Strong winds and too many spectators cause near-capsize in Solent.

With a blustery North-westerly breeze hitting 25 knots, Geoff Holt, skipper of the disabled Challenger-class trimaranFreethinkerset off on the first leg of his round-Britain challenge.

He launched successfully just after 1pm off the pontoon at the Royal Southern Yacht Club and tore off downriver leaving the spectators and press in his wake.

But on hitting the open water at the mouth of the Hamble River, things began to go wrong. The choppy water and confused seas caused by the 20 or so spectator craft led to a mini-broach, dumping Geoff into Southampton Water.

The rescue drill kicked into action immediately and Geoff was quickly dragged into the waiting rescue RIB. Worryingly, though, his 275 Newton lifejacket failed to inflate. Geoff, paralysed from the chest down was left floating face-down for a very brief period before one of his rescue team turned him over in the water.

A spokesperson for the project told PBO: ‘The rescue drill worked perfectly. They’ve done numerous practices and everyone present saw how well prepared we are.’

Amongst those present to see him off were Robin Knox-Johnston and round-the-world sailor Tracy Edwards, along with local TV news and numerous journalists and photographers.

His Challenger dinghy was recovered and towed safely back into the river and Geoff was returned to the Royal Southern Yacht Club cold and disappointed not to have made a better start, but otherwise uninjured.

He has decided not to attempt to set off until Wednesday when forecasters say the strong winds should abate.

A welcome event planned for this evening at the Royal Lymington Yacht Club has had to be cancelled but Geoff remained upbeat about the project ‘still looking forward to the challenge’.

Picture: OnEdition