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WETWHEELS: Looking back on a busy 2013
Wetwheels, my custom-built, fully-accessible, 9 metre Cheetah catamaran powerboat has just complete her first full year of service, and what a year it has been.
With her distinctive livery, she has become a familiar sight on the south coast. She was conceived, designed and built specifically so I could captain her from my wheelchair. Key design features included a side-opening door, wide enough for my wheelchair to access via a ramp from the pontoon and a raised steering and navigation area so I can skipper the vessel in comfort and safety. But I wanted also to take friends and family, regardless of disability, so I installed a number of tie-down points for wheelchairs and we installed touch-sensitive steering so others may share the enjoyment I get from being on the water. As a young child, I didn’t like sharing my toys. As I got older, I came to realise that you can get just as much enjoyment watching others enjoying your treasured possessions. Often people are nervous what to expect when boarding Wetwheels but, within minutes, everyone, regardless of ability, is grinning from ear to ear – it is contagious.
Behind every trip we make, there is a story worthy of its own page. But of particular note this year, Wetwheels played a part in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the Olympics and Paralympics.
Encouraged by the Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Dame Mary Fagan, we were fortunate to be one of only 1,000 boats chosen to participate in the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on Sunday June 3rd. Guests onboard included children from Hampshire based Naomi House Hospice and the Rose Road school for disabled children.
It was to be a wet, cold and windy day, one of those drizzly grey days when you want to curl up in front of a log fire, not be dogging 1,000 other boats on the river Thames.
There were hundreds of thousands of well- wishers cheering from every bridge, every window in every building on both banks of the Thames for an unbroken 7 miles. The noise they made was incredible.
After what seemed an eternity, suddenly there she was, Her Majesty, Our Queen, right there in front of us, Philip by her side, Charles and Camilla to one side, Harry, William and Kate behind. Yes, we waved our Union Jack flags frantically, blew our silly party trumpets and cheered loudly. Others showed more respect and decorum and dipped their ensigns, we forgot. And then it was all over. So, curled up in front of a log fire or enduring the weather at the Pageant? Pageant every time.
Boat Shows and Trade Shows
We attended four shows in total in 2012. We spent several days at the Jersey Boat Show in May taking a total of ninety local disabled children for trips out to Corbiere Lighthouse. Such was the interest in Wetwheels, whilst we were still in Jersey, a local charity, Le Tournoi, decided they wanted to raise funds for their very own Wetwheels. By November 2012 they had raised sufficient funds and contracts were signed. Wetwheels Jersey is scheduled for delivery in June 2013, the first of many I hope around the UK. Other shows we attended include SeaWork in Southampton, the Suzuki RIB and Powerboat Show at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth and, of course, the PSP Southampton Boat Show where she spent the entire 10 days providing trips for nearly 200 disabled visitors to the Show. Powerboat champion Shelley Jory-Leigh took the controls of Wetwheels for a special event during Ladies Day – I was the only male on board and got to share my boat with ten lovely ladies although I did take the controls when parking.
Of particular note, I am really proud of two special events this year. In September, I was able to take the amazing Ben Parkinson out for a private and much anticipated trip. Ben was blown up by an IED in Iraq six years ago. He lost both legs and suffered horrendous chest, head and internal injuries, losing his memory and his ability to talk. By all accounts, he is the most severely injured soldier ever to survive his injuries. Accompanied by his Dad and his Occupational Therapist, not only did we get Ben out on the water for a memorable day, but the ex-Para drove Wetwheels too, straight as a die, at 40 knots. What a man. And my second proudest moment, although I was not there to witness it, much to my disappointment, was Wetwheels acting as a support vessel to Natasha Lambert, the 14 year old yachtswoman who swapped her wheelchair for her boat Miss Isle and circumnavigated the Isle of Wight, despite the continual challenges she faces with Athetoid Cerebral Palsy. What a woman. Without doubt, Ben and Nathasha are my top peeps for 2012. Respect to you both.
Peppered throughout the year were a number of one-off days for different charities. Of particular note was the day in support of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Fifteen members of the Portsmouth group enjoyed rides in the Solent and around Portsmouth Harbour.
Olympics & Paralympics
Anyone who watched the Olympic sailing event on television may be interested to learn that just about every live sailing broadcast you saw on TV from Weymouth was actually filmed from Wetwheels. She had the highest possible security clearance, giving everyone on board the best close-up action. Note the half million pound gyro camera mounted to the bow. No sooner had the Olympics finished and Wetwheels was back on duty at the Paralympic sailing event acting as a VIP spectator vessel. Although the vessel and my skipper Paul had their accreditations, I had none and so was resigned to watching the events either at home on TV or from the beach in Weymouth.
In the past twelve months, we have provided powerboating trips to nearly 700 disabled people, the vast majority being children. That number excludes their friends, family and carers who have also come along, in total nearly 2,000 people. Although I provide the boat for free and my skipper gives his time for free, we raised more than £10,000 to cover the basic fuel costs – but that funding has just about run out. Any company or individual who would like to contribute to these costs for 2013 and allow us to continue our work, please contact me. If you would like to book Wetwheels, for either a private charter or if you would like to know more about our events and trips for disabled guests, please get in touch.