HAMPSHIRE sailing hero Sir Ben Ainslie offered inspiration and the spirit of adventure to youngsters battling cancer.

Britain’s most decorated Olympian waved farewell to children and their families setting off from Port Hamble Marina for a charity’s sailing day.

Youngsters beamed with excitement as Sir Ben, from Lymington, arrived to meet them at Banana Wharf restaurant as they prepared for the trip organised by Sail 4 Cancer.

The charity provides respite breaks and activities enabling children suffering and recovering from the illness and their families to enjoy a day away from thehospitalward.

The young sailors huddled round Sir Ben as he signed autographs and posed for pictures and listened to their stories before the teams set sail for Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

He said: “It’s great to see how people suffering and recovering from such a serious illness are getting out on the water and having a bit of fun.

“Sailing is a great sport because it is diverse and inclusive and it is an environment where people sharing the same difficulties can work as a team and share those challenges.”

He added that the London 2012 Games and his forthcoming America’s Cup campaign is inspiring more people to take up sailing.

Youngsters took part in a treasure hunt on the voyage to Cowes which involved unearthing names of buoys they were required to sail around.

They enjoyed a game of eye spy while on the Island before heading back for lunch at Banana Wharf.

Joe Scully, 12, from Shirley, was among those who took part.

The St George’s School pupil was diagnosed with leukaemia last year.

He said: “I am really excited to meet Ben. He’s really friendly and it’s going to be good to take to the water.”