Two young members of Draycote Water Sailing Club had the chance to meet Olympic gold medallists from the sport at a gala black tie dinner in Southampton after being shortlisted for a prestigious Young Sailor of the Year Award.
Millie Irish, aged 17, of Southam College, and 11-year-old Jess Powell, of Rugby High School, were nominated for the title as part of the annual awards of the Yachting Journalists’ Association and invited to a special ceremony where other guests and nominees included the British Sailing Team and representatives of Vendée Globe round-the-world racing sailor Pip Hare, who won Yachtsman of the Year.
The girls, who are both from Rugby, were shortlisted for the award after winning the doublehanded RS Feva class national championship earlier this year at Hayling Island Sailing Club on the south coast, where they beat 84 other boats – 168 competitors – including a double Olympic medallist.
Other up and coming sailors nominated for the YJA Stoneways Marine Young Sailor of the Year Award were IQ Foil windsurfing champion Lucy Kenyon and Katie McCabe, who aged 14 and sailing a wooden yacht she restored, recently became the youngest person ever to complete a solo circumnavigation of the UK.
Draycote Water Sailing Club Commodore, Jeremy Atkins, who attended the evening, said: “This was tough competition and Katie won the award but that wasn’t going to stop Millie and Jess having a great evening. They really entered into the spirit of the occasion, introducing themselves to their fellow nominees and chatting to a number of sailors present from the Tokyo Olympics, including three gold medallists.
“While we would all have loved Millie and Jess to win, to be nominated was a real honour. And to see the way they made the most of the evening made us really proud and demonstrated the independence and confidence that sailing teaches young people.”
The evening was a full circle for Jess, who in 2016 and then aged six, met Hannah Mills after she had just won a sailing gold medal at the Rio Olympics to add to a silver from London 2012. Inspired, Jess told her parents, “I would like to sail!” Her parents thought it might be a passing fad but Jess was determined. She learnt to sail at Draycote Water and has been dedicated to becoming the best sailor she can be.
Hannah Mills went on to win another gold at Tokyo to become the most successful female Olympic sailor of all time, and was shortlisted for the Yachtsman of the Year Award. Although Hannah was not present on the evening because she was competing in France, her crew and fellow gold medallist Eilidh McIntyre was at the dinner.
Jess said: “It was an honour to be nominated. To be invited to the awards dinner and to see some of the GB Olympic Team sailors and their medals was an inspirational opportunity and very exciting. It was also great to have Jeremy there as club commodore and a huge supporter.”
Millie is Junior Commodore at Draycote Water Sailing Club and Jess is on the Junior Committee and would both love to welcome young people who would like to learn to sail, a sport which provides life skills alongside the fun of getting afloat For further information visit: www.draycotewater.co.uk