Being hit in the face by a flying fish was ‘a hilarious moment’ – British quadriplegic sailor Hilary Lister and Omani Nashwa Al Kindi sailed into the record books last week with two new trans-ocean records.
Hilary, aged 42, and Nashwa, aged 32, spent nine days aboard a 28ft Dragonfly trimaran, covering 850 nautical miles across the Indian Ocean.
Their voyage started from Mumbai, India on Tuesday 11 March and generally took them upwind with winds reaching no more than 10-15kts, and an average boat speed of 5-6kts.
A 36-hour stop to refuel and carry out a repair to the Code Zero sail delayed their overall finish time but they crossed the finishing line in Oman on 19 March before the official welcome took place at The Wave, Muscat on 20 March.
A huge gathering turned out to honour the two women who now hold records for the first ever severely paralysed woman and the first Arab female sailor to make a trans-oceanic crossing.
Hilary, who suffers from a degenerative disease – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – and who is paralysed from the neck down, had previously set a record for a solo round-Britain disabled voyage in 2009.
The duo sailed with their ‘guardian angel’ Niall Myatt and Hilary’s carer Lisa Blacklocks.
Hilary said: ‘Niall Myatt’s role was tough. As a sailor his brief was to stay out of everything… something I certainly couldn’t do yet! His experience and advice were absolutely indispensable however.
‘We would have been foolhardy to go to sea without someone of his calibre onboard. How he survived nine days at sea with three women who (in Nash’s words) are definitely slightly “Cuckoo-bananas”, I will never know.’
She added: ‘I am obviously delighted to have set this record with Nashwa. It was a truly amazing journey, particularly the arrival into Oman.
‘More than anything, however, this trip has highlighted that longer offshore legs are a lot easier for me than shorter legs where I am constantly getting on and off the boat.’
The team, powered by Oman Sail and sponsored by Mistal and United Engineering Services, with support from Oman Air, GAC Pindar, Harken, Ocean Safety and Raymarine, sailed a specially adapted Dragonfly.
This boat incorporates a unique sip and puff sailing system that sends signals to a device using air pressure. By inhaling or exhaling into a straw Lister is able to steer, trim sails and navigate.
Hilary added: ‘Thanks to Roger Crabtree’s simple ‘plug and play’ sip and puff system, I think we proved that a long distance oceanic passage is highly achievable.
‘This particular creation means I can transfer it from one boat to another, which has inspired me to think about future challenges. In the short term, however, it will be a case of trying to help other people with similar difficulties to me, get on the water by making this system available.”
She described a voyage highlight: “Being on the ocean at night was simply sensational. I will never forget the amount of phosphorescence. The boat looked like it was lit up from underneath and, when I put my hand in the water it was still glowing five minutes later.
‘The funniest moment I had was when a flying fish hit me slap, bang in the middle of the face. It was a hilarious moment, and we still laugh about it now. As well as the serious sailing, we had a lot of fun.’
Hilary’s teammate, Nashwa hopes that becoming the first Arab female to set a new sailing record will inspire other women to follow their dreams.
Nashwa, who is a dinghy sailing instructor at Oman Sail, only started sailing in 2011 but instantly adapted to sport and was recognised as the Coach of the Year in Oman Sail’s Sailor of the Year Awards 2013, and presented with the ISAF President Development Award 2013 for outstanding achievement.
She said: ‘I am very happy and proud to achieve this goal. It was always my dream to sail offshore in a big boat.’
Nashwa’s ‘ultimate goal’ is to sail solo around the world.
Commenting on the trip’s most memorable moments, Nashwa added: ‘I will always remember the little chit-chats I had with Hilary on deck at night. She is a good, experienced sailor and she taught me a lot and she is my biggest inspiration.’
The record-breakers thanked the Navy and Yachting Association of India who played a big role in the logistics of the boat’s departure from India, particularly Captain Jaiswal and Malav Shroff. Oman Air’s spacious business class seats were also complimented for allowing Hilary to travel comfortably from Muscat to Mumbai before embarking on the journey.