Talan Skeels-Piggins is looking for advice and assistance during his circumnavigation around Great Britain, which will include sailing up Ireland's Atlantic coast and around the top of Scotland

To sail around Britain is a dream for many sailors, but for Talan Skeels-Piggins, it will also be a chance to “give back to others”.

The 53-year-old sailor is paralysed from the armpits down and aims to sail clockwise around Great Britain in his non-adapted Colvic UFO 34.

Unlike previous around Britain voyages by disabled sailors that have been via the Irish Sea and Caledonian Canal and in adapted boats, Talan Skeels-Piggins is planning to sail via the west of Ireland and over the top of Scotland.

If successful, he believes he will become the first paraplegic sailor to sail this route in a non-adapted boat.

A man at the tiller of a boat while sailing at sea

Talan Skeels-Piggins has been sailing since he was a child. Credit: Talan Skeels-Piggins

Joining him on the voyage will be Neil Baxter, a leg amputee and a diabetic, who was previously a bosun in the Army and a delivery skipper.

“When I am sailing I feel a wonderful sense of freedom from my paralysis. It is a huge benefit to my own mental health, as I can focus fully on the process of being at sea, of helming and trimming the sails, therefore escaping my limitations brought about by the high level of paralysis,” explained Talan Skeels-Piggins.

“Those moments allow me to mentally recharge and enable me to deal with the constant neurogenic pain, the restrictions of the wheelchair and the many other negative aspects of paralysis.”

Talan Skeels-Piggins learned to sail as a child in the Carrick Roads near Falmouth, and has sailed “everything from Optimists to tall ships”. He served in the Royal Navy as a fighter controller before leaving to become a PE teacher.

In 2003, he was riding his motorbike when it was hit by a car and Talan was thrown into oncoming traffic. The accident broke his neck and back, and left him paralysed from the chest down.

a boat with a white hull in a marina

Talan Skeels-Piggins chose the UFO 34 due to its seaworthy credentials. Credit: Talan Skeels-Piggins

While recovering in hospital, Talan Skeels-Piggins set himself his first challenge: to learn to ski and become part of the Paralympic team, which he did in seven years. He went on to become the first licensed disabled motorcycle racer to compete against able-bodied riders.

It was then that he went back to sailing,

Initially, he sailed a Dart 18, and a 2.4mR before buying a Colvic UFO 27 three years ago.

While sailing in the Round the Island Race the seed was planted to sail further afield.

“I thought if I can sail around this island [Cowes], then I can sail around bigger islands like the UK. I am not afraid of failing as at least I will have given it a go,” he said.

Talan Skeels-Piggins wearing black sunglass sailing a boat

Talan Skeels-Piggins’s circumnavigation of Britain will see him sail around 1,927nm. Credit: Talan Skeels-Piggins

He contacted Blesma, the military charity for limbless veterans, which published his plans to circumnavigate the UK in a newsletter.

Shortly afterwards, he was contacted by Neil Baxter.

The pair began sailing together in the Solent, but soon realised the UFO 27 was unsuitable for the challenge; the boat’s hank-on headsail was too difficult for Neil to manage and there were problems with the ancient Penta Md5a engine.

In August 2023, Talan Skeels-Piggins bought the UFO 34, Miura, basing her at WicorMarine Yacht Haven in Porchester.

“I chose the UFO34 because of its performance in the 1979 Fastnet, coming 1st and 3rd in class [IV]. All the lines on the boat go back to the cockpit, it has headsail furling and a stack-pack system on the main to make it easy to drop. The deep cockpit also offers good protection,” he said.

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Talan Skeels-Piggins plans to start the circumnavigation of Britain on 20 June 2024 from Porchester. His high-level paraplegia means he can’t sail non-stop but must stop every three days.

“The voyage will consist of 15 three-day sailing trips, linking them together in a series of ‘hops’. This is due to certain limitations with [mu] bladder and bowel management, and the fact that the yacht is small and not adapted so I cannot use the loo onboard,” he said.

The legs of the voyage are:

  • Porchester to Falmouth
  • Falmouth to Crosshaven
  • Crosshaven to Galway
  • Galway to Killybegs
  • Killybegs to Tobermory
  • Tobermory to Stornaway
  • Stornaway to Kirkwall
  • Kirkwall to Peterhead
  • Peterhead to Amble
  • Amble to Lowestoft
  • Lowestoft to Ramsgate
  • Ramsgate to Portchester

“We are looking for financial support for the challenge, raising monies for the charities, advice from those who have sailed in the areas and/or circumnavigated the British Isles, and finding assistance at the various planned stops,” said Talan Skeels-Piggins.

“The challenge will also be an opportunity for me to give back to others by using it to raise funds for a number of charities: Blesma, the  Disabled Sailors Association, and Hilary’s Dream Trust.”

A man in a red jacket and lifejacket sailing

Talan Skeels-Piggins and Neil Baxter will compete in the Round the Island Race ahead of their circumnavigation of Britain. Credit: Talan Skeels-Piggins

Further information on Talan Skeels-Piggins’s challenge can be found at www.sailbeyond.co.uk.

He already has the support of Blesma, Rolly Tasker Sails, Rural Finance, ZSpars, Wicormarine Yacht Haven, Floorbrite, Tenacious Covers, Helly Hansen, Hilary’s Dream Trust and the Invictus Foundation.

Enjoyed reading Meet Talan Skeels-Piggins, the paraplegic sailor planning to sail around Great Britain in a non-adapted boat?

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