Sailing hero told no wheelchairs allowed

By David Newble
Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Geoff Holt at the launch of a wheelchair-friendly yacht at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in 2009. Picture by Pete Boam

HE has conquered some of the world’s toughest seas, but Geoff Holt, who in 2010 became the first quadriplegic yachtsman to cross the Atlantic, has said he was told he could not take a 750 yard train ride along a pier because of his wheelchair.

Mr Holt was awarded an MBE in 2010 for services to promote disabled sailing and in 2007 he became the first quadriplegic person to sail around Britain, but a dispute at a train station with a guard left him feeling like a "piece of dirt", he said.

Mr Holt said he was "shaking with rage" after a guard told him he could not board a train to take him along Ryde Pier on Saturday (31).

The incident is being investigated by Islandline, which said it had suspended a member of staff, following Mr Holt’s complaint.

He said he was told he could not get on train for the three-minute journey because his wheelchair would damage the floor — despite making the same journey in reverse only nine hours earlier.

Mr Holt, 45, who has won two bronze medals at the world disabled multihull championships and holds honorary doctorates in sport from Southampton and Winchester Universities, was visiting the Isle of Wight to see his son take part in a rugby match.

He said: "I can’t recall the last time I was so angry and upset.
"Expanding his fictional list of reasons why I could not travel, he then said if he got me on this train, there was no guarantee I could get off three minutes later at the same station I had successfully travelled from earlier in the morning."

He was eventually allowed on to the train, after the guard carried out what Mr Holt described as a simple manoeuvre that took ten seconds.
However Mr Holt has complained to police after alleging he suffered a graze after he was hit when the guard threw a ramp for him to use on to the platform.

Mr Holt did not discover the injury until he returned to his home in Winchester Road, Botley, near Southampton. He has no feeling in his legs since a swimming accident 28 years ago.

Mr Holt said that as he got off the train, the guard remarked: "I hope you are happy now you have made the train late for other passengers."
The yachtsman said he then lost his temper with the guard, calling him an 'a***hole’.

He said: "Yes, I did swear at him. But I did so because I felt violated and dehumanised. He had publicly humiliated me, he had publicly degraded me and he had made me feel like a worthless piece of dirt.

"This is the chair I used to sail across the Atlantic. It is the chair I used to collect my MBE from the Queen at Windsor Castle, yet some spiteful and anti-disabled bully says I cannot use it on public transport makes me sick to my stomach."

A spokeswoman for Islandline, part of Stagecoach group, said: "We are absolutely horrified at the events Mr Holt has described. We welcome electric wheelchairs on our services and it it very important to us that all our passengers feel welcome on our network.

"We are taking this matter very seriously and have already launched an investigation and a senior manager has contacted Mr Holt directly to apologise.

"We can also confirm that one of our employees has been suspended while our investigation is underway."