ONE of Britain's most decorated Olympians has joined another highly-select group.

Sir Ben Ainslie, winner of four gold medals and a silver, has become one of the few people to be awarded the honorary freedom of the Beaulieu River.

He was presented with a certificate by Lord Montagu, who described him as the most successful sailor in Olympic history.

Sir Ben, 44, was awarded the honour at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Buckler's Hard Yacht Harbour and the completion of its £2m upgrade.

He was joined by another legendary sailor, Sir Chay Blyth, 81, who was also given the freedom of the river after opening the marina in 1971.

Guests gathered a few yards from Gipsy Moth IV, the 53ft ketch in which Sir Francis Chichester sailed single-handed around the globe in 1966-67.

Paying tribute to the two men and their achievements Sir Ben said: "These were really incredible feats of guts and determination."

Sir Chay opened the marina a few weeks after completing a non-stop round-the-world voyage in the 59ft yacht British Steel.

He said: "It's hard to believe it's 50 years since I came here as a young boy. I'd never been here before and I was absolutely bowled over.

"Now I've returned as an old man. Nothing has changed - it's still the most fabulous place."

The ceremony also attended by Sir Patrick McNair Wilson, 92, who was MP for the New Forest until 1997, when the constituency was split into two.

Lord Montagu said the yacht harbour had been equipped with 66 new berths capable of being used by boats up to 65ft long.

Citing the changes that had taken place in the yachting world since 1971 he added: "It was entirely appropriate that the marina, once cutting edge, should be brought up to date."

Sir Ben, who used to live in Lymington but now resides on the Isle of Wight, arrived by boat.

He was accompanied by Lord Montagu's sister, the Hon Mary Montagu-Scott, who is commodore of the Beaulieu River Sailing Club, which is celebrating its 90th year.

Guests included Cllr Edward Heron, leader of New Forest District Council, and former harbourmaster Bill Grindey.