Bold sailing attempt

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FEB. 13 — A British man is preparing to become the first disabled person to sail single-handed around the British Isles.

Geoff Holt, who is paralyzed from the chest down, plans to sail a modified 15-foot trimaran, named Freethinker, around Great Britain in about 50 days, he says in an interview with Soundings. He plans to kick off the 1,600-mile expedition, called Personal Everest, by mid-May.

“These types of events are what I do best. You could say it’s the way I’m wired,” says Holt, who is 40 and of Shedfield, on the south coast of England. “I’m a yachtsman through and through and I do these things for me — you get addicted to the highs and lows of planning, then the euphoria of success. It’s a great feeling.”

Having grown up living on his father’s yacht, by age of 18 Holt had completed three tans-Atlantic crossings and was one of the youngest charter skippers in the Caribbean, he says. One day in 1984 he dove into shallow water from a beach in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, and broke his neck. He cannot use his legs and has only limited feeling in his arms.

“I am a high-level quadriplegic, I need complex medical care,” Holt says of the challenges he faces. “I’m sailing a boat that must come ashore each night in unknown harbors and slipways. Each night I need to find wheelchair accessible accommodation that is both safe and warm. On the water, I need a support boat plus crew. They, too, will need accommodation. Then you have to factor in the unknowns, things like weather, health of the crew, mechanic breakdowns, etc. But we think we have a bullet-proof plan.”

Holt will be shadowed by a 22-foot RIB skippered by his project manager, Ian Clover, a UK Sailing instructor and father of former teen sailing phenom Sebastian Clover. Despite the obvious obstacles, Holt says he is confident he will complete the journey.

“Maybe it’s a man thing, but I think you have to be slightly arrogant and bloody-minded if you are going to attempt something like this,” he says. “I may be a bit mad but I sure as hell am not stupid. If the wind is blowing a Force 5 and the sea is rough, I’ll be the first person in the bar. That said I would be lying if I said the record wasn’t important to me. I’m not a quitter so, yes, of course it will be great to have the honor of being the first disabled person in the world to sail single-handed around the U.K.”

Jason Fell