A purpose-built power boat to accommodate disabled people received a VIP christening then took to the water from Suzuki Marine Berth M042.
The Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire, Dame Mary Fagan DCVO, was joined at the PSP Southampton Boat Show by distinguished representatives from the marine industry and the media, to formally christen Wetwheels, a purpose-built powerboat for disabled people last Friday.
Wetwheels is the brainchild of the disabled yachtsman Geoff Holt, MBE who launched his latest ambitious project back in May this year. She has been designed to allow all disabled people, including wheelchair users, to have the opportunity to experience the thrill of powerboating in a safe and dry environment.
The 9 metre Cheetah catamaran has been modified to include a side-opening door, a raised helming position and various wheelchair tie-down points plus an array of state-of-the-art electronics.
Disabled visitors to the Boat Show are able to book a free ride on her through Suzuki Marine and the boat is berthed and operated during the Show from the Suzuki Marine stand M042 in the Marina.
Generous industry support
Although conceived, designed and purchased by Geoff Holt, the Wetwheels project has come to fruition through the generosity of several marine industry companies and individuals including Cheetah Marine, Suzuki Marine, Raymarine, Ocean Safety and Seaglaze Marine Windows.
Geoff says that after thoroughly researching all the design and build options, he concluded that there could only be one class of boat up to the task and that was the Cheetah catamaran as it combines seaworthiness and safety with ample space for wheelchairs.
Sean Strevens, Managing Director of Cheetah Marine from Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, comments: “Wetwheels is not the first wheelchair accessible catamaran we have modified but she is the largest we have designed to be driven by the wheelchair user. Because Geoff is keen that she is used to take other people with disabilities afloat, we have had to consider many more aspects than usual as safety will be of paramount importance.”
When asked about his move from sailing to powerboating, Geoff responded: “This may seem a departure from sailing for me but that’s not the case. I’ve owned powerboats of various sizes for the past ten years and I’ve held a powerboat licence for almost as long. I still love sailing but if there’s one thing I’ve noticed in my 20 years’ involvement with disabled sailing, it’s the getting afloat that provides the enjoyment, and sailing does not have exclusivity on that.”
Another major supporter of this project is Suzuki Marine who has supplied a pair of 300hp outboard engines that should give Wetwheels a top speed of around 40 knots. Gareth Lumsdaine, Sales and Marketing Manager for Suzuki Marine, was keen to add his support, saying: “When Geoff brought the idea to us, we were unanimous in our enthusiasm to support the project. The design of the 9m Cheetah means that she needed twin engines and plenty of power to push her along at a good speed. We are delighted to be supplying our latest Suzuki 300 hp, 4-stroke engines and, with Geoff behind the project, we know it will be a fantastic success.”
Raymarine is also supporting the project with an entire suite of electronics including a chartplotter, radar, VHF, AIS, fishfinder, autopilot and log. Geoff has been an Ambassador for Raymarine since 2006 and Raymarine has supplied electronics for all of his previous Challenges including his record-breaking circumnavigation of Great Britain in 2007 and, more recently, his sail across the Atlantic in 2009, an achievement that won him the YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year trophy.
Andy Davies, UK & Ireland Sales Manager for Raymarine comments; “We are only too pleased to support this worthwhile project. Geoff is one of our Raymarine Ambassadors and we have always worked closely with him on providing the right electronics for his disability. For example, Geoff can not move his fingers and has very limited hand function so it is difficult for him to use equipment with fiddly buttons or dials. However he does have enough movement to operate a touch-screen monitor. By linking all of the electronic systems through the touch-screen, his ability to control the electronics is no different to that of someone without a disability. We are sure Wetwheels will be in constant demand so Geoff can be assured that his Raymarine equipment will be up to the job.”
MCA Coding and safety priorities Wetwheels is being managed by Onboard Charters out of Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth. She is coded under the rigorous MCA system and is licensed to take up to 10 persons up to 60 miles offshore, although most of her voyages will be within the Solent. To ensure that Wetwheels is fully compliant with the MCA coding and is equipped with all of the correct safety equipment, Hampshire-based Ocean Safety agreed to source and provide the various pieces of equipment.
Charlie Mill, Managing Director of Ocean Safety, says: “As one of the largest providers of marine safety equipment, Ocean Safety is delighted to be providing much of the essential equipment that Wetwheels requires and we have advised Geoff on all aspects of safety.”
Geoff Holt continues: “Although operated by Onboard Charters, I will be making Wetwheels available to disability groups and clubs for a minimum of two days per week. For these sessions, she will be available at a special not-for-profit rate for disabled people. We’ve yet to work out the exact costs but so long as we cover our mooring fees, skipper time and fuel, then there will be no extra costs. For disability clubs and groups unable to afford even the ‘not-for-profit’ cost, Onboard can put them in touch with a grant-making Trust who will help.
“The marine industry has been so incredibly supportive and I’m very grateful. It’s a big project and I’m amazed at how quickly it has come together. I’m really excited about getting my hands on her and I’m really looking forward to seeing the smiles on the faces of all who come on board.”
The PSP Southampton Boat Show runs until Sunday 25th September 2011.
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