Disabled and disadvantaged Islanders will be able to enjoy the thrill of powerboating from next year, after the charity Le Tournoi gave the go-ahead for the construction of a new £150,000 fast catamaran for the Island.
Wetwheels Jersey is based on the unique service provided by quadriplegic sailor, Geoff Holt MBE from his base on the Solent. Geoff is the patron of the Le Tournoi Sailing Challenge and brought his Wetwheels to Jersey last year for the Boat Show. During the weekend nearly one hundred people who would not usually be able to get out on the water were taken on board and given a taste of life at sea.
During the visit it became obvious that the Island could benefit from its own Wetwheels and a decision was quickly made to assemble a team to test its viability. At a dinner attended by Geoff, Lieutenant Governor Sir John McColl and Lady McColl and the project team it was agreed to produce a business and fundraising plan.
The project team then spoke to the Variety Sailing Trust, which operates the Spirit of Variety sailing catamaran and it was agreed that an additional vessel, offering more capacity and a different type of experience, could complement the remarkable work of the VST. A survey of charities was also sent out to gauge the likely usage of the vessel, the results of which underlined the original belief that there is a significant demand.
The go-ahead was finally given after the project received its first grant – a significant amount from the Sir James Knott Trust – and Cheetah Marine in the Isle of Wight were told to start building the boat.
Le Tournoi Chairman Andy Le Seelleur said: ‘This is a really big project for Le Tournoi, and probably the most exciting in our history. We have been organising corporate and sporting events for thirteen years, raising in excess of £250,000 for local charities and community organisations but this is the first time we will be building a lasting legacy ourselves, which is going to benefit so many people. We’re delighted to be working with Geoff and the Variety Sailing Trust and, by sharing some resources and expertise, so many more people will be able to enjoy what the Island’s waters have to offer. As well as providing trips to sea, we’re also developing a full educational resource pack so passengers can learn more about where they’ll go and what they will see out at sea – too many of them would never get the chance to explore our offshore countryside and this project is going to change lives.’
Geoff Holt MBE said: ‘I have spent most of my life at sea. After breaking my back and becoming paralysed as a young man, my physical abilities may have changed but my horizons have remained the same. In the last three decades, as a Chairman and Trustee of a national sailing charity, I have witnessed countless thousands of disabled people enjoy the freedom and enjoyment that being on the water brings. I am so pleased that a seed of an idea was planted during my visit to Jersey earlier this year and, now that idea is being turned into a reality, I just know the pleasure Wetwheels Jersey will bring to many thousands of people and I am proud to be a Patron of the Trust that will operate her.’
Wetwheels Jersey will be similar to Geoff’s boat – a nine metre fast catamaran built by Cheetah Marine. She will be capable of reaching speeds of up to 40 knots, offering full wheelchair access, considerable accommodation, comfort and stability. Fully MCA coded and carrying the latest safety and navigational equipment, she will have capacity for 12 passengers and two crew.
The boat will cost £150,000 to build and plans are in place to raise sufficient funds to cover the first three years’ operating costs, after which time it is expected she will become self-funding. As well as providing opportunities for local people to experience the joys of boating, Wetwheels Jersey will also be marketed for use by visitors to the Island, adding a valuable string to the tourism economy.
A small group from the Project Team visited the Cheetah Marine yard this week to discuss final design details and it is expected Wetwheels Jersey will make her maiden voyage in June 2013.
For more information on fundraising or supporting Wethweels Jersey, please contact Andy Le Seelleur on firstname.lastname@example.org