Disabled adventurer and yachtsman Geoff Holt has unveiled a sneak preview of plans to circumnavigate the United Kingdom in a 9m Wetwheels power catamaran.

Seventeen years after quadriplegic sailor and Wetwheels founder Geoff Holt’s trail-blazing voyage around Britain in a 15ft dinghy, he is planning another UK circumnavigation.

Geoff unveiled a sneak preview of his plans on the main stage of BoatLife at NEC Birmingham.

The official launch event of Geoff’s “Finishing the dream” project will be taking place on 14 March at Dover, when the revamped Wetwheels vessel will be unveiled.

Geoff Holt, his team and supporters at BoatLife 2024

Geoff Holt, his team and supporters at BoatLife 2024

The vision is to take the first ever Wetwheels wheelchair-accessible power catamaran around the UK safely this May and June; the plan will be to visit approximately 17 harbours and ports, covering a distance of 1,750 miles.

Founder of Wetwheels, Geoff will Captain the vessel, supported by co pilot James Dunn and technician Sam Taylor-Nobbs.

The departure date is set for 13 May, from Tower Bridge, London. Lord Mayor of London Michael Mainelli will “do the honours” and the 9m Cheetah catamaran, will set off, travelling ‘westabout’ along the South coast, up the West coast, over the top of Scotland via Cape Wrath and back down the East coast.

Speaking on Friday, Geoff said: “This time I won’t be in a 15ft dinghy getting soaking wet and cold. At least I’ll be in a big Wetwheels power catamaran.”

Another lesson he has learned from his last challenge is not to be too optimistic with the timescale.

Geoff said: “It would be great it was four to six weeks. But having been burned so badly with my sailing ‘personal Everest’ when I told my wife it was going to be 30 days and it was 110. Try living in a campervan with a five year-old child for 110 days, it’s not easy.”

Geoff Holt aboard his 15ft catamaran dinghy Free Thinker

In 2007 Geoff sailed 1,500 miles around Great Britain aboard his 15ft catamaran dinghy Free Thinker. Credit: PA Images/Alamy

The Wetwheels project

An impetus for the challenge, is that the charity Geoff created is now running across the UK enabling people with major disabilities to experience the thrill of going to sea, yet there are four locational gaps. Geoff is keen to create Wetwheels boat bases at: Northern Ireland; East Coast; South Wales; and an ‘Outreach vessel.’

This is a £1million fundraising task.

Currently there are seven existing Wetwheels locations in: Edinburgh, Scotland; Whitby, Yorkshire; Dover; Jersey, Channel Islands; Portsmouth; Hamble; Falmouth and another one to be launched in Torbay next month.

Describing Wetwheels goals, Geoff said: “It’s getting people out, particularly those with profound, complex disabilities, from environments where they may be in sensory rooms or not normally leave their hospice or their medical setting, out on a powerboat and giving them the most amazing opportunities.”

Getting ‘out out’

After Geoff’s round-Britain challenge aboard Free Thinker in 2007, and his subsequent five-week transatlantic voyage in a 60ft catamaran, which saw Geoff become the ‘first quadriplegic to Captain a boat across the Atlantic‘, he began to be contacted by people from across the world asking: ‘How do you go sailing with a disability?’ ‘How do you get on the water with a disability?’

Geoff said: “Well trust me, it’s hard. It has been hard for a long time. It’s got better, it’s still not ideal.

“Luckily, RYA Sailability exists, so there’s a lot of opportunities for dinghy sailing on reservoirs and rivers but there’s nothing to get ‘out out’ as Micky Flanagan would say.

“‘Out out’ on the water to feel the wind on your face, the spray on your face, to do 30 knots and have an amazing time, offshore, away from the coast.

“For disabled people there was nothing. So in 2011, I did some research and discovered that the best catamaran for me to use would be a Cheetah Catamaran, two hulls, two engines on the back, just over 9m long.

Geoff with his Wetwheels accessible Cheetah power catamaran

Every time a Wetwheels adapted Cheetah power catamaran goes out it can take up to 12 passengers of which three can be wheelchair users – pictured with Geoff Holt

“The reason I went for a catamaran is it’s stable, plenty of room for people, including wheelchair users, and it was fast.”

He added: “I created the boat deliberately so it wasn’t just a participatory experience. This wasn’t a trip boat that took you around the harbour and dropped you back and said ‘Did you have a nice time?’ This was about going out there and getting your heart rate up, and getting wet and getting really buzzing.

