BP CEO Tony Hayward is under fire for going to a yacht race in England. ((Jim Young/Reuters))

The head of BP is facing more criticism, this time for taking time off from the oil spill recovery effort in the Gulf of Mexico to attend a yacht race in England on Saturday.

Tony Hayward was watching his 16-metre yacht Bob compete in the annual J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race around the Isle of Wight, one of the world's largest races.

The yacht finished fourth in its group. It was not clear whether Hayward actually took part in the race or attended as a spectator.

U.S. President Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel told ABC's This Week in an interview that this was just another in a "long line of PR gaffes."

He also mocked Hayward, who had previously said he wished the crisis would end because he wanted his "life back."

"He's got his life back, as he would say," Emanuel said, referring to his yachting venture.

In an interview with Fox News, Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby referred to Hayward's decision to attend the yacht race as "the height of arrogance."

"I'm glad Mr. Hayward is on a yacht, because he certainly hasn't been helping us," said Robert Craft, the mayor of Gulf Shores, Ala.

"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."

Hayward's attendance at the yachting race was a hot topic on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, with many voicing their anger. But some were also upset that Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden enjoyed a round of golf on Saturday, something they've done on other weekends since the spill.

But a spokesperson for BP defended Hayward, saying it's his first break 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," Robert Wine said Saturday. "I'm sure that everyone would understand that."

Hayward had already angered many in the U.S. when he was quoted in the Times of London as suggesting that Americans were particularly likely to file bogus claims for compensation from the spill.

There was some confusion on Friday as to whether Hayward remained in charge of the company's response to the spill. Company chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told Sky News in an interview that Hayward's remarks upset people and suggested he was handing over the spill response to the company's managing director.

But the company later clarified that Hayward continues to lead the response to the oil spill.

With files from The Associated Press