Sailing: Richards and Lister revel in the fun as women rule waves

Britain's single-handed specialist orchestrates pandemonium on Pindar, but a technicality denies her determined crew a deserved victory. Stuart Alexander reports from Cowes

A quartet of them were out on the water yesterday and, in contrast to Thursday being Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot, it was hats off to all of them from enthusiastic supporters. The double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson was adding to a shelf groaning with silverware in the Irish home of Eamon Conneely as she steered his 52ft Patches to victory in the New York Yacht Club Challenge Cup.

With the help of double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker she kicked off with the Queen's Cup, picked up the Royal Yacht Squadron Cup in passing and then bagged the premier prize of the Britannia Cup - so the boat, the brains trust and crew have all earned their corn. The Irish also won classes one and two.

Then there was also the sight of Ellen MacArthur, entertaining supporters on her 75ft world record-breaking trimaran, B&Q, before its trip to New York and this autumn's assault on the single-handed transatlantic record.

Yesterday was also the turn of Emma Richards, who has 11 transatlantics and a single-handed circumnavigation of the planet, to invite the lesser-known Hilary Lister to join her aboard the Open 60 Pindar for her first taste of big-time yacht racing. Lister, a 33-year-old from Canterbury, is a quadriplegic. A special chair had been strapped to the guard rails, a cushion taped behind her head and she was soaking up knowledge while having fun in equal measure as she prepares to try and become the first quadriplegic to sail across the Channel in the second half of this month.

Richards had entered her yacht into a pro-celebrity special race that was originally scheduled to take the five Open 60s right round the Isle of Wight. There was a hasty change of plans as the south-westerly wind was too fitful to start the race on time and an hour's delay meant a shorter course to Poole Bar buoy and back.

This was also the course for a private trans-Tasman challenge between two 100-footers, the Australian Grant Wharington's Wild Thing and Maximus, campaigned by the New Zealanders Charles Crichton Brown and William Buckley. They face each other in the Fastnet Race starting on Sunday, but yesterday the Kiwis drew first blood.

The major break for Richards came just before Yarmouth, where she moved successfully from being last at one stage to leading the fleet. The Formula One driver David Coulthard was left floundering in her slipstream, Mike Golding could do nothing but curse as she pulled away, Nick Moloney began to look out of sorts and Conrad Humphreys had to pay a heavy price in search of clear water.

Richards was clearly enjoying the experience and Lister was announcing to anyone who would listen, "It's fantastic, so exhilarating," producing an extra squeal of delight when the boat heeled over even more in a gust of wind. "That's the nearest I've been to vertical in years," she said.

At the Needles, and all across Christchurch Bay, Pindar held the lead, but with Golding's Ecover pushing hard. There were just 45 seconds between them when they turned the green channel marker buoy to make the 20-mile return journey. Coming back through the Needles, that had closed to just a couple of boat lengths as, powering over 18 knots, Golding picked up some very favourable gusts.

The blood was up and the competitive juices running, especially for a couple of guests, Lee Sharp, a former Manchester United footballer, and Andy Goldstein, a Sky Sports presenter. They sweated buckets grinding the winches to earn a winner's cannon, but it was all in vain. Pindar had failed to note a course change off Poole and the winner was Conrad in Hellomoto. Not that Lister could care. "I loved it," she said. "It beats pond paddling on the lake-based West Bere Sailing Club."

Back in the Solent, there was mayhem in the X One Designs, where the series leader, Stuart Jardine, was not one of only 26 given a finish. He, like the rest, started prematurely.

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