Wetwheels Launch at the Southampton Boatshow

When Cheetah Marine first met disabled sailor Geoff Holt MBE, a new, one-off project, was born. Geoff, the first quadriplegic to sail single handed across the Atlantic has held a powerboat licence for ten years.

'I have owned powerboats of various sizes but if it is one thing that I have noticed in my twenty years of involvement with disabled sailing, it’s getting afloat that gives the enjoyment. Sailing does not have the exclusivity on that. For many the whole process of going sailing is enough to deter them from getting afloat at all. There are countless opportunities for disabled people to go sailing but very few to go out on a powerboat, have a whiz around the harbour or to go fishing and to come ashore dry without the normal rigmarole associated with the end of a sailing trip'

The project then, was to design and build a very safe, seaworthy boat, MCA coded category 2 for up to ten people, including three wheelchairs and which could be controlled by a skipper in a wheelchair at the helm. For Sean Strevens, Cheetah partner and designer, the one-off is normal. 'We have built several Cheetahs for the disabled but Wet Wheels is the largest to be driven by the wheelchair user carrying other wheelchairs.'

Geoff selected the 9m hull for its good stability and plentiful deck space.

Special design features include:

  • The wheelhouse features a ramped starboard helm position installed with a Q Straint inbuilt wheelchair locking down mechanism. Four 'D' rings are positioned so that a wheelchair without Q Straint can be racheted down.
  • 12 stainless steel tie down points for three wheelchairs are located in the deck with twin seat boxes and stainless steel handrails behind the two outer wheelchairs which allow the carers to sit either behind the wheelchair or to the side.
  • A 1m high central console divides the wheelhouse, bow to stern, providing a location for the engine controls position which can be used by both the wheelchair user at the helm and, if necessary, an able bodied crew member on the starboard side.
  • The throttle and gear change are all fly by wire for easy use. The Isolators and circuit breakers are housed at waist height on this console.
  • A storage unit is located all along the starboard side of the wheelhouse and the life raft is stowed on the port side of the cockpit.
  • A 2m long single berth is located in the port side of the wheelhouse so that a disabled person can be treated if necessary.
  • The dash has been redesigned so that the helmsman in the wheelchair can tuck his legs underneath and have a comfortable steering position. Power assisted hydraulic steering is used with a joystick override option. All the primary electrical functions, wipers, horn and anchor windlass are positioned within easy reach of the helmsman as is the Raymarine touch screen. Access to the deck is via a 900mm side door and an approved aluminium folding ramp.

Although conceived, designed and purchased by Geoff Holt, the project has been made possible with the generous support and sponsorship from several members of the marine industry including Cheetah Marine, Suzuki, Raymarine, Seaglaze, Ocean Safety and Southern Cross Marine.Raymarine provided the extensive electronics package, Chart plotter, radar, VHF, AIS, fishfinder, autopilot and log. Wet Wheels is powered by twin Suzuki 300hp Lean Burn engines, giving plenty of power for heavy loads and the Lean Burn Technology delivering excellent economy.

Geoff Holt said 'I visited Cheetah several times and felt fully involved and informed during the build which was painless, on budget and on time, an unbelievable four months from start to delivery. During the ten days of Southampton Boat Show we have taken out in excess of 250 people of which approx 150 have been disabled in some form and, of those 150, more than 50 have been wheelchair users – it is an incredible statistic – my thanks to the crew Tony Salmon (skipper courtesy of Suzuki), Karen from Suzuki, Barry from Cheetah and James for looking after all of the guests who came aboard and giving them such a safe and fun experience. The feedback has been overwhelming including. a visit from LOCOG (London 2012) with a request to use the boat for the Olympics and Paralympics in Weymouth which would be fantastic'

Wet Wheels will be operated by Onboard Charter on a part commercial, part 'not for profit' basis out of Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth. The boat will be made available to disability groups and clubs for a minimum of two days per week and will be available for commercial charter the remainder. Already interest has been shown from fishing charters, diving charters, the BBC as a fast and stable filming platform and from the Olympics as a press boat in Weymouth in 2012.

Statistics
Length overall including engine pods 9m
Beam 3.7m
Draught (hull only) 0.40m min
Gunwale height 0.70m
Engine power 2 x 300hp Suzuki outboards
Deck size 3.5m x 3.6m wide
Wheelhouse size 2.5m x 2.8m wide
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