Hilary Lister

I never met Hilary Lister and now it’s too late. This brave sailing icon passed away yesterday after decades of struggling against a degenerative condition that left her wheelchair-bound at the age of 15. I am sure that many are thinking ‘who is Hilary Lister’ and that’s understandable. She lived in the small town of Dunkirk in the east of England and for the last few years has been pretty much out of sight. But Hilary is a remarkable person and despite her condition she was not prepared to sit on the couch day after day watching television. Nope Hilary had sailing ambitions and she was inspired by fellow Brit Emma Richards who sailed around the world single-handed in the 2002/03 Around Alone race. Hilary followed Emma’s exploits and while a solo circumnavigation would never be an option for a woman paralyzed from the neck down, Hilary had plans of her own. With backing from a man by the name of Andrew Pindar, the same person that backed Emma Richards, she was able to convert a soling to make it possible for her to sail using a sip and puff method, the same way she used to operate her wheelchair.

Andrew Pindar knew Hilary well and I will let his Facebook post (used here with permission) describe what an amazing person she was.  “On the 23rd August 2005 Hilary Lister, inspired by Around Alone yachtswoman Emma Richards, entered the record books when, on Robin Gray’s modified Soling, she became the first quadriplegic to sail the English Channel singlehanded. Before that, debilitating disease had confined her to a life in front of the television or being pushed around in a wheel chair. Well at least until she was introduced to sailing at Westbere in Kent, where she learnt how to sail and control a boat using sip and puff, the discovery of which she often described as like being given wings.

Andrew Pindar with Hilary

In 2007 she went a step further as she took on a solo rounding of the Isle of Wight. As though that wasn’t enough, in bite sized chunks, she solo circumnavigated Britain in 2008/2009 with the support of her friend Toby and others. As we got to know her more and more her bravery and zest shone through, exemplified by her rocking up at the Extreme Sailing Series and persuading Olly Smith and Nick Crabtree to strap her to the trampoline before heading out for hull flying, smile inducing spins. In 2014 an Ocean crossing beckoned as she sailed from Mumbai to Muscat, with a necessary crew this time, on Albert Whitleys Dragonfly trimaran, with a sip and puff system installed by Roger Crabtree.

Emma Richards celebrate the Channel crossing
At the end of the 2014/2015 Volvo Ocean Race Sam Davies and the all girl crew of SCA invited her for a blast on their Volvo 65 yacht, a day none of them or Hilary would ever forget.

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Perhaps it’s therefore fitting that the first photo of this little collection is of Hilary draped in a Musto shirt signed, just a few weeks ago, by the girls from across the whole Volvo fleet in the race edition that finished at the end of June. And I post these words and pictures because last night Louise, her great friend and carer, called with the news that Hilary had succumbed to her deteriorating health and that she will sip and puff no more….”

Out for a blast with the ladies of the Volvo 65 SCA
So when you are feeling a little down and feel that life has been hard on you, as we all do from time to time, think about Hilary and I am sure that your day will immediately improve. I know that to be true because it works for me.