2015 winner of the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs, Geoff Holt, featured in The Telegraph: "Quadriplegic sailor plans to circumnavigate the globe"
25 January 2016 posted by Valia Meletiou
Disabled yachtsman Geoff Holt has already sailed around Britain and across the Atlantic. Now he plans to circumnavigate the globe.
As an 18-year-old working on boats in the Caribbean, keen yachtsman Geoff Holt made up his mind that he would sail around the world one day.
A short time later, a diving accident changed his life forever, leaving him paralysed from the chest down. Rather than letting the tragedy end his dream, however, Holt, 49, has spent three decades working towards finally achieving that goal.
After a long struggle to overcome his physical disabilities – and convince sponsors to back him – next year he plans to become the first person with his disability to circumnavigate the globe in a specially adapted trimaran.
“Being quadriplegic may limit my physical capabilities but it doesn’t moderate my aspirations,” he said. “I think a project like this is unique, it is an example of the power of the human spirit.”
Holt’s 27,000 mile voyage will take him through some of the world’s most dangerous waters on a journey expected to take 14 months.
The sailor, from Shedfield, Hampshire, had sailed the Atlantic three times before his accident as a professional skipper, and had already set his sights on circumnavigating the globe.
“I was working in the Caribbean on a yacht that had just been around the world. That’s when my interest was excited and I had this little plan that two or three years later I would join a boat and do it myself,” he told the Telegraph.
But then Holt broke his neck diving into shallow waters on a beach in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands in 1984. He was left paralysed, with the use of his arms but only limited movement in his hands, and spent 11 months in hospital.
Ever since the accident, he has been determined to prove that disability needn’t be a barrier to achievement, saying: “No matter what life throws at you, you must plough on."
In 2007 Holt became the first disabled person to sail solo around Britain in a five metre dinghy. Two years later he became the first disabled sailor to conquer the Atlantic, on a 20 metre yacht – battling with power failure, contaminated fuel and light winds along the way.
In 2011 Holt was awarded an MBE for his services to disabled sailing and won the prestigious Yachtsman of the Year award, which he refers to as the “knighthood of sailing”.
For the last five years he’s been planning the voyage that could make him the first quadriplegic sailor to circumnavigate the globe.
He will make the journey in a triple-hulled vessel around 60ft in length, fitted with state of the art hydraulic equipment. This will allow him to operate winches to adjust the sails at the touch of a button, rather than having to haul ropes.
Meanwhile, modern navigation equipment allows him to set his course at the touch of a button.
The route will take him around the world from Monaco and back via Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, San Francisco, the Panama Canal, the British Virgin Islands and New York.
One of the most dangerous points will be sailing around the bottom of South Africa to get down into the Southern Ocean, where he expects to face big waves up to 10 metres in height.
Unpredictable weather, coupled with the fact that he’s in a wheelchair, will make conditions very difficult for Holt. He will be assisted during the voyage by a mixture of able bodied and disabled crew members, and at least one carer.
“The biggest challenge I face is holding on and making sure I can still navigate the boat. But I’ve sailed a big boat in those conditions before in my wheelchair when I sailed the Atlantic. It’s so rough and very uncomfortable but I’m capable of enduring it,” he said.
Holt, who works as a motivational speaker and runs sailing for the disabled schemes, had to overcome huge financial hurdles just to get the £3.5 million project off the ground.
He gave up on winning UK sponsors, having been met with “a complete brick wall”. But he won high-profile backing from Prince Albert of Monaco, who agreed to be a patron after hearing Holt deliver an inspiring speech about his ambition at a yacht club in Monaco.
The project command centre will be based at the Yacht Club de Monaco, the nautical hub for all yachting events in the Principality. Meanwhile Y.CO, a Monaco based yacht brokerage, will support the boat selection and design process.
He has also landed £150,000 sponsorship from Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, founder of easyJet, through his philanthropic Stelios Foundation.
“There’s a huge amount of money in sports sponsorship, you only have to look around to see extremely well funded sailing projects in this country, but I think people are afraid of getting behind sponsoring disability,” said the pioneering sailor.
"It's an enlightened, forward-thinking person who sees through that. Stelios has done that – he recognised my abilities on a personal and commercial level.”
During the round-the-world trip, Holt - who is still seeking further sponsors - will promote his Accessible Oceans project. This aims to promote sailing for the disabled opportunities at the places he stops en route.
The sailor is married to Elaine, a nurse he met in hospital after his accident, and they have a son, Tim, 13.
“I have spent my life involved in the world of sailing and I feel I have earned the right to make this ultimate voyage,” he said.
“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.”
Source: The Telegraph
Geoff Holt uses state of the art equipment - such as hydraulic winches and touch-screen navigation equipment - to sail unaided
Holt sailed across the Atlantic on a wheelchair-accessible catamaran called Impossible Dream
Holt, centre, won support from Prince Albert of Monaco (right) after the Prince listened to him speak about his long-held ambition to sail around the globe
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