There were smiles and there were tears as 16-year-old cerebral palsy sailor, Natasha Lambert, completed her Channel crossing challenge in just four and a half hours today (Monday 1 July).
Natasha, from West Cowes, was born with athetoid cerebral palsy, which affects her limbs as well as her speech and confines her to a wheelchair.
But to mark her 16th birthday on Friday 28 June, the determined teen, who last year sailed around the Isle of Wight, decided she wanted to undertake the 25-mile Channel crossing from Boulogne, France to Dover, Kent.
Perfect South Westerly breeze
Although faced with fog when they got up this morning, Natasha, who sails her 21ft yacht, Miss Isle Too, with her mouth using a ‘sip and puff’ system operated by a straw inside a mountain bike helmet, eventually got underway at 7.30am UK time.
And with perfect, steady South Westerly breeze between 4-5 knots for the whole trip, albeit with swell up to two metres making the trip a bit bumpy, the Isle of Wight inspiration wasted no time in racing back to the UK around two hours ahead of schedule, arriving in Dover by 12.05pm.
Natasha’s ‘The French Connection’ challenge was raising money for three charities – The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, the RNLI and WetWheels.
An emotional day for her parents
Dad Gary, who was alongside Natasha in a support boat for the whole crossing, admitted it had been an emotional day.
He said: “There’s an awful lot of emotion. Tasha was worried she couldn’t complete it so we had to give her some support and just say to her ‘Do what you do’, and that’s what she did.
"She came across in a real fast time, faster than we expected, and we’re incredibly proud of her. I live with her, I’m with her every day and what she’s done today is immense and she’s so humble about it.”
Natasha was also accompanied on her trip in Miss Isle Too, by her coach Phil Devereux, with mum Amanda, six-year-old sister, Rachel, and grandparents Kenneth and Margaret Lambert motoring alongside her in the WetWheels powerboat, driven by Geoff Holt.
Geoff made history in 2007 when he became the first quadriplegic yachtsman to sail solo around Great Britain.
Congratulations reception on arrival in Dover
Natasha started sailing with the Even Keel Project based at UKSA in Cowes and then though her local RYA Sailability club for two years.
On arrival back in Dover, Natasha was greeted with a congratulations reception hosted by the Royal Cinque Ports Yacht Club, where she was made an Honorary Member of the club and presented with a club ensign.
Mum, Amanda, insists sailing has given her daughter confidence to go and achieve in all the other areas of her life. She added: “Sailing’s given her a freedom, not just on the water and to experience being out with the elements, it’s being able to make her own decisions, which gives her so much confidence.
"In so much of her life she relies on other people to make the decisions for her but in a sailing boat, she decides when she wants to turn, depower the boat and she’s got that choice.
"That’s given her the confidence to do it in everything she does; she’s more likely now to say ‘No Mum I want it to be done this way’. Her decision making has become a lot more precise and clear.”
To find out more about Natasha's sailing visit her Miss Isle website. For more information on how you can get on the water visit the RYA Sailability website.
Image: Natasha with her parents Gary and Amanda and younger sister Rachel.