Two Midlands youngsters have had a huge boost in their ambitions to become top class sailors after being awarded their own boat - donated by the John Merricks Sailing Trust (JMST), the official charity partner of RYA OnBoard – as part of a national scheme helping young talent progress in the sport.

Oscar Cawthorne and Katherine Burgess were chosen to receive new Optimists dinghies after demonstrating their enthusiasm, talent and commitment to the sport.

The pair, both members of the Midlands RYA Zone Squad, were selected as two of 15 winners from 80 applicants nationwide following the RYA Midlands Zone Championships at Draycote Water SC in September.

Oscar, 11, has been sailing with his dad, Jon, and older siblings, Scarlett and Ralph, since he was five and the family sail almost every weekend at their home club, Shustoke SC, near Coleshill. But it was when he was accepted into the Zone Squad Oscar really started taking his sailing up a notch

Katherine, 12, currently sails an Optimist that is 30 years old meaning the boat cannot perform to the same level as the modern dinghies sailed by other youngsters. She will be training and competing with the region’s best young Optimist sailors as part of the IOCA Midlands Optimist Training group this winter too.

Over five years, JMST through RYA OnBoard are donating more than 50 one-person junior RYA racing pathway boats and windsurfing boards to youngsters who might not ordinarily have had the opportunity to progress their skills with the highest quality equipment to continue participating in sailing.

Oscar said: "In two years’ time I would love to be in the National squad with all the country’s top sailors. The new boat is great because sailing is the most amazing hobby to have and it’s fantastic to now have the opportunity of sailing at the Nationals with the kind of boat the top sailors have.

"Sailing is my passion and getting into the Midlands Zone squad last year was when I really got excited about sailing. I have learnt so much from the training about racing and sailing techniques and also about myself. I love to win, especially I love to beat the adults at my club! I have made some fantastic friends when competing at Nationals and other large events, and I particularly look forward to those weekends when we meet up to race."

Katherine said: "My old boat is is not up-to-date or with modern equipment, which would be much easier to set up and sail. I want to progress within the Optimist fleet and in two years’ time be in the National or Intermediate Squad and competing at international regattas representing Great Britain. I now feel I have a better chance of doing this thanks to being chosen to get a new boat.

"I am happy when I am sailing and it is an exhilarating sport. I like being independent, making my own decisions and seeing what happens, experimenting with different aspects of sailing. I am making good friends through sailing at events and training. They are supporting me and helping my sailing improve. I love the fact that we are all doing a sport we love whilst building great friendships."

OnBoard is the nationwide grassroots programme run by sailing’s national governing body, the RYA, to introduce sailing and windsurfing to young people aged 8 to 18 and giving them opportunities to sail regularly at low cost. The JMST, set up in the memory of 1996 Olympic silver medallist sailor John Merricks, helps young sailors and youth sailing organisations achieve their goals.

Ian Walker, double Olympic silver medallist, Volvo Ocean Race-winning skipper and JMST Trustee, added: "It is wonderful to see the progress and achievements so many of the sailors supported in the first years of the scheme have made. We hope the latest awards will enable the selected sailors to develop their talent, much as John Merricks did when he was awarded a club sailing boat at a young age and started on his own pathway to success.”

Over 10 years OnBoard has introduced over 500,000 children to sailing and windsurfing in the UK, converting over 10% of them into regular participants.

To find out more about RYA OnBoard visit or for more information about the JMST visit