From Wheels to Sails

Hilary’s active lifestyle was curtailed when she was diagnosed with a degenerative disease during her teenage years. Life as a quadriplegic, housebound, seemed to be worthless and there were dark moments when Hilary contemplated putting an end to her life.

Then Hilary was introduced to sailing by a neighbour …

Hilary's first outing in a boat was in September 2003, at Westbere Sailing Opportunities, near Canterbury, Kent. The WSO is a remarkable group of people who immediately see through the gadgets and disability and find the real person.

From her first moment in the Wayfarer boat, Hilary fell in love. Secured on a garden chair with a board down her back and another one under her legs, she was sailing. She was hooked and knew immediately that sailing was now going to become a large part of her life.

From the Wayfarer, Hilary graduated to passenger on a Challenger trimaran. This provided some fantastic sailing on the Westbere Lake, but it wasn't long before she grew frustrated of being the passenger. Hilary wanted to sail a boat herself. Hilary started ‘sailing herself’ with her friends at WSO, who allowed themselves to be blindfolded whilst Hilary ‘sailed’ them around the lake. This was so they only did what Hilary told them and stopped fiddling!

It was Hilary’s longing to be independent, to grasp the freedom that was almost within reach, which gave rise to her dream to sail across the English Channel. "I first dared to mention my dream towards the middle of August (2004). It was pretty obvious that people thought I was a little mad, that the dream was a ‘some time in my life I'd love to ...’ type dream. Little did they know how determined I would become!”

Hilary went to the London Boatshow in January 2006 with her dream. She had never sailed a boat in her life, she had no sponsors, no money. To be honest she didn’t even have an idea whether it was technically possible.

At the boatshow, Hilary spoke to the Royal Yachting Association. They offered to help on a ‘one step at a time’ basis. Hilary would sit the theory Day Skipper and Competent Crew Courses and learn the basics of Radio operation. In return, they would provide help through the UKSA who would teach Hilary to sail a boat, once she had a boat she could sail.

When Hilary went for lunch at the boatshow, she chose a place outside a bookshop. She she spotted a sign announcing that Emma Richards would be signing books in 10 minutes! Here! Right beside her!

This was an opportunity not to be missed. Hilary had followed Emma’s progress as she sailed around the world in the 2002 Around Alone Race. She had even seen her on TV! Her sporting hero was coming in 10 minutes!

Hilary met Emma who asked what she was doing at the boatshow. Hilary told her all about her dream. Emma was so impressed by Hilary that she phoned her sponsor (Pindar) that night and said, “You know what we were going to do this summer? Well, how about doing this as well?” Andrew Pindar agreed. It was an amazing stroke of luck for Hilary!

The team from Pindar lent her a boat, a 26’ Soling keelboat she named Malin. Matt Debecki from the Inventure Trust converted it so that Hilary could sail her.

Thanks to the generous sponsorship of Pindar, the UKSA and the support and practical help of many others, on August 23rd, 2005, Hilary achieved her dream.

In a recent ‘Guardian’ interview, Hilary’s response to the question "What is it about sailing then?"

"You have a freedom on water you don't have anywhere, well I don't. It's hard to explain what it's like being stuck in a wheelchair. Here I'm the boss. As well as steering, I can chose to sail flat, or go faster. It's wonderful to have choice again."


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Page last updated on 18 June 2007 at 19:55

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