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TX: 22.01.10 - Champion Sailor

PRESENTER: PETER WHITE
THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

WHITE
Now we've been looking this week at how people with disabilities can take up sport. We've already covered riding and motorsports, if you want to catch up with both or either of those they're on the BBC iPlayer. Next Monday we're doing rambling and today sailing and another chance to hear from Geoff Holt. Remember Geoff's the first quadriplegic yachtsman to sail the Atlantic, he completed the journey earlier this month, overcoming fuel and engine problems, a broken generator and difficult weather conditions such as too much wind and too little wind. Well this is Geoff as he catches a first glimpse of his destination - the island of Tortola - the scene of the accident that left him paralysed 25 years ago.

HOLT
I'm chuffed to bits. I'm chuffed to bits because this is the second huge thing I've done in my life. Two years ago I became the first quadriplegic to sail round Great Britain in what I called my personal Everest and that was one of the most momentous things I'd ever done in my life to that moment in time. And I never thought - I didn't think I could better it. And then I came up with this notion - well how about the Atlantic, sail back to Tortola. And it took well over a year to organise all the logistics for it. And the planning - we've had heartache, ups and downs. But actually to see the beach, we're now getting even closer to it and there's people waving and there's flags flying. I'm getting quite emotional even thinking about it right now.

WHITE
But let's take you back to when we first spoke to Geoff Holt - that was last summer on a practise sail on his 60 foot yacht - Impossible Dream.

HOLT
We're here on the Beaulieu River, it's a bit of a windy morning this morning. What we are - we're on the pontoon, I'm in my wheelchair and I'm about to reverse up on to the hydraulic ramp that's going to lift me up on to the deck of Impossible Dream.

She's a unique boat - she was custom designed and built two or three years ago for a chap who's in a wheelchair himself, so everything from start to finish has been carefully considered for someone in a wheelchair.

HARRISON
This is a practise run, if you like, for the big trip in December, can you tell me who's on board with you?

HOLT
First of all we've got Susannah.

SUSANNAH
Hi.

HOLT
Susannah's from New Zealand and Susannah's going to be my companion on the trip, my carer, my physical carer.

HARRISON
How experienced is Susannah?

HOLT
In what? In sailing? In sailing not very experienced but that was my criteria - I didn't want any accusations when I get to the other end that someone else did the sailing.

HARRISON
So you're on a sharp learning curve then in terms of just knowing the very basics of moving around a boat?

SUSANNAH
Yes a very steep learning curve. Balance is one and throwing up over the side is another.

HOLT
And coming through to the main saloon now I'm going to introduce you to Mike. Mike Brown is the owner of this beautiful boat and finally allowing me to borrow it.

The first thing we've got to do is start the engine. They're quite quiet, I'm not sure if you can hear those, there's two engines being started. So now the engines are running the next thing Mike's going to need to do is start slipping the lines.

HARRISON
Bit of a tight spot here.

HOLT
It's very much a tight spot. The river is so narrow.

HARRISON
It sort of reminds me of getting out of a difficult car park.

HOLT
Yeah it has that feel doesn't it. You notice that Mike's got complete control of the boat though, there's ...

HARRISON
Have you Mike?

MIKE
We're actually at the very bottom of the tide here, so there's very little room to manoeuvre and it's a big boat - it's eight metres wide, nearly 20 metres long.

HOLT
We're in deeper water now.

HARRISON
Why do you think sailing is a good sport if you have a disability?

HOLT
I know I'm biased but I genuinely feel - people use this term level playing field a lot - but it genuinely is. I'm high level quadriplegic, I'm out with my mates on the boat today, I can race my dinghy against the likes of Ellen MacArthur; Ben Ainsley; Robin Knox-Johnston - I can do that because of the way the boats that we sail are designed - once you're in the boat you almost leave your disability on the pontoon. I was at a regatta yesterday - I was prize giving at a regatta - and the guy who won it was a guy called Keith Harris, the only thing Keith can move is his tongue and Keith won the regatta. Now you try explaining that to people - that he sails using his tongue. It is phenomenal. Yet Keith was beating much more able bodied people than him. Sailing just gives him the freedom and the independence when he's out there and he just loves it. And there's no excuse - I say to people if Keith can sail using his tongue don't give me this I'm tired business, no excuse.

