A BRITISH quadriplegic yachtsman left Spain’s Canary Islands in a specially designed boat last night in a bid to become the first disabled person to sail across the Atlantic.
Geoff Holt, 42, set off from the island of Lanzarote at 10am (9pm AEDT) in an 18-metre wheelchair-accessible catamaran, called Impossible Dream, his spokeswoman said.
He aims to sail to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, where in 1984 he suffered a spinal cord injury while diving that left him paralysed from the chest down. The journey is expected to take some 17 days.
“The weeks and months of planning are over and now I am facing 2700 miles (4300 kilometres) at sea,” Mr Holt said. “I am excited about what lies ahead but naturally there are nerves too.
“I am looking forward to returning to the beach in Tortola that I left in an ambulance 25 years ago. Back then I thought I would never sail again and now I will be returning in command of my own vessel.
“I will be returning as a quadriplegic yachtsman and it is a personal challenge where I feel I will be closing the circle from having my accident and returning again as a yachtsman,” said Mr Holt, who is married and has a seven-year-old son.
Mr Holt will operate the boat using high-tech equipment through the limited use of his hands. He is accompanied by an assistant, who will help him in and out of his wheelchair, and a cameraman.
In 2007, he became the first disabled yachtsman to sail single-handed around Great Britain.
Mr Holt, who holds a degree in fine art valuation, has said he hoped his feat would inspire other disabled people.
“It’s not about being disabled. It’s not about sailing the Atlantic Ocean. It’s about demonstrating that disability need not be a barrier to achieving something positive in your life.”
He said earlier this year that “the freedom I experience on the sea is like no other. I am free of my wheelchair and free of my disability”.