Weather hits disabled sailor's solo voyage

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The Independent Online

The quadriplegic yachtswoman Hilary Lister looks set to run out of time in her quest to sail solo around Britain, after enduring a series of technical difficulties compounded by the summer's poor weather.

As she prepares to round Land's End next week – the toughest and most dangerous part of her voyage – the former Oxford scientist insisted she would not be deterred from completing her circumnavigation, even if she has to pick up where she leaves off next year.

Ms Lister, 36, has already used all her contingency days and has until the end of September to reach her starting point at Dover, Kent, before sea conditions deteriorate with the onset of winter storms.

This means she must make her way up the Irish Sea and cross Scotland along the Caledonian Canal before braving the North Sea in the autumn – a difficult enough task even for able-bodied sailors.

"It has been very frustrating," she said yesterday as she waited for yet another front to blow in from the Atlantic. "You sail the boat and then the weather closes in. Then something needs fixing and then the weather closes in again."

Ms Lister suffers from a rare disease called reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which has paralysed all four of her limbs. The only movements she can make are with her head, eyes and mouth. She controls her boat using "sip and puff" technology which allows her to alter course and trim sails using her mouth.

At present, she is forced to sit it out in a campsite in Newlyn, Cornwall, where she arrived on Sunday, while her support team attend to yet more repairs to her craft. The boat has been dogged with problems to its keel during her passage along the south coast since setting out on 16 June. Next week will be crucial: she must make her way around Land's End, where sea conditions are often difficult.

Despite the technical and meteorological problems, however, she said she was pleased that she had confounded those who doubted she would be able to withstand the physical challenges posed by solo sailing.

"The problems have not been the ones we would have expected; that my health would not be good enough and that I would not be up to it as a sailor," she said.

As well as enjoying the media attention to raise the profile of her charity, Hilary's Dream, which aims to encourage disabled and disadvantaged people to take to the water, she has relished the tranquillity of the night sails. "It is wonderful. There is no one else out on the water, the stars are out and it is just very peaceful out there," she said.