A young sailor from Killyleagh has been awarded her own boat thanks to a national programme helping young talent progress in the sport.
Autumn Halliday (12), who is a junior member of Strangford Lough Yacht Club (SLYC), will have exclusive use of the boat for the next two years through the on-going partnership between the John Merricks Sailing Trust and RYA OnBoard,
Launched in 2013, the partnership supports youngsters who display enthusiasm, drive, talent and commitment to the sport and who may not ordinarily have the opportunity or financial backing to achieve their goals. In its six years, 76 boats and boards have now been donated with some remarkable success stories.
Autumn, a pupil at Regent House Grammar School, joined SLYC just three years ago with no previous experience or knowledge of sailing. She loved the sport and made lots of friends as well as showing great potential in her sailing skills as she progressed through the RYA levels. She is a dedicated junior member of the cub and is always on hand to help others and encourage them to get on the water.
Speaking about her joy in receiving the boat, Autumn said: "I am so happy and excited to have a brand new boat to use for two years, especially as everything will work properly on it! It will be great to take it wherever and whenever I want for training and racing.”
Her mother Nicola said: “I am very grateful for the opportunity that has been given to Autumn. Until now I have had to hire Toppers where they are available and there is no guarantee everything will work properly. This also limits where and when Autumn can train and compete.
“With the use of a new Topper this will enable Autumn to travel and participate in as many competitions as possible and have the use of a boat equivalent to her peers. It will also allow her to get out on the water during any free time to develop her skills.”
Autumn is aspiring to compete in the 2021 World Championships in Cork.
Winning the boat will allow the ambitious young sailor to develop her skills in the knowledge that some of the younger sailors at her club will benefit from the boat in the future.
RYANI’s High-Performance Officer James Farrell said: “It is fantastic to see Autumn awarded with her own boat. She is an enthusiastic and talented young sailor and a great ambassador for the sport. At RYANI we are looking forward to seeing Autumn develop her skills now that she has her own boat to practice in, we are confident she will achieve great things.”
The JMST seeks to help young sailors and youth sailing organisations to achieve their goals and was set up in the memory of 1996 Olympic silver medalist, John Merricks. As OnBoard's official charity partner, JMST will donate at least 80 single-handed junior pathway boats and boards to promising sailors over eight years, giving them the chance to progress their skills and continue to participate in the sport.
Hannah Cockle, RYA OnBoard Operations Officer, added: "We cannot thank JMST enough for continuing to support the programme. For many of the winners it will be the difference between continuing in the sport and not. It is such a thrill telling the sailors and their families they have been successful because we know what a difference getting a boat or board will make to their lives.
"OnBoard is all about making it easier and cheaper to get more young people aged 8-18 on the water regularly and that is what the JMST partnership helps to achieve.”
This year's recipients all applied for and were awarded their new boats or boards after attending their respective British Youth Sailing Regional Junior Championships at the end of September. Declarations of Eligibility for next year's applications will open in July 2020.
Since 2005, OnBoard has helped over three-quarters of a million young people try sailing and windsurfing and learn an activity that often stays with them for life. The programme enables youngsters to enjoy all the excitement and relaxation being on the water offers, whilst nurturing a wide range of broader learning benefits and invaluable life skills, from problem solving to leadership and teamwork.