December is a magical time of miracles and merriment. For Geoff Holt, it will be a month to make dreams come true. The UK yachtsman will launch from the Canary Islands en route to Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, aboard a specially-designed catamaran and make history by becoming the first quadriplegic sailor to ever cross the Atlantic Ocean.
“I’ve been dreaming about the day I get to sail back to the Caribbean for years,” says Holt, 43, who expects to make landfall in Cane Garden Bay on December 27. “I’m mostly looking forward to the wonderful weather and just relaxing on a beautiful beach somewhere in peace, without my mobile phone and computer. The Caribbean is pleasurable, not for any one thing, but because it is a collection of many; the people, the places, the food, the weather and of course the magnificent sailing.”
Holt sailed “across the pond” twice by age 16 and a third time by his 18th birthday, at which point he had logged more than 30,000 sea miles. In 1984, a day before Holt was to start as crew on a charter yacht in Tortola, he took a fateful dive into the shallow waters of Cane Garden Bay. The plunge broke his neck, left him paralyzed from the waist down and severed any thoughts of sailing.
But the sea was in his blood, and seven years later Holt was back in a boat. In 1992, he became the first person with a disability to sail single-handed the 70-mile distance around the Isle of Wight. Then in 2007, Holt completed what he calls his “Personal Everest” and sailed single-handed around Great Britain. The voyage was a succession of day-sails and sleeping overnight in a motor home, taking 109 days.
“The prospect of sailing 3,000 miles across the Atlantic had seemed inconceivable, however completing my Personal Everest proved to myself that I could achieve the seemingly unachievable,” Holt said in a recent release.
“The only real barrier would be finding the right boat. I knew of a wheelchair-accessible, ocean-going catamaran that had been designed specifically for someone in a wheelchair to sail with full push-button technology and luckily for me, the owner said I could borrow it.”
Impossible Dream is a 60ft, purpose-built, wheelchair-accessible catamaran launched in 2003. The yacht is owned by the charity Sporting Activities for the Disabled, and is usually used as a charter vessel for disabled people to experience sailing.
Holt will not sail solo. Without help, Holt cannot get himself into bed, dressed or into the shower, so his personal assistant, Susana Scott, will tend to his personal care. Once up in his wheelchair, he can use his navigational and boat handling skills and experience to sail Impossible Dream. Scott will have some basic training in boat handling, but will have no input either physically or verbally into the sailing of the yacht.
Holt plans to arrive in the BVI on December 27 and stay in the region until January 10th. “Between those dates, I am hoping to do some sailing around the British and U.S. Virgin Islands,” he says.
Holt will also undertake a program of social events and fundraising activities with local Rotary Clubs. Holt is a founding trustee of the Royal Yachting Association’s Sailability program, which enables more than 20,000 disabled people a year to enjoy sailing. The BVI Watersports Centre, located in Sea Cow’s Bay, Tortola, is one of the more than 150 Sailability groups and Holt is also expected to visit and speak with some of the territory’s sailors. www.geoffholt.com
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.