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BP CEO Tony Hayward attends glitzy yacht race; Gulf residents infuriated

BP CEO Tony Hayward spent part of his Saturday at a yacht race in England while some in U.S. have seen their livelihoods ruined by the massive two-month oil spill.

By Holbrook Mohr, Raphael SatterAP / June 19, 2010

BP CEO Tony Hayward attended a yacht race in England Saturday. The race pits famous yachtsmen against wealthy amateurs in the 50-nautical mile course around the Isle of Wright. This image is a file photo of a yacht.

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Venice, La.

Just when it seemed Gulf residents couldn't get any more outraged about the massive oil spill fouling their coastline, word came Saturday that BP's CEO was taking time off to attend a glitzy yacht race in England.

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Tony Hayward's latest public relations gaffe didn't sit well with people in the U.S. who have seen their livelihoods ruined by the massive two-month oil spill.

"Man, that ain't right. None of us can even go out fishing, and he's at the yacht races," said Bobby Pitre, 33, who runs a tattoo shop in Larose, La. "I wish we could get a day off from the oil, too."

As social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook lit up with anger, BP spokespeople rushed to defend Hayward, who has drawn withering criticism as the public face of his company's halting efforts to stop the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

BP spokesman Robert Wine said it's the first break Hayward has had since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and setting off the undersea gusher.

"He's spending a few hours with his family at a weekend," Wine said Saturday. "I'm sure that everyone would understand that."

Not Mike Strohmeyer, who owns the Lighthouse Lodge in Venice, on Louisiana's southern tip, who said Hayward was "just numb."

"I don't think he has any feelings," he said. "If I was in his position, I think I'd be in a more responsible place. I think he should be with someone out trying to plug the leak."

And not Raymond Canevari, 59, of Pensacola, Fla., an artist who said he was insulted by Hayward's attendance at the race.

"I think everyone has the right do what they want in their free time, but he doesn't have the right to have free time at all," said Canevari. "Not until this crisis is resolved."

Wine said Hayward is known to be keenly interested in the annual race around the Isle of Wight, one of the world's largest. It attracts more than 1,700 boats and 16,000 sailors as famous yachtsmen compete with wealthy amateurs in the 50-nautical mile course around the island.

Hayward was watching his 52-foot (16-meter) yacht "Bob," made by the Annapolis, Md.-based boatbuilder Farr Yacht Design. It has a list price of nearly $700,000.

The outing is one of a series of missteps by Hayward in recent weeks. He suggested to the Times of London that Americans were particularly likely to file bogus claims over the spill, then later told residents of Louisiana that no one wanted to resolve the crisis as badly as he did because "I'd like my life back."

Even the British press, much more sympathetic than American media to the company's plight, has expressed disbelief at its strategy.