A Wheely Special Event

The Angling Trust’s National Angling Strategy Manager, Rick Warner looks back at the event that was held to mark the 30th Anniversary of the Wheelyboat Trust.

Being one of over 150 guests who assembled to celebrate the 30 years of the Wheelyboat Trust was a very special privilege.

The Trust was formed in 1985 when two friends, Bill Buchanan and Alan Faulkner decided that a spinal injury sustained by Bill was not going to put an end to their fishing trips! They raised money for the development of the very first wheelyboat, supported by charities like the Fishmongers’ Company, and since that time the Trust has grown into a national charity itself, supplying an astonishing 160 accessible boats over the years for disability projects.

The celebration, held at the Bisham Abbey on the banks of the Thames also marked the launch of the Trust’s exciting new Coulam V20 model. Guests included the Wheelyboat Trust’s many donors and supporters, suppliers including Suzuki GB, designers, boat builders and of course many happy wheelyboat-owning clients.

crowds cheer as the the brand new Coulam V20 wheelyboat is launched (photo credit Rob Judges)
Claire Lomas cuts the ribbon on the new Coulam Wheelyboat V20 ‘Rivertime II’ with Director Andy Beadsley (photo credit Rob Judges)


Andy Beadsley, Director of the Wheelyboat Trust and an Angling Trust ambassador, explained how the role of the charity, and the design of its fleet had evolved over the years, driven by disabled people’s increasing expectations and aspirations. Through clever design it is now possible to deliver large, versatile and stable boats, but now with good looks and performance!

The Trust has high hopes for the handsome looking V20, which can take on a range of waters and roles, from leisure craft, to working boat to rescue vessel, appealing to all boat users. Deservedly proud of the model, Wheelyboats hopes to pass the 200-boat milestone in the not too distant future.

Wheelyboats on the Thames
Wheelyboats on the Thames

A very special guest speaker was sportswoman Claire Lomas. Claire suffered a life-changing riding accident in 2007 that left her paralysed from the waist down. Her early experiences of ‘rehab’ were extremely frustrating, with specialists giving her little hope that she might regain the active life she had previously enjoyed. However, through her own determined ‘never-say-never’ attitude Claire has rebuilt her life and now transforms others. She gives talks to schools, runs marathons and cycled over 400km round the UK, raising an incredible £250,000 for spinal research charities. She also lit the Paralympic cauldron in 2012.

Crucially, Claire described the desire felt by many newly disabled people: to find a sport that can adequately replace the one they previously excelled in, offering similar levels of challenge and excitement. She still has days when she feels low, and on those occasions it really helps her to get out and about outdoors. That’s where the Wheelyboat vessels come into their own, providing opportunities for fun and to recapture your self-esteem.

In the afternoon, we ventured down to the Bisham Abbey Sailing School to see Rivertime II, the new V20 class Wheelyboat which will operate as part of Boatability, a project run by the sailing school and the Rivertime Boat Trust that aims to increase active participation in sailing and boating by disabled adults and children.

Needless to say a great number of ‘Wheelyboats’ are used for angling and a particularly smooth-engined C16 model operates at Thames Water’s Farmoor Reservoir in Oxfordshire. Crucially The Wheelyboat Trust will help organisations find funds to build a new boat, up to 50% of the cost in some cases. Wheelyboat Trust’s staff must really be applauded for offering this arduous, but much-needed help.

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The climax of the day was a sail-past by the various generations on Wheelyboat, with humorous commentary by Bernard Cribbins OBE. We saluted the much-loved aluminium MkI, the canopy-covered MkIII (some of which are being used in Denmark and Ireland), the Coulam 15 and 16 models with their innovative hydraulic platform, able to lower anglers to floor level, and of course the new Coulam Wheelyboat V20.

What next for Wheelyboats? Well, it’s hoped that the development of the V20 will lead to more Wheelyboats operating in Europe. Another exciting phase of development is shortly to commence when Wheelyboats start working with the Canal & River Trust to help it open up disable access throughout its 2,000 mile network of canals. These are certainly very exciting and busy times for the Wheelyboat Trust, its staff, trustees and supporters.

It takes £65,000 a year to keep the Wheelyboat Trust running (‘afloat’?). If you would like to help with a donation so they can help more disabled people participate in waterborne activities, including fishing, please visit the Trust at http://www.wheelyboats.org.

Rick Warner
Rick Warner

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