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Deafness No Barrier For Talented Teen 

Angus Richardson has just competed at his second RYA Youth Nationals

Angus Richardson sailing a LaserOne of the biggest ambitions for young dinghy racers is to compete at the RYA Youth National Championships. 

It’s Britain’s Blue Riband youth racing event, and all our biggest Olympic names, including Ben Ainslie, Iain Percy and Sarah Ayton, have cut their teeth at the event.

Craignish Boat Club’s Laser Radial sailor, Angus Richardson, is no different, and having made his Youth Nationals debut at Largs last year, he once again took his place alongside the country’s top young talents at the 2014 championships at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy in April. 

Here’s the catch however, 17-year-old Angus was born profoundly deaf. 

Has that dulled his ambitions? Not a chance.

Hearing Pioneer

Angus was born in September 1996 with a profound hearing loss, but this was not fully diagnosed until he was 18 months old. Further investigation showed he had a rare malformation of his inner ear known as a common cavity disorder. 

After unsuccessful trials with hearing aids and much consultation with Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock, aged three-and-a-half he underwent an operation to fit a cochlear implant, becoming the first Scottish child with common cavity to have one. 

There was always something inevitable about Angus learning to sail. Craignish Boat Club is very unusual in that every child in the local primary school sails, while both his older brothers, Alex and Dan, were keen members. 

Aged five Angus started going along and, having progressed through Optimists, Topaz Taz, Toppers and now Laser Radials, he has never looked back.

“Learning to sail was challenging for both my myself and my instructors,” Angus explains. “On the water I have to take off the external microphone and processor of my implant as they are not waterproof and are worth a lot of money!

“I can lip read a little and use BSL, so my instructors were fantastic at developing signs and signals to help me understand how to improve my sailing. They are very patient with me! I also learnt a great deal just by watching other sailors, watching the wind on the water and feeling what my boat was doing.” 

Home Bow

Located in the stunning surrounds of Argyll and Bute on Scotland’s West Coast, Craignish Boat Club has proved something of a breeding ground for talented young Scottish sailors in recent years. 

Lorenzo Chiavarini is a member of the British Sailing Team Podium Potential Squad, Angus Grey Stephens was in the RYA National Laser Radial Youth Squad, Mara Lyon is in the RYA National Junior Topper and Tom Graham is in the RYA Scotland Laser Development Team. 

With Largs as good as on Craignish’s doorstep, last year’s Youth Nationals presented the perfect opportunity for Angus to take his competition to another level.

“The Youth Nationals were amazing, but also very scary!” he admits. “Up until then I had only sailed in small fleets.

“To suddenly be competing with over 100 other Radials was quite daunting, but everyone was very helpful and made the safety boats aware that there was a deaf sailor in the fleet. I had a green half moon mark on my boat to identify me.” 

There are a number of ways Angus has to adapt his racing to compete. Because he doesn’t hear the warning signals or start guns, he tries to ensure he can see the flags to start his watch. If he misses this he is at a real disadvantage. 

Water protests are very tricky and he admits the best way to overcome this is by trying to avoid getting into trouble in the first place.

“I just have to make sure I'm looking around all the time, but to be competitive, this is also not always easy to achieve. Sometimes the race officials warn other competitors that I am deaf, which helps.”

In the protest room he need a BSL interpreter, usually his mum and dad.

Building A Life On The Waves

As well as making his Youth Nationals debut last year, Angus was an impressive 6th at the 2013 Scottish Laser Radial Championships, and at the final Scottish Laser Radial Inland Series event of the year got a prize for attending every Traveller event. He has also attended the RYA Scottish Class Academies for high level coaching. 

For 2014, the Laser Grand Prix in Scotland is again on his agenda, while he also hopes to do the Laser Nationals in Largs in August. At his club he is looking forward to helping with rescue boat duties to help with the younger cadets.

Angus works with a traditional boat builder, restoring classic boats and making new wooden boats. He is going to a traditional boat building college in September. For every door that has opened to Angus through sailing, he is in no doubt who to thank. 

“I LOVE my job. My ambition is to one day have my own wooden boat and race it,” he adds. “Craignish Boat Club has been incredibly supportive since I very first learned to sail and without the help from all the volunteer coaches I would not be sailing.” 

Find out all about Angus's 2014 RYA Youth Nationals here:  

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