Local organisations to host Truly Barrier-Free Boating Weekend

By Marine Correspondent Susannah Hart

Disabled people will have the opportunity to take a ride on a powerboat or enjoy a relaxing sail around Portsmouth Harbour and the Solent this May thanks to the collaboration between two of the UK’s accessible boating organisations.

Organised by two local charities, Wetwheels Solent and the Disabled Sailors Association the Truly Barrier-Free Boating Weekend event will be held over the weekend of 14-15 May 2022 at Gunwharf Quays.

The DSA has a fully accessible sailing catamaran Scott Bader, while Wetwheels Solent runs a fully accessible power catamaran, both of which operate in the Portsmouth area to offer disabled people – including those with profound and complex disabilities – the opportunity to enjoy the Blue Health benefits of being on the water.

Free 90-minutes boating but book early

Disabled people can pre-book a 90-minute experience on either vessel free of charge – including one carer – by contacting:

  • Wetwheels (07904 997 622), or
  • Scott Bader (07841 675 308).

Both boats will be running five trips a day for both days starting from 9:30am. Early booking to reserve available slots is recommended.

“Portsmouth is unique in the UK, possibly the world, being home to not only a fully accessible sailing yacht but also a fully accessible powerboat,” says Geoff Holt, the founder of Wetwheels. “We wanted to showcase what we do and what better way than to have an event, not only for disabled people in our local community, but also for local businesses and the public to recognise the amazing work both organisations are doing on a day-to-day basis right here in Portsmouth taking many thousands of disabled people out for an experience on the water each year.

‘only out there can you forget about your disability’

“It doesn’t really matter whether people prefer to get afloat in a sailing boat or motorboat, ultimately it is about getting out onto the sea, only out there can you forget about your disability truly begin to understand and experience our amazing maritime heritage and precious marine environment.”

Founder of the DSA, Mike Wood MBE, comments: “This event is a fantastic opportunity to share the unique boating charities that exist only in Portsmouth. The Disabled Sailors Association are so proud to be a part of this completely unique event enabling disabled people to truly access the water.

“What other activity can offer the tranquillity of drifting about on a quiet sunny afternoon to the steep learning curve of trimming your sails to perfection, the mental agility of navigation and the adrenalin of taking the helm. We have something for everyone and are looking forward to getting you out on the water.”

Both Holt and Wood are paralysed with high-level spinal injuries and use heavy powered wheelchairs.

They are very clear what constitutes ‘barrier-free’ sailing or boating, saying that any vessel must be able to take all disabilities – including heavy wheelchairs and people with severe and complex learning disabilities.

According to the DSA and Wetwheels, they are the only boating organisations in the UK able to offer trips to all disabled people who want to get out onto the open sea.

Supporting their belief that disabled people should be participants and not passengers, both vessels are also designed to be steered by their disabled guests.

Gunwharf Quays is making its marina available – the facilities include a fully accessible Changing Places toilet – for the event.

Yvonne Clay, centre director at Gunwharf Quays, says the company is proud to support the event as it is committed to ensuring accessibility is a key focus at its marina: “The event will offer amazing opportunities for the disabled community, including the chance to drive the boats from our fantastic Marina.

“For those that wish to shop and dine after a busy day on the Solent, we have lifts throughout the outlet and offer pre-bookable Shopmobility services that provide hands-free shopping at no charge and a free carry-to-car service.”

Photograph (top): Geoff Holt (left) and Mike Wood