FOR years, volunteers have endured the cold and wet at Farmoor Reservoir to help disabled sailors like Emma Crees enjoy life on the water.

Now a specially designed £500,000 pontoon will make the task of helping sailors into boats plain sailing.

The pontoon was officially launched on Tuesday, following a 10-year fundraising campaign by Oxford Sailing Club, disabled sailing group Oxford Sailability and Thames Wat-er, which runs the reservoir.

The 150ft long steel structure includes a funicular car to take sailors in their wheelchairs to the boats.

There is also a sunken deck which makes life easier for volunteers helping sailors get into their boats.

Ms Crees, 30, from Didcot, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.

An Oxford Sailability member since 2006, she said: “Volunteers won’t have to wade out to boats so much and manhandle the sailors in and out of their boats.

“I love it here and I feel this will give me a lot more independence.”

Oxford Sailability’s David Newton welcomed disabled sailor Geoff Holt to the reservoir to officially open the new pontoon.

Mr Newton said: “The fund-raising project started in 2002 so this has been a long time coming.

“We got a £100,000 grant from the Big Lottery and once community funding reached £250,000, Thames Water matched that amount.

“There are about 40 disabled people, aged 10 upwards, who use these facilities every week together with pupils from local schools.

“The bridges on the pontoon reach out about 50ft into the water and this will make it much easier for disabled people to access the boats.”

Mr Holt, from Portsmouth, became disabled in a swimming accident aged 18. He was the first quadriplegic sailor to sail solo across the Atlantic and was awarded an MBE for services to sailing in 2010.

The 46-year-old said: “I have been sailing here for 20 years and it has been difficult for volunteers to get disabled sailors on to the water.

“This pontoon is custom-built, so it will make it a lot easier to get sailors afloat with the minimum of fuss.

“It’s a real asset to the sailing club and to the people of Oxfordshire.”

Liz Sale, Thames Water's regional government liaison manager, said the innovative design of the pontoon would provide excellent access.