When East End schoolboy Ed Hill visited the London Boat Show at the age of just ten, it sparked a passion for sailing that twenty years later has made him one of Britains’s most successful offshore solo yatchsmen.
Although Tower Hamlets is not normally an area associated with yatching, Hill found the opportunity to learn to sail at the Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre, not far from his home near St Pauls. Hill’s passion for sailing carried on through his teens, leading him to compete in nearly all of the ‘blue ribbon’ sailing competitions around the world and go on to win the long-offshore Newport-Bermuda race last year.
This coming June, solo yatchsman Hill will be competing in the solo offshore sailing unofficial world championship: La Solitaire du Figaro, to raise money for cancer support charity Macmillan. He will be sailing alone in blistering winds, extreme temperatures, and unpredictable waters, for over 2,000 miles around Europe. With competitors staying awake for up to three days at a time, La Solitaire du Figaro is as much a test of endurance and mental strength as it is a test of skill.
Despite his success to date, Hill, now based in Southampton, has not forgotten the debt that he owes to the Shadwell centre: “I’m basically training full time in France, but I’d love to go back at some point, and maybe help out. I know some friends of mine, who are involved in Olympic sailing, who went down there and did a day with the kids which is really interesting. But it’s good to see the place still exists and is going strong.”
The Activity Centre provided Hill with the encouragement he needed to pursue the passion that the London Boat Show had inspired, and that money wasn’t an issue for a kid who wanted to get on the water in Tower Hamlets: “I think you paid like a quid every time you went. It was a huge opportunity really as I wouldn’t have got into sailing without them. There weren’t proper race boats but they had boats for people who had never sailed before and really good teachers, coaches, and instructors, and we were always encouraged. Every month or so we would do a river trip down the Thames, so for a 10 or 11 year old it’s quite a cool thing to do”
This year, Hill will be sailing under the flag of Macmillan, to raise awareness and money for those diagnosed with cancer: “Macmillan is a charity that is really close to my heart, there’s a history of cancer in my family, and it’s such an important charity. It was a natural choice for me to try and work with them and luckily this is the first time they’ve said yes to being associated with a sports campaign like this. People have raised money for MacMillan before, sure, but this is the first time I’m actively sailing in aid of them, really promoting their brand.”
Hill is hoping to place in the top 15 and to raise £10,000 for Macmillan, and a further £10,000 for make sure that he gets to the start line. “Once the race starts I want to get people to pay a penny a mile, so its 2014 miles so that’s £20 and 14p,” Hill says.
He is also looking forward to helping Macmillan after the race is over, and has expressed interest in the partnership going beyond La Solitaire du Figaro: “After the race I’ll be back in the UK and that’s where I’m hoping to do some work with Macmillan, help some fundraising with them.”
“There are also the big races in Cowes Week in August where hopefully again I’ll be sailing for Macmillan. That’ll be really important, it’s not the most important race for me this year, but it’s a really good one because a huge amount of public is down there and hopefully people will put their hands in their pockets and help Macmillan.”
With just over 3 months before having to start his gruelling journey around the European seas, Hill is currently training in Lorient, France with the Artemis Offshore Academy. He will be sailing three races as practice for the Solitaire du Figaro, facing his own hardships in the hope of helping millions of people affected by cancer.