Promising Young Brightlingsea Sailing Club Sailor Awarded Optimist Dinghy

Josie Rist-Heppell, from Brightlingsea Sailing Club, Essex, is one of ten young sailors to be awarded a new boat thanks to a national programme helping young talent progress in the sport.
07 Dec 20

She has been awarded exclusive use of her own Optimist for the next two years through the on-going partnership between the John Merricks Sailing Trust (JMST) 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.

Josie’s mum, Juliette, reported that seven-year-old Josie’s reaction was to jump with joy! Josie said: “Brilliant, awesome, amazing! A brand-new boat? For just me to use? Wow! Thank you so so so much. I want to use it now. Can I sail all winter? I’d better win some races next year!”

Juliette added: “This will make such a difference to her life. Thank you so much. She has the enthusiasm, now she has the boat!”

Despite the challenges of the year, Josie’s sailing has progressed significantly. Although being only six at the time, during the Summer she managed to achieve her RYA Level 3, sailing her borrowed Oppie at sunrise and sunset when Brightlingsea was quieter, whilst she shielded. Josie showed great determination to learn, and during lockdown even spent a lot of time watching videos of Oppies sailing, and copying the movements for tacking and gybing. Next year, Josie plans to attend local events with the new Optimist, and has great aspirations for sailing in the future.

Craig Bond, Principal of Brightlingsea Sailing Club said “Whilst it has been a very difficult year for sailing in general, we have managed to run ‘Supportive Sailing’, which is primarily for young cadets gaining confidence with a patrol boat or two on the water. Josie has attended every one of these sessions and from day one has shown so much confidence and enjoyment in her sailing. Despite being one of the youngest sailors, she has shown great enthusiasm, whatever the weather, and now confidently sails on her own around a small course. It has been a delight to see Josie as part of a small group of particularly young cadets really develop their sailing skills.”

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 medallist, John Merricks. As OnBoard's official charity partner, JMST have so far donated 86 boats and boards with some remarkable success stories.