by the Queen.
Now, he is preparing to showcase his newest boat, called Wetwheels, at the Southampton Boat Show.
Wetwheels is a motor boat and is unique because it allows Geoff to access the boat using his wheelchair. It is modified with a side-opening door, a raised helming position and various wheelchair tie-down points, plus state-of-the-art electronics.
Raymarine is supporting Geoff by providing the navigation systems and other electronics for the boat, while Suzuki Marine is going to supply the engines.
Geoff’s hope is that he can get other disabled people into sailing through using the boat.
‘What makes it special is that they can modify the boat for me,’ he says.
‘I go through a door on the side straight into the boat and am able to drive the boat as well.’
Geoff adds: ‘I came up with the idea that, rather than it being just for me, we could do something together. So I will operate it and run it for other people to use.
‘Over the years I’ve realised that it’s just getting out on to the water that’s important. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a motor boat.’
Despite recently breaking his leg, Geoff has been determined to get the catamaran ready for the Boat Show, which runs from September 15-25.
Against doctor’s orders, he travelled over to Ventnor on the Isle of Wight to measure his wheelchair against the boat and to ensure it will be ready in time.
Geoff explains: ‘There are endless opportunities for disabled people to go out sailing, but there are very few opportunities for them to go out on a motor boat.
‘The good thing about the motor boat is that you can just turn up in your normal clothes, jump on and go out.’
The boat will be operated from Gunwharf Quays, with harbour tours available, as well as fishing trips.
He says: ‘If anyone wants to try her out, they can go to the Boat Show. She will be the first-ever wheelchair accessible power boat at the show.
‘I’ve been involved in disabled sailing for 20 years. I still go to a lot of Sailability groups across the country and I see the enjoyment and satisfaction that disabled people get when they are on the water.
‘It’s so different to being on land. If you are disabled on land you feel disabled. When you are on water, particularly on motor boats, you are equal with able bodied people. You don’t feel disabled at all.’
Geoff wants crew members to feel involved, saying: ‘I’m not just going to take people for rides. The boat has been designed for people to drive themselves.
‘There are some power boats around the country that take wheelchairs. But they are operated by charities, so they are restricted by the charities’ aims and objectives about what they can do.
‘This is my boat. I can do what I want to do with it. People can just go out and have a bit of fun on the water.’
Geoff is also hoping that he can encourage and inspire disabled children to get involved in sailing, by working with schools across the area.
‘I’m very lucky. As a disabled person I have achieved some wonderful things. I sailed around Britain and I was the first disabled person to do that. I was the first disabled person to sail the Atlantic two years ago.
‘I have been given an MBE and I’m the Yachtsman of the Year, which is the most amazing accolade.
‘So I am in a fortunate position and can help give something back to those who are less fortunate.
‘Hopefully I can inspire these boys and girls whatever age they are.’
For Geoff, inspiration is what it’s all about.
‘It’s for people to learn their capabilities. I hope they will be inspired to do something with their lives.
‘It makes them realise that the world is their oyster.
‘I’m hoping that every so often I can join the kids on the boat and just chat to them and give some advice. I will do my best to be there as often as I can.’
· To find out more about Geoff’s experiences and challenges, visit geoffholt.com.