Hilary Lister, the first disabled woman to circumnavigate Britain, has died at the age of 46

Hilary Lister, who used sip and puff technology to become the first disabled woman to sail around Britain, has died.

The 46-year-old broke many barriers during her life, which won her the admiration of the sailing community and legions of fans.

Inspired by the Around Alone yachtswoman Emma Richards, Lister first entered the record books when she became the first quadriplegic to sail the English Channel singlehanded on 23 August 2005 in Robin Gray’s modified Soling.

Lister had first sailed in 2003 at Westbere, Kent, where she later learnt to control a boat by sipping and puffing through straws.

Hilary Lister

Hilary Lister used sip and puff technology to sail. Credit: Ben Birchall/PA Archive/PA Images

In 2007, she solo circumnavigated the Isle of Wight and then went on to circumnavigate Britain in 2008/2009, becoming the first female disabled sailor to achieve this feat.

This was followed by a trans-ocean record which saw her, and Omani sailor Nashwa Al Kindi, sail across the Indian Ocean from Mumbai to Oman aboard a 28ft Dragonfly trimaran.

The successful completion of their 850 mile journey earned them both a place in the record books – Lister as the first severely paralysed woman to make a trans-oceanic crossing, and Al Kindi as the first Arab female sailor to make a trans-oceanic crossing.

‘When I’m sailing I go into a different world…its like flying!’ Lister said.

Born able bodied, Lister was confined to a wheelchair by the age of 15 due to the degenerative disease – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, By 27, she was paralysed from the neck down.

As well as her sailing achievements, Lister studied biochemistry at Oxford and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Kent where she initially started her PhD before a decline in her condition forced her to stop.

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Throughout her life she won numerous awards including  the Helen Rollason Award for Inspiration — Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year 2007 and the Royal Cruising Club’s Seamanship Award, 2005.

In 2015, Lister was invited to sail with Team SCA, which had come sixth in the Volvo Ocean Race, skippered by Sam Davies.

SCA crew member Liz Wardley paid tribute to Lister, saying: ‘I once said that Hilary Lister was the true definition of inspiration. I only had the pleasure of sailing with her once and the memories of that experience has got me through a few hard times. Sail on Mate, you will be missed.’

Lister went on to set up Hilary’s Dream Trust to help disabled or financially disadvantaged adults to sail.

Although she was lucky enough to find sponsors in Andrew Pindar and the UKSA to fulfil her Channel crossing, Lister found that funding was hard to find after the age of 18.

She established Hilary’s Dream Trust to make sure that other disabled and disadvantaged adults would have somewhere to turn for help.