I was fortunate to meet Hilary Lister, just the once, but it was uplifting.
It wasn’t a pre-arranged press conference or anything fancy like that. It was just as fellow Redjet passengers crossing the Solent to Cowes.
I am sure many of our fellow passengers looked on with pity not knowing the spirit of this young woman. I, on the other hand was filled with awe. Stricken with a debilitating disease that gradually was robbing her of more and more motor control and sitting in her wheelchair as we talked she had every right to feel life was unfair but if one had closed your eyes you would have never known.
A keen sailor who controlled her boat using a ‘sip and puff’ method she was the first quadriplegic to sail solo across the English Channel (2005) and as far as I am aware, that is a feat not yet equalled. That’s right, she sailed a converted Soling where the sails and rudder were controlled by Hilary sipping and puffing into straws which controlled mechanisms to steer her boat and trim her sails, mechanisms which were adapted from those she used to control her wheelchair.
The crossing was backed and supported by Pindar, the yacht logistics company having inspired Andrew Pindar (as she doubtless inspired so many thousands) to lend his support.
And as if that wasn’t enough she sailed single handed round Britain, in stages, in 2009. Then to cap it all she sailed a Dragonfly Trimaran, albeit and necessarily this time with help on board, around the coast of Bahrain.
I have met many accomplished sailors in my life but it is hard to think of anyone who’s courage or acceptance of their situation left such a positive mark. Sadly on 18th August, aged just 46, Hilary finally succumbed to her condition and passed away.
Sail on Hilary, may your memory continue to be an inspiration to those who met you, knew you or loved you.