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Page last updated at 17:00 GMT, Thursday, 7 January 2010
Geoff Holt's Atlantic challenge
By Neil Sackley
BBC Hampshire and Isle of Wight

Geoff Holt checks his route
Geoff Holt planned his Atlantic crossing from his home in Shedfield

When Geoff Holt was last on the beach in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, he was a fit 18-year-old.

A diving accident in shallow water left Geoff paralysed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair.

Twenty-five years later, Geoff has returned to Cane Garden Bay having sailed across the Atlantic.

It was the latest challenge for the 43 year-old who has already sailed around Britain,but one that he relished; in order to put some ghosts to rest.

Geoff Holt's guided tour of Impossible Dream

Drawing on personal experience

Geoff is no stranger to sailing the Atlantic. But this latest crossing was his first since the accident on that beach which left him paralysed.

"I have done this three times already" said Geoff. "I'm no novice to this, although I did that 25 years ago".

As he planned the challenge from his home in Shedfield, Hampshire, he read through his old log books to remind himself of how difficult the Atlantic can be.

The 3,000-mile (4,800km) route took Geoff south from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, where the trade winds traditionally help sailors navigate the southern Atlantic.

The crossing to the British Virgin Islands was the longest he and his wife Elaine will have been apart.

Elaine was Geoff's nurse when he was injured - they have been married for 20 years. Geoff says she sees it as: "...just Geoff out on another adventure."

But for their seven-year-old son Timothy, who sailed with him around Britain, is was an anxious time.

I'm only sailing the Atlantic. There are soldiers fighting for our country - away from their families
Geoff Holt

The family were apart for Christmas and new year, but he says "I am only sailing the Atlantic."

"There are soldiers fighting for our country - away from their families, I have something easy to do."

He may be modest about his achievements, but re-building his life after the accident and not letting his disability end his passion for sailing has won Geoff international acclaim.

In 2006 he became the first wheelchair user to gain a powerboat licence, he has sailed around the Isle of Wight and in 2007 Geoff became the first quadriplegic sailor to sail around Britain. He completed the 1,500 miles (2400km) sailing around the British coastline, returning to Hamble to a hero's welcome.

After the round-Britain achievement - which he described as his "personal Everest" - Geoff was voted BBC South's Sports Personality of the Year.

Geoff Holt with his awards
For multi award winning Geoff, it was a voyage of rediscovery

He is always keen to show that disability need not be a barrier to achieving something positive in life and spreads this message through motivational, after-dinner speaking and in his autobiography Walking On Water.

"It's about demonstrating that disability need not be a barrier to achieving something positive in your life."

As an ambassador and founding member of the RYA Sailability scheme encouraging people with disabilities to get involved with sailing, Geoff hopes this trip will help him become a role model for younger disabled athletes.

"Able bodied people have no end of role models" he points out, "but there are very few, if any disabled role models."

The crossing

Geoff sailed the 60ft (18m) wheelchair-accessible catamaran Impossible Dream alone.

But as he is unable to move himself from his bunk to his chair, dress himself, wash or cook, he required the assistance of a carer on board.

"If I want to do this journey I can't do it on my own" said Geoff, speaking before leaving home. "I would literally die."

So professional carer Susana Scott was recruited for the crossing.

New Zealand born Susana is highly experienced at caring for quadriplegics, but she is not a sailor.

Competency training

Geoff Holt with Princess Anne
HRH Princess Anne presented Geoff Holt with the 2009 Francis Elkin award for services to disability sailing.

Susana went through an intensive training regime with the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) and is now a qualified ships' doctor. In addition she undertook the gruelling Survival At Sea and Competent Crew courses.

Speaking during the voyage, Susana told BBC Radio Solent that she had been suffering from sea-sickness.

"I have not had a day yet when I do not feel a bit queezy, but I have improved in leaps and bounds."

Geoff was also joined onboard by cameraman Digby Fox who documented the challenge on video.

Neither Digby nor Susana assisted in the sailing.

One minute you think it's all in hand, and then another problem gets thrown at you
Geoff Holt

Geoff's voyage was not without incident. Early in the crossing he had to contend with a broken generator and contaminated fuel.

"One minute you think it's all in hand, and then another problem gets thrown at you," said Geoff.

Impossible Dream was forced to stop just off the island of Antigua, just a day before completing the challenge.

"We did a ship to ship refuelling, allowing us to power the batteries for the electronic and hydraulic systems."

2012 dreams

Geoff did not break or set any official records on his Atlantic crossing. Neither the World Speed Sailing Council or Guinness recognise achievements set by disabled sailors.

Looking ahead however, he hopes to use his skills as commentator for the 2012 Paralympic Games and aims to become a sports ambassador by the time the games come to Great Britain.

Disabled sailor crosses Atlantic
07 Jan 10 |  Hampshire
Ocean bid for disabled yachtsman
17 Sep 09 |  England
'Impossible dream' for sailor
17 Sep 09 |  UK
Geoff Holt's Impossible Dream
03 Sep 09 |  People & Places
Disabled sailor plans next trip
01 Sep 09 |  England
Disabled sailor thrown from boat
14 May 07 |  Hampshire



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