Hilary Lister a
disabled sailor is the first female quadriplegic
to sail solo around Britain. She was 37 years old when she defied the odds to
complete her solo voyage, no mean feat for this courageous young woman!
Hilary suffers from a rare,
progressive neurological disorder that has left her paralysed from the neck
down and can only move her head, eyes and mouth. Enduring physical pain and frustration…. Her
body unable to function she said… “Sailing saved my life”.
As a teenager while studying to be a biochemist in
Oxford, Kent she experienced the first signs of the disease with shooting pains
in her legs. She married in 1999 and by
that time she had begun to lose the use of her hands and arms and was confined
to her house in a wheelchair.
Introduced to Sailing:
It was 2003 when a friend introduced her to
was told of a center that specializes in helping the disabled sailor on to the
water and she credits the decision to go to the centre with saving her life.
"The staff treated me like an
intelligent, capable person and not like an object to be pitied," she
said.” Disabled people can accomplish anything, given the right tools."
passion for sailing is all-consuming and, considering what it has given her,
Sip and Puff System:
As a disabled
sailor and no feeling from the neck down how can she possibly sail you may ask!
She has perfected a "sip and puff" system, developed by Steve Alvey of Canada….
using three straws that are connected to sensitive pressure switches to change
the boat's direction, control the sails and the boom.
A computer is mounted in front of Hilary. This
was the first time it had been tested in such challenging conditions.
A gentle sip on one straw will cause the boat to go to starboard, while
a puff will take the boat to port. The second straw controls the winch motor
for both sails in a similar fashion. The third straw allows her to control her
Raymarine autopilot, to trim one sail relative to the other and raise or lower
the height of the boom.
Her boat ‘Me Too’ is an Artemis 20, a 6 metre carbon fibre keelboat
designed by Rogers Yacht Design.
History for Disabled Sailor:
- By 2005 she made history becoming the first
quadriplegic to sail solo across the English Channel. These attempts were not all smooth sailing
but on more than one occasion halted due to weather and technical difficulties
as well as her own health issues as a disabled sailor.
- In 2009 she sailed
into the record books on her solo sail round Britain. She not only battled the elements but also
exhaustion and the severe limitations of her body. She undertook a series of 40 day-long sails
to complete this marathon voyage and crossed the finish line to a cheering
Inspiring & Brave:
Some of the
comments of this incredibly brave young woman give you an insight into her
- "When you leave the quayside, you leave behind the stresses of everyday life," Hilary said "Any sailor will tell you that."
you multiply that sense of freedom a thousand times, that's how I feel. I leave
behind my wheelchair, a team of carers and suddenly it's just me."
- "In terms of experiences …
we had some incredible receptions from people who had waited hours to watch us
come in," she said as she arrived in Ramsgate ahead of the final 15-mile
leg to Dover.
- "I'm probably fitter than when I left and almost certainly in
better health. Sailing makes me happy, it gives me a reason to get up in the
morning – but at the same time I am absolutely kippered."
- "It's a privilege to be back in Dover," she said from her boat
at the quayside. "The killer was when the wind died just east of the
entrance to the harbour but unbelievably it picked up just as I sailed
- The high lights of her voyage were the marine life seen at close
quarters. "Just seeing whales 35ft long fully breached out of the water
was incredible," she said. "Two of them jumped like dolphins, it was
- "I'm so relieved to be home but looking forward to the next
challenge," she said before a bottle of celebratory champagne was opened.
"One thing I've learnt is that you can't predict the future, we couldn't
even predict tomorrow's weather so I'm not ruling anything out or anything
I was in the Irish Sea I saw something that looked like a blow hole on my
starboard side," she said. "I wasn't sure what I'd seen then suddenly
out of the water this huge whale emerged like an Exocet missile. Next thing a
pod of them -- we think they were humpbacks -- were all around my boat.
remember thinking, 'I wonder if this is safe' but I was enjoying the moment so
much. It was so exhilarating."
Hilary gives motivational talks to groups from all walks of
life both nationally and internationally.
She hopes to have raised £30,000 UK pounds from her voyage for her
Dream Trust, which assists a disabled
sailor and disadvantaged adults who want to sail.
Volunteer & Disabled Gay Friendly Sailing Solo Teen Sailors
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