Clipper 2017-18 Race Skipper Nikki Henderson has been awarded the prestigious Yachting Journalists’ Association (YJA) Yachtsman of the Year Award after making history when, at 24, she became the youngest ever skipper to compete in the biggest round the world yacht race.
The award, which was presented jointly to the 25-year-old, and Tracy Edwards MBE for her work with Maiden, during a ceremony in London.
Cliff Webb, YJA Charman, said: "The YJA is delighted to recognise Nikki's achievement in becoming the youngest skipper ever in the Clipper Race, and to have guided her crew to a second-placed finish overall, missing outright victory by the narrowest of margins, is really remarkable.
"She showed extraordinary skill, seamanship, and race tactics through eleven tough months of competition, where she shouldered the responsibility of keeping her crew safe, while teaching people more than twice her age. It was an outstanding performance, showing tremendous leadership and team building qualities."
The accolade also marked Nikki’s performance achievements during the 2017-18 edition where she led her Visit Seattle team to second place, just four points behind Australian Wendy Tuck’s Sanya Serenity Coast team, securing an all-female one-two on the podium.
Speaking at the award ceremony, Nikki said: "It is all well and good being ambitious and brave as a young person, but it also takes people to have faith in you and give you the breaks. To everyone in my life who has given me those opportunities; thank you, and I hope I have done you proud!"
The Clipper Race is unique in that it trains everyday people to become ocean racers – with 40 per cent of crew having never sailed before. Nikki skippered her Visit Seattle team 40,000 nautical miles around the world battling phenomenal sea states with 14 metre high waves, hurricane force winds, boat speeds up to 35 knots (equivalent to 40 mph), extreme heat and freezing conditions. Anyone over the age of 18 can participate as a crew member in the Clipper Race and the oldest crew member of Nikki’s Visit Seattle team was 71 years old – almost three times her age.
The YJA award ceremony also celebrated the achievements of Clipper Race Co-Founder and Chairman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who will reach two significant milestones over the next month; his 80th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his Sunday Times Golden Globe Race achievement. Speaking about Nikki during the last edition of the race, he said: “One of her strengths is her leadership. She built a happy and cohesive team and made these 50 people, men and women of all ages and from different nations from around the world, buy into her team ethos “sailing with style’. It takes a special kind of person to be a Clipper Race Skipper – part teacher, counsellor and sports coach and so to lead her team to second place (and it was a nail-biting finish) is an amazing achievement.”
Over the 11 months of the race, Nikki led her team to three outright race victories and two second-place finishes in 13 races. She was able to guide her novice crew safety around the world with little damage to the yacht despite surviving the roughest weather of the fleet through mountainous seas in the North Pacific crossing.
Previous YJA Yachtsman of the Year award winners includes Clipper Race crew member Gavin Reid, a profoundly deaf sailor who was instrumental in the rescue of a non-Clipper Race crew off the coast of Australia during the 2015-16 edition and Co-Founder and Chairman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who has won it four times.