Wetwheels Torbay - James's story

James Ashton with wife Joanna, sons Sam and Monty, are at the heart of the Wetwheels Torbay project. Their support and passion for Wetwheels Torbay has taken this dream, to becoming a reality, with the new boat on the water for spring 2024. Here is James's story which he has kindly written for us to share:

"I grew up with the sea in my blood; I was on it, in it and under it. 

From a very young age I was drawn to the sea and luckily home, on the River Teign Estuary in Devon, was within a good cast of a fishing line and is where I now live today. 

My childhood was filled with happy days on the estuary either in a dinghy or simply fishing from the shoreline. I caught silver eels, flounder, bass and mackerel. As young as 9 years old I was out, solo, in my dinghy called Mischief. She was a beautiful 8 ft varnished clinker boat which my parents had bought for me. I learnt how to sand down and varnish her which taught me attention to detail and gave me a great sense of satisfaction and pride; something I enjoyed with all my future boats.

By 11 I had befriended the local salmon netsmen and used to watch them after school. They gave me a deeper knowledge of the sea, of boats and of fish.  I was soon entrusted to be a part time crew member and was allowed to row the net boat up river for them. As I became part of the team I enjoyed talking to the older fishermen and would listen to their war stories where some had served on Q ships. Working the salmon nets provided me with good rowing skills which would reap dividends in the future.

Whilst I was in my early teens my sense of adventures on the sea, and under it, were further fuelled by TV programmes such as Marine Boy, Stingray and Jacque Cousteau. At 16 I was learning to dive with BSAC having already gained a life saver qualification.  By my late teens my rowing skills came to the forefront and a rowing partnership formed with a friend ensured we remained unbeaten in our rowing competitions for over 33 years. 

Despite working and moving away I always had a boat and would make my way back to Shaldon at weekends until moving back permanently in 1996. My passion for angling has never left me and even in illness I am equally happy to watch friends fish and the buzz of them getting a bite is the same. Following a successful career and early retirement I thought boating and the sea were within reach of unlimited bliss. Sadly, in the same month I retired I was diagnosed with MND, although I had been suffering symptoms for the previous two years.

Today I need 24-7 care from 2 carers and am permanently attached to a ventilator to keep me breathing. I can't move any muscles and only communicate with an eye gaze computer which has enabled me to write this.

However, my love of the sea has never diminished; it remains my passion and happy place. After four years of costly and time consuming mistakes in an effort to get me on the water in various boats and against the progression of a devastating debilitating disease we move on to where I am today.

By chance I was browsing a boat sales website looking for a boat that was accessible, extremely stable and with adequate space for myself and care team. Thundercat, a 11: 2m Cheetah Catamaran with twin Suzuki 350hp, seemed a perfect boat and instantly available. A phone call to Cheetah Marine soon established the boat’s history and, importantly, that she could be made more accessible for a wheelchair quite easily. Thundercat spent a couple of months in the Cheetah Marine yard undergoing some simple modifications and bringing her up to speed for a new season ahead. In May 2021 a whole new chapter of boating opened up and it has exceeded all expectations. This July I even hosted a Haiwiian party on Thundercat with a guitarist to entertain. I hope the pictures speak for themselves. 

My desire was to leave a legacy so others, not ordinarily able to access the sea by boat through illness or disability could enjoy the immense pleasure it brings. With the support of my wife, Joanna and our two teenage boys, Sam and Monty I decided to donate funds to enable a new build for Wetwheels from Cheetah Catamaran. With scrutiny and guidance from my former business colleague of twenty years and friend, Russell Smart, we achieved this goal."

Thank you so much James and all the family, and we look forward to seeing the new boat sparkling in the Devon sunshine and sharing our love for the open water with so many future generations.