LIFE on the water is second nature to some.
But for people living with disabilities, the practicalities of boat trips aren’t so easy – or so you might think.
That all changed with the launch of a wheelchair-accessible boat, providing new opportunities for everyone to explore the rich and varied marine life in Chichester Harbour.
The John Q Davis RM Wheelyboat launched in June last year, giving disabled people independent access to the water.
“We have had a hugely encouraging first year,” said boat skipper Ian McCoy.
“It has been better than I thought. We’ve taken out more than 500 people.”
The project was a joint venture between Thorney Island’s Army Welfare Service, Thorney Island Sailing Club and the Wheelyboat Trust, a charity based in Petworth.
Ian McCoy is a support officer at Thorney Island Army Welfare Service.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for army personnel and their families and others to get out on to Chichester Harbour,” he said.
“The expression on their faces that they can do something is amazing. They really enjoy it.
“The whole thing was devised to get families to experience the water.”
Ian said some families who lived on Thorney Island weren’t aware Chichester Harbour was an area of outstanding natural beauty – until they saw it.
“We take the groups out and do seal-spotting,” he said. “They are amazed when they see them. It’s just a different way for people to see the area.”
The Wheelyboat benefits the island’s army families, injured and disabled service personnel, disabled schoolchildren and adults, and is supporting Thorney Island Sailing Club and the community.
“We take out groups from Help For Heroes’ Tedworth House Recovery Centre,” said Ian.
The centre helps servicemen and women who have suffered life-changing injuries and illnesses, running activities which help them to do what they enjoy most.
Jack, one of the participants from the centre, said it was ‘the best activity’ they had ever done.
“It’s great to drive the JQD,” he said.
In June, 90 Scouts from Hayling Island were taken out on to the water and Thorney Island Sailing Club, which provides the boat’s mooring for free, used JQD as a support vessel for its junior sailing week when the boat was involved in two rescues.
Ian said he was trying to encourage fishing trips, but day trips, harbour tours and nature excursions were also available.
“We can finish off with a picnic at East Head, or go to the pub in Itchenor. That’s popular.”
The boat was named by Valerie Davis, in memory of her late husband and former Chichester harbour master, Lt Col John Quintin Davis, Royal Marines, who died suddenly while out sailing with Valerie in August, 2010.
“My husband’s vision was that the Chichester Harbour is for the enjoyment of everyone and this allows it to be enjoyed,” said Valerie, speaking at the launch of the new boat last year.
Andy Beadsley, director of the Wheelyboat Trust, said: “The funding for the boat was kick-started by the John Davis memorial fund.
“Valerie has been a keen supporter of the project. She knew it would’ve been a project John would have loved to support.
“Ian contacted me in 2011 to see if we had a model for an accessible boat for use in Chichester Harbour. It’s really been one of our flagship projects.”
The boat was the 150th Wheelyboat supplied by The Wheelyboat Trust since it began charity work in 1985.
To help meet JQD’s running costs, the Wheelboat Trust is asking anyone who is passionate about Chichester Harbour to become a Friend of JQD.
The annual membership fee will continue provision for disabled people, their families and friends with access to Chichester Harbour.
For more information or to make a booking, visit www.jqdwheelyboat.co.uk