Why his voyage round Britain is one of the most inspiring feats in years


Geoff Holt, who is quadriplegic, yesterday completed a voyage round Britain in his 15ft Challenger trimaran. Sounds tough, doesn’t it? But believe me, the headlines don’t in any way cover the immensity of Holt’s feat, which was a team effort of remarkable proportions.

Every day that the weather and, more importantly the sea state, was suitable – that is, when the forecast wind was 17 knots or under – Geoff set out to chew off another chunk of the 1,400-mile journey. If the wind was over 17 knots, Holt and project manager Ian Clover judged that he would not have enough physical strength to control the boat. Only some of Geoff’s arm muscles work.

Each day that he sailed, it took about an hour to get him into his boat and set up to sail; at the end of the day it was another hour to get Geoff out and put his catamaran Freethinker to bed. On some days he would sail for ten hours, braving the cold (Geoff is unable to regulate his body temperature properly) and pressure sores. “I can really only sail for 8-10 hours without suffering,” he admits.

Of the 109 days it took him to get round, 56 of them were waiting in port for safe conditions. Then he would set off on passages of 30-40 miles. His longest was between Peel on the Isle of Man and Portpatrick in Scotland, a distance of 60 miles.

To describe these as day sails would be to misunderstand the nature of the voyage. Often Geoff would leave in the middle of the night to catch a tide.

“At 0430 in the morning it’s horrible. In my boat you are facing the wind; there’s no shelter. And I’m only a few inches above the water, so within minutes I’d be getting drenched and be intensely cold. If I had to steer hard for hours I would arrive emotionally and physically wrecked,” he tells me.

The effort involved in actually sailing the boat is something again. Geoff steered Freethinker with the back of his wrist and used the only other two controls – the kicker and the mainsheet – by hauling them in, bit by bit, with his teeth.

Geoff was backed up by a team of supporters. His project manager Ian Clover drove a RIB with one or two others aboard – “my own personal lifeboat”, says Geoff. He also had a Land Rover with a winch and hoist to get Freethinker up slipways and out of harbours, and two motorhomes for the crew, including one for Geoff that was wheelchair accessible, because in many of the places he stopped at there was no other suitable accommodation. Each of these vehicles needed a driver – hence a total team of eight people.

There is, of course, much more to the story than this short précis, and we’ll be covering Geoff’s voyage more fully in our November issue. I know I would say this, but do get a copy, and read about one of the most inspiring achievements in many, many years.

If Geoff doesn’t get the Yachtsman of the Year award, and plenty of other accolades besides, there is no justice.