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British woman aims to make world's longest solo sail trip by quadriplegic

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LONDON, Aug 23 (AFP) - A British woman who can only move her head, eyes and mouth was more than halfway across the English Channel Tuesday and going strong as she battled to make the world's longest solo sailing trip by a quadriplegic.

Hilary Lister, 33, set sail from Dover, southeast England, at 8:30 am (0730 GMT), bound for the French port of Calais, hoping to become the first person with the degenerative condition to conquer the busy shipping route.

By 12:15 am (1115 GMT), she had past the halfway mark, a spokeswoman said. She hoped to arrive at the finish line at about 1400 GMT.

"She is absolutely loving it," the spokeswoman told AFP, adding that the conditions were good, with a clear sky and healthy wind.

Before casting off, Lister, who has battled with the worsening medical disorder since she was a teenager, said: "I am feeling strangely calm now I am in the boat."

A difficult tide delayed her planned start time by two and a half hours hours, but she felt confident of success: "I am too bloody minded to give up."

Although the Channel is more than 35 kilometres (22 miles) wide, Lister said she would have to make a kind of triangle-shaped journey, pushing the total distance to about 30 to 35 miles.

Without the use of her arms or legs, she is using a specially designed vessel -- a 26-foot (7.9-metre) Soling keelboat, christened Malin -- which is steered by a so-called "sip and puff" method.

Lister sucks up or blows down two straws -- one attached to the tiller and the other controlling both of the sails -- to guide the boat forward.

"Physically it is not that demanding, it is literally tiny amounts of breath, so I will be able to drink water and eat chocolate while I am going along," she said, speaking again to AFP on Monday.

"But mentally is going to be the telling thing."

Lister, who lives with her husband Clifford, 47, in Canterbury near to the coast, started sailing in 2003 and said the sport had given her fresh hope at a time when she had been tempted to end her suffering.

"The Channel Challenge has quite literally saved my life and sailing has given me a sense of freedom I never thought would be possible again," she said.

Lister recalled her frustration at always being a passenger on a boat and relished the chance to be able to sail herself.

She said crossing the Channel was an obvious goal as it was so close to her home, but the young woman has set her sights on even tougher challenges.

"I think I have my sights set on going round Britain possibly next year and I have a friend who asked me if I would go around the world in his boat so that would be an opportunity that I couldn't turn down," she said.

Through completing the mission, she hopes to raise awareness about disabled sailing, as well as 30,000 to 50,000 pounds (54,000-74,000 dollars, 44,000-90, 000 euros) to allow more people with disabilities the chance to participate in the sport.

Pindar, an international print and electronic media company, is sponsoring the trip, while the UK Sailing Academy has provided training and made alterations to Lister's boat.

Lister is being followed by a support vessel as she crosses the Channel. It is carrying, among others, Emma Richards who in 2003 became the youngest person and first British woman to complete a solo round the world yacht race.



COPYRIGHT 2005 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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