A 102 year-old former Royal Navy WW2 gunner and an Army veteran were among people with a disability who sailed aboard a specially built, fully accessible Wetwheels powerboat, when the Wetwheels seafaring disability charity made its first visit to Scotland.
Harry Hogg of Corstorphine, Edinburgh who joined the Royal Navy in 1938 and served for the duration of WW2, proudly wore his medals when he was accompanied aboard the Wetwheels Yorkshire 9-metre long powerboat by Royal Scots veteran, Frank McLeod (64) from Prestonpans.
Keen local sailor Peter Finlayson (25) from South Queensferry, who has cerebral palsy, also came onboard Wetwheels with his father Calum.
It’s part of a fundraising drive by Wetwheels, a ground-breaking seafaring charity founded in 2011 by disabled yachtsman, Geoff Holt MBE, that gives disabled people of all ages and impairments the chance to access the water. Wetwheels, of which HRH The Princess Royal is Patron, aims to establish its first permanent base north of the border at Port Edgar Marina on the Firth of Forth in the Spring of 2022.
Both Harry and Frank have sight loss and are supported by the charity, Sight Scotland Veterans. It’s one of many disability organisations that will benefit once Wetwheels has raised the £250,000 needed to establish an operator base at Port Edgar Marina with the necessary manpower and equipment. Wetwheels subsequently hopes to also run a west coast operation at Largs on the Firth of Clyde.
Geoff Holt, who was paralysed in a swimming accident in 1984 and who in 2007 became the first disabled person to sail single-handed around Great Britain, explained: “Disabled people like Harry and Frank face many obstacles to an active lifestyle and particularly in experiencing the sense of freedom and independence you only get on the water. Yet the physical and mental benefits of being on the sea are immense so I am really excited to be at Port Edgar Marina to raise awareness of our Wetwheels charity and to showcase the amazing work we do.
“Wetwheels is unique. There is no other boating organisation for disabled people in the UK doing what Wetwheels does. That’s a very big claim, but as a wheelchair-using yachtsman and adventurer myself, I speak from experience. Our own research tells us that more than 80% of Wetwheels’ participants have never previously been on the open water. For an island nation, that’s a shocking statistic we are determined to change.
“After a decade of successful growth in England we now aim to successfully raise £250,000 to establish our first operation at the fantastic Port Edgar Marina in Scotland, where Wetwheels can continue its mission to positively impact on the health and wellbeing of young and old participants for many years to come.”
At Port Edgar Marina, representatives of disability groups including Sight Scotland Veterans, potential donors and members of the press will have the opportunity to experience a twin 325HP engined Wetwheels powerboat that’s designed to allow active participation on the water in a safe, stimulating and rewarding way. With full barrier-free access, up to ten participants, including three wheelchair users, can board and steer the vessel and learn seamanship, alongside their peers, friends, and families.
Clair Bryan, Director of Services, Sight Scotland Veterans, added: “It’s fantastic that veterans supported by Sight Scotland Veterans have been given the opportunity to have this experience with the Wetwheels Foundation while they have been stationed at Port Edgar this week. Sight Scotland Veterans very much supports and identifies with the Wetwheels Foundation’s mission to create accessible and inclusive experiences for disabled people.
“Sight Scotland Veterans is dedicated to supporting veterans with sight loss across Scotland to not only adapt to life with sight loss, but to live well with sight loss and continue to enjoy new experiences in the community. We would very much welcome a Wetwheels boat being permanently based in Scotland. I am sure other veterans with sight loss we support would relish the opportunity to take a boat trip with the Wetwheels Foundation in the future.”
By visiting Port Edgar Marina, Wetwheels hopes the public and private donors will be inspired to help raise the further 75% of funding still required to ensure Port Edgar Watersports can successfully operate the first Wetwheels Scotland vessel on behalf of the Wetwheels Foundation.
Wetwheels already has six vessels in operation throughout England, including in Portsmouth, Falmouth, Jersey and Whitby. The charity has a vision for at least 12,000 people, including over 1,000 in Scotland to annually experience one of its seafaring experiences.