HARRISON
You would prefer to be doing this trip on your own, can you just explain to me why you can't do it solo?

HOLT
Okay I'd like the opportunity to answer that question because it raises all sorts of issues. I had my accident 25 years ago. I was a fit, healthy, able bodied 18 year old lad but in that split when I broke my neck my life changed and it's taken a long time to come to terms with it but effectively I'm paralysed - I cannot feel and I cannot move from my chest down. So the one thing that this disability's taken away from me, which affects me most, is independence and what I mean by that is the ability to get myself dressed, the ability to get myself in and out of my wheelchair. Like it or not I need care and it's the one thing I could - if I could change anything that would be it. But I can't. So what are my choices? Do I sit at home and wish that I could sail the Atlantic and just get a bit fed up that I can't? Or do I just accept that I need care, find someone to provide that care and then go away and do what I want to do?

SUSANNAH
I'm Susannah Scott and I'm Geoff Holt's personal carer for his Atlantic voyage.

HARRISON
So you're actually going to cross the Atlantic, aren't you terrified?

SUSANNAH
Oh yes completely terrified but I think it's better to be a little bit anxious than not be worried at all because you don't mess with the sea.

HARRISON
What's your experience been of the sea so for, I mean how have you been getting on with what you have done?

SUSANNAH
When we brought - brought her back from Plymouth it was a bit rough, I was a bit ill. It'll happen - I'm going to get seasick but I'll just power through it. Having been out on the boat I know that I can be sick and still help Geoff, which is what I'm here to do.

HARRISON
Have you had any experience of doing something as challenging as this?

SUSANNAH
No. I haven't done anything like this at all, this is completely unique and it's just such an amazing opportunity that I couldn't turn it down, it's a once in a lifetime chance. So I'm excited.

HOLT
We're at least two thirds of the way down the Beaulieu now, we've just gone past Buckler's Hard, we've got another - about another mile to go because we get out of the river I suppose. You'll notice it's getting much wider now.

HARRISON
Nice weather.

HOLT
Sun's come out for us hasn't it, it's beautiful.

MIKE
I'm Mike Brown, I broke my back 15 years ago which meant that I had a major change in lifestyle.

HARRISON
And this is your boat? Just give me an idea of how this boat has been adapted.

MIKE
The first major problem - getting on and off the boat. And we solved it by having cutaways on the side of the boat and having hydraulic lifts which allow the chair to go down to sea level. The second problem is getting access inside the boat to accommodation and toilets. So that's meant that we have to replicate the lifts on the outside of the boat inside the boat. But then of course you need to control the sails on the boat and so we've got a big hydraulic system which does all the sail handling at the touch of a button.

ACTUALITY ON THE BOAT - UNROLLING THE SAIL

HOLT
The engines are up as well now so we're actually sailing now, just with that one sail we're being pulled along at - what speed have we got Mike?

We're doing five and a half knots with hardly any sail out at all.

HARRISON
That means it's windy.

HOLT
It means it's very windy yes. Okay shall we put the sail away then? Are you happy with that?

MIKE
Yeah, yeah.

HOLT
Okay, what we're going to do now - I think we've had a nice little sail - we're about to turn the boat round, we're about to bear away from the wind, go downwind, and then point back towards the Beaulieu.

HARRISON
So you're setting off from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean, I think, on 10th December, where will you eventually end up and can you explain why that's an important personal journey for you?

HOLT
The end destination is a beach and that beach is called Cane Garden Bay and I think it's in Conde Nast's Top 10 beaches of the world. It is a stunningly beautiful beach on the island of Tortola which is in the British Virgin Islands. And the reason that I want to end up at the beach is because 25 years ago I left that beach in an ambulance and it's the last place that I ever walked. I'm not nostalgic about these sorts of things but you know in a strange way there's something quite nice about having left that beach 25 years ago but having become paralysed and lost my livelihood as a yachtsman and the real pleasure in returning 25 years later, arriving at that beach in a 60 foot catamaran which I've sailed across the Atlantic as a quadriplegic yachtsman. And I just think that's quite fitting.

WHITE
That report by Henrietta Harrison was recorded before Geoff completed his trip across the Atlantic earlier this month and don't forget on Monday we're covering rambling for people with disabilities.

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