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Disability Sports Ambassador

21/01
A new year, a year challenge. This time it’s global. Published under | 2 Comments

January 21st, 2016

GLOBAL SAILING PLANS ANNOUNCED BY QUADRIPLEGIC YACHTSMAN

Disabled yachtsman Geoff Holt has announced his plans to sail around the world.   A feat for any yachtsman, let alone one who is paralysed from the chest down and uses a powered wheelchair.  The 27,000 mile voyage will take Holt through some of the most dangerous waters on the planet and is estimated to take 14 months, stopping at a number of locations en route.

Paralysed at the age of 18 in a swimming accident, Holt, now 49, is no stranger to record breaking sailing achievements. In 2007 he sailed single-handed around the UK in a 5 metre dinghy, an achievement he says was his “Personal Everest”.  Two years later he sailed the Atlantic Ocean on a 20 metre yacht, an achievement which earned him an MBE for “services to disabled sailing” and he won the prestigious Yachtsman of the Year Award, what Holt refers to as the “Knighthood of sailing”.

“I’ve always been passionate about the sea” explains Holt. “As a family we sailed regularly and when I left school at 16, I joined a charter yacht and sailed the Atlantic 3 times by the time I was 18. Sailing was to be my career”.

An accident whilst working in the British Virgin Island in 1984, broke his neck. “It didn’t hurt then, it doesn’t hurt now”, he continues, “you just have to learn to live with what you have. Being quadriplegic may limit my physical capabilities but it doesn’t moderate my aspirations.  At first, sailing again as a disabled person was something I wanted to do for purely personal reasons. It gave me something to focus on and was a great way to get out of the house and socialise with my friends and fellow sailors. By the time I returned from my sail around the UK having sailed some 1,500 miles, visited 51 harbours and been away for over 100 days, I realised something had changed. This was no longer about me. In that time I had received lots of emails and letters from people, not just disabled people, who told me they had been inspired by my voyage and that touched me very personally”.

After completing his Personal Everest, Holt wrote his auto-biography, Walking on Water and became a professional speaker, travelling the world sharing his story.  His Atlantic crossing, accompanied only by a nurse and cameraman in 2009, took him a month to complete the 3,000 mile crossing in an adapted 20 metre sailing yacht. His destination was Cane Garden Bay, the Caribbean beach where he had his accident, not as he says, “for closure”, but as a celebration of his life.  He was met on the beach by his wife Elaine (Geoff’s nurse who he met in hospital in 1984) and their young son, Tim.

Holt’s latest project is Accessible Oceans. His vision to make our oceans accessible to disabled people for adventure, vocation and therapy. It is a subject he is passionate about.

“There are localized sailing opportunities on lakes, reservoirs and coastal areas dotted around the world which is great, but the real magic happens out there, over the horizon. Only offshore can you truly get to understand the magnificence of the ocean, the wildlife, the infinite skies, the sensory overload from a breaking wave; on one hand the feeling of insignificance as a human being, a mere dot on an ocean, countered by this overwhelming sense of being alive, at one with nature. It is a very private and emotional feeling that I only feel when at sea. 15% of the world’s population have a disability and many are excluded from having that opportunity to experience this. I could count on one hand, the number of publicly available boats capable to taking a wheelchair user to sea, be that for a holiday, for therapy or even to inspire them to make a career in the marine sector. My Accessible Oceans project will identify key hubs around the world where we will locate adapted boats so disabled people can enjoy what non-disabled sailors can enjoy already”.

Accessible Oceans has touched the hearts and minds of some influential supporters.  His Serene Highness, Prince Albert II of Monaco attended the launch of the Project recently in Monaco and has agreed to be a Patron of the Accessible Oceans project. Sir Stelios Haji-loannou, founder of easyJet has pledged his support through his Philanthropic Organisation and has become Holt’s first significant financial sponsor.  The Project command centre will be based at the prestigious Yacht Club de Monaco and will host the start and finish of the voyage.

Holt has the support of sailing royalty too; Dame Ellen Macarthur describing Holt as “one of the most amazing people I have ever met”, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston describes Holt’s latest project as “something everyone should support” and Sir Ben Ainslie has given his support to this and all of Holt’s previous achievements.  “I’m lucky to have some great supporters” says Geoff, “but when you receive a letter from a disabled child who tells you that “you are their inspiration”, that one message alone, even if I were to achieve nothing else in my life, makes all of the hardships over the years worth it. And I have received countless messages similar. I am very lucky indeed”.

But on the subject of his global sailing ambition, “We are not there yet” cautions Holt.  “We are still actively looking for sponsors, be they commercial or private individuals. This is a unique opportunity to be associated with a Project that will touch the hearts and minds of people of all nationalities. It is a story of overcoming adversity, changing people’s perceptions of disability whilst making a practical difference that will benefit disabled people around the world.

“It has taken a long time to get to this point” confides Holt. “This round the world project and my Accessible Oceans dream are the next chapter in my story.  I have spent my life involved in the world of sailing and I feel I have earned the right to make this ultimate voyage.  Life is a journey and I have come a long way since those teenage years when my life changed forever. For the better as it happens.

Geoff Holt’s circumnavigation will commence in 2017.

2 Comments have been made

Sally Adlam ( nee holt ) says:

Geoff what an amazing thing to do – I really hope you do it ! I will be following your progress with interest . hope you get the sponsorship you need You are an inspiration to all !

Regards Sally ( michaels daughter / gills niece !!)

Peter Burnage says:

Brilliant!

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An ex-professional yachtsman with many ocean crossings under his belt, Geoff Holt was paralysed in a swimming accident in 1984....

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