Geoff Holt joins a gathering of some of sailing's greatest heroes. The tales they can all tell...!
Hearty congratulations to Geoff Holt, who won the Pantaenius/Yachting Journalists’ Association Yachtsman of the Year award today at a lunch at Trinity House in London. The photo above shows the trophy about to be given to him by two-times winner Sir Robin Knox-Johnson.
The Amazing Mr Holt is a tremendous ambassador for sailing and his win was hugely popular. I have never seen such a reception for any winner in the past – his name was greeted with cheers, whistles, a massive round of applause and a standing ovation.
Nominally, Geoff won the award for sailing single-handed across the Atlantic from Lanzarote to Tortola in a specially adapted 60ft catamaran, Impossible Dream. This was a first for someone as disabled as he (Geoff is quadrilegic and confined to a wheelchair).
But that’s just the latest and greatest of Geoff’s achievements. He has overcome enormous physical and mental challenges since breaking his neck as a 19-year-old in a swimming accident. Now 44, he can look back at a tremendous track record of promoting sailing for disabled people.
In the 1990s he was the inaugural chairman of RYA Sailability. In a decade of his involvement the charity raised £2 million and established over 200 groups and clubs.
Prior to his Atlantic crossing, Geoff sailed alone round Britain in a 15ft Challenger trimaran. He has twice before been nominated for the Yachtsman of the Year and finally he’s got his due. Go, Geoff.
His next plan is to sail single-handed round the world with the help of a non-sailing carer. With him today was multihull designer and all-round genius Nigel Irens, who has drawn a boat for his planned voyage. Hopefully this award will help with raising the necessary sponsorship.
The lunch was terrific craic and it was outrageously good fun seeing so many well known sailors and familiar faces. Here are some of them:
Ewen Southby-Tailyour, a former YOTY winner from 1982 for his cruising guide to the Falklands (which turned out to be so useful during the Falklands War). Ewen is a great character, also the biographer of Blondie Hasler and founder of the remarkable Jester Challenge, the solo transaltlantic race without rules for boats under 30ft.
Pilot and cruising guide authors Jimmy Cornell and Anne Hammick (right) with Janet Murphy, publishing director of Adlard Coles Nautical. There’s an awful lot of knowledge contained in this trio.
Tracy Edwards, looking as good if not better than ever. Welcome back Tracy. It was an unexpected pleasure to see the winner from 1989, when she celebrated her achievements as skipper of the Whitbread boat Maiden. It was wonderful to see her back where she belongs, among the history makers of sailing.
After the Oryx Quest Race in 2005 and the debts and controversy that followed, Tracy pretty much went to ground. She tells me she hasn’t set foot in a boat of any kind since and she never turned up again at the annual celebration of award winners.
That’s a shame. Tracy made it possible for women to be taken seriously in round the world racing, which paved the way for so many others after her, and she did a huge amount to make sailing widely popular. I think it’s actually shrunk back in general appeal recently.
Tracy is two years into a degree in psychology, which she needs to work with young offenders. This is what she now wants to do. As she pointed out to me, she used to be a young offender herself. “Sailing turned me round,” she says.
Designer and polymath Nigel Irens, a great hero of mine (left), with Yachting Monthly Editor Paul Gelder. Nigel was involved with America’s Cup multihull design with Alinghi, but he says he’s not working with any of the teams now. Are they mad?
Geoff Holt clutching his trophy, with solo sailor Mike Golding.
Look who else came out of the undergrowth… the incomparable Sir Chay Blyth with his wife, Felicity. Chay is another fantastic sailor and mythmaker but he hadn’t come back to take his place among the greats since the demise of his company Challenge Business. It was lovely to see him again as bullish and large as life as ever.
I was sitting beside him at the lunch and the stories he told me from his round the world races and we reminisced about from his Challenge days had us both in fits. He tells me he’s written 12 chapters of his autobiography and I’d guess he has tales enough to fill another dozen at least. What’s more I’m sure almost all of them are true.
Mind you, if you recounted some of the stories various yachting journalists tell about themselves and the escapades we’ve had with these sailing legends over the years, that would fill a few highly entertaining and occasionally scurrilous volumes as well.
I would tell all but of course I would have to very, very drunk.