Meet Geoff Holt: Disabled Sailor, Racer and Accessibility Pioneer

In the September 2021 issue of the ICOYC Currents, we asked our Member Clubs around the world to update the Council on their accessibility efforts. From the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, we received a story about a successful Sailability event specifically for female disabled sailors. From Verein Seglerhaus am Wannsee, we learned about their Inclusivity Working Group and their efforts to make accessibility a pillar of their Club’s programming.

Meanwhile, at Royal Southern Yacht Club, ICOYC President David Mead reached out to Geoff Holt who is a lifetime Honorary Member of the Club. For nearly four decades, Holt has been a shining example of advocacy for disabled sailors.

Geoff shares:

Breaking my neck at the age of 18 in the Virgin Islands was not part of my life plan. In the two years previous, since leaving school I had sailed the Atlantic three times and had more than 30,000 sea miles under my belt. I was in the BVI working to become a charter boat skipper.

What followed over the next 37 years has become part of my story and the thread which runs through it is my love of the sea.

It was several years before I got back in a boat but once I did, I realised it was my destiny. Within a couple of years, I was racing an accessible trimaran dinghy and starting to win. By 1995, Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal (Princess Anne), became patron of a new national charity, RYA Sailability, and I became its inaugural chairman. Sailability is now synonymous with disabled sailing globally.

Supported by my wife, Elaine, who was my nurse when I had my accident, I started to push the boundaries of what was possible for me as a disabled sailor. In 2007, I became the first severely disabled person to sail 1,500 miles singlehanded around the United Kingdom in a dinghy, returning to Royal Southern Yacht Club at the end of that journey.

Three years later I became the first quadriplegic to sail 3,000 miles unassisted across the Atlantic Ocean.

I have since founded a national boating organisation called Wetwheels here in the UK taking 6,000 disabled people a year to sea and have ambitions to become the first quadriplegic wheelchair user to captain a global circumnavigation by yacht.

I am passionate about the ocean and the blue health benefits for us all, but especially for people with disabilities. It is out there, over the horizon where the magic happens and I’m still looking for people to support me to make my dream a reality.

Geoff Holt MBE