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 spokesperson 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." 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 yacht outing is one of a series of missteps by Hayward recently. 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."
President Barack Obama has also struggled to counter criticism of how his administration has handled the disaster. Up to 120 million gallons of oil has already gushed into the Gulf.
It was not clear whether Hayward took part in the race, which he attended with son, or was just a spectator. His boat finished fourth in its class. It often costs tens of thousands of dollars (pounds) to equip a yacht for a race as competitive as the Isle of Wight.
BP, Britain's largest company before the oil rig exploded, has lost about 45 percent of its value since then - a drop has alarmed millions of British retirees whose pension funds hold BP stock. Just this week, BP announced that it was canceling its quarterly dividend.
- So far, BP has paid less than 12 percent of claims submitted by people and businesses harmed by the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, according to the federal government.
- The Coast Guard is ramping up efforts to capture the crude closer to shore with the help of private boats. As of Friday morning, between 65 million and 121.6 million gallons of oil have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, based on federal daily flow rate estimates.
- BP CEO Tony Hayward on Thursday told Congress members that he was "so devastated with this accident," "deeply sorry" and "so distraught."
- Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel says Hayward has committed yet another in a "long line of PR gaffes" with his yacht race outing while the Gulf oil spill disaster continues.
- The oil spill is causing confusion over whether it's OK to swim on Alabama beaches. In Orange Beach, two red flags flew Saturday and beach patrols told people to stay out of Gulf waters. A few miles away, though, people were in the water at Gulf Shores, where only yellow warning flags were flying. The state has issued advisories telling people to stay out of Gulf waters because of oil.
- Tar balls from the oil spill have washed ashore on the sugar-sand beaches of Panama City Beach, the farthest east oil has been reported in Florida. Bay County spokeswoman Valerie Lovett said Saturday that "nickel to 50-cent piece size" tar balls washed ashore on Panama City Beach overnight.
- Republicans say Obama has been too slow to react to the threats posed by the oil spill. In the weekly GOP radio and Internet address Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi says some steps taken by the Obama administration will do more harm than good. Wicker says he's glad Obama is "finally putting this catastrophe at the top of his agenda." Wicker criticized Obama for pushing an energy bill and increases in oil cleanup fees and for calling for a moratorium on deep-water drilling.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.