“In particular that meant driving the boat [under the supervision of a qualified Captain] so the whole ethos of Wetwheels was to make it as barrier-free as possible, a shared experience with mums, and dads, friends and family, but also to just get out there, forget about your disability and have a bloody good time on the water.”

What is ‘finishing the dream’?

Wetwheels Yorkshire accessible power catamaran, moored in Whitby harbour

Wetwheels Yorkshire accessible power catamaran, moored in Whitby harbour.
Credit: Loop Images Ltd/Alamy

Within a year of creating Wetwheels the team had taken 500 people on the water with Wetwheels Solent. Fastforward 12 years and there are eight identical Wetwheels boats around the UK and Channel Islands, taking in excess of 10,000 people a year out on the water.

Geoff said: “Every time we go out we take up to 12 passengers of which three can be wheelchair users.”

He added: “When I started this in 2011, my dream was to ensure that around the UK coastline there were enough Wetwheels boats to provide the opportunity for anyone with a disability to get out and have a good time.

“Slowly, over the years we’ve started to build that network but there are gaps.”

Wetwheels is a national charity, of which Geoff is a trustee, each operator is a social enterprise. Each Wetwheels Cheetah catamaran costs £250,000, plus £100,000 a year to run.

Geoff said: “You can do the maths, it’s not cheap.”

He added: “Finishing the dream is to find a way to acquire these final four boats.”

About Geoff

Geoff Holt after an Investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle after he was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. Credit: PA Images/Alamy

Geoff Holt was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. Credit: PA Images/Alamy

Geoff, who became paralysed from the chest down following a shallow diving accident in 1984, told BoatLife visitors: “I’ve spent most of my life in a wheelchair, the last 40 years or so, with a severe disability. But yachting and sailing is something that’s incredibly important to me and I’ve been very fortunate to do a number of adventures.

“I sailed around Great Britain in a little dinghy, I sailed the Atlantic Ocean a couple of years after that and I’m very fortunate to be able to go sailing as much as I can through a number of charities.

“RYA Sailability is a charity I set up 25 years ago with the Royal Yachting Association and more recently with a charity called Wetwheels which I started 10 years ago.”

Continues below…

First circumnavigation

Geoff started his record-breaking voyage to circumnavigate Britain from Hamble, Hampshire Credit: PBWPIX/Alamy

Geoff started his record-breaking voyage to circumnavigate Britain from the Hamble, Hampshire. Credit: PBWPIX/Alamy

Geoff said: I sailed my little dinghy Free Thinking 1,500 miles around Great Britain in 2007. We stopped at 51 locations and this was a project I put together to prove to myself that as a disabled yachtsman I could still do al those amazing things that I couldn’t do before my accident in 1984.

“It was a huge project, I had lots of sponsors, some of those sponsors are still with me today.

“It was an incredible journey, 51 starts, 51 stops, 110 days travelling around the country, going to some quite amazing places – amazingly beautiful as well. The further North you get, the scenery and the people are just remarkable.

“The plan was to go over the top, to go over Cape Wrath and the Pentland Firth. 2007 was a particularly bad year so we took the decision to go through the Caledonian Canal, it’s stunningly beautiful.

“One thing that still surprises me today is all of the sea around Great Britain, on average, the deepest bit is 50-60 metres if you’re lucky. If you go through the middle of Scotland, Loch Ness, it’s 250 metres deep.”

He added: “That was my personal Everest.

“When I got back I sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. I became the first quadriplegic to Captain a boat across the Atlantic. It was a 60ft catamaran, one start, one stop, 3,000 miles and it took me five weeks.”

Geoff said being on the water, and the freedom you get from it, “everything you hear, see, smell” is something he wants to share with everyone: “Being able to do that in a safe, inspiring way was something I was very keen to create.”

Sponsors wanted

“The Project” of taking Wetwheels around the UK on a circumnavigation has already gained the sponsorship support of: Stelios Philanthropic Foundation; Raymarine – a supporter of Geoff’s since his ‘around the Isle of Wight voyage in 1992; Hugh James law firm; Cheetah Marine and the RS Marine Group; RS Electric Boats; Henri Lloyd another long time supporter of Geoff’s since 1992; plus other supporters.

In addition to his crew on board, Geoff will have a shore team, including his wife and a wheelchair accessible motorhome, a regular motorhome and another vehicle travelling around the UK.

The media launch will be taking place on 14 March at Dover, when the boat will be revealed. Geoff said: “I promise you, it looks stunning. If I say the control centre of Star Trek: Enterprise, you might get an idea of what it’s going to look like.”

Find the holding page (until the official launch) at www.finishingthedream.co.uk

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