First disabled woman to sail solo around Britain dies aged 46

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The first disabled woman to sail solo around Britain has died at the age of 46.

Hilary Lister, who was paralysed from the neck down, became famous after she used the “sip-and-puff” system for steering and controlling a yacht’s sails.

She became the first quadriplegic to sail across the English Channel in 2005 and then the first female quadriplegic to sail around the Isle of Wight in 2007.

Hilary Lister
Hilary Lister on board her specially equipped boat (Ben Birchall/PA)

The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) judged that the feat put her in the top four sailors in the world.

Announcing her death, a post on her website says: “It is with deep regret that Hilary’s Dream Trust announces the passing of its founder – Hilary Lister – an inspiration to many, a recipient of many accolades and a record holder of many sailing achievements.”

Alex Lister paid tribute to his stepmother, telling the BBC: “She turned the suffering she was experiencing into an opportunity.”

Ms Lister, from Canterbury, Kent, was born able-bodied but suffered from the degenerative condition reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which meant she used a wheelchair from the age of 15.

She went on to study biochemistry at Jesus College, Oxford, but during her studies her condition worsened and she became paralysed from the neck down at the age of 27.

Ms Lister started sailing with Westbere Sailing Opportunities in Canterbury in 2003, and said: “Within 30 seconds of being in a boat I was in love.”

She was named Sunday Times Sportswoman of the Year 2007 and won other accolades, including a Cosmopolitan Superhero Award and the Royal Cruising Club’s Seamanship Award 2005.

Her charity, Hilary’s Dream Trust, supports disabled and disadvantaged people in taking up sailing.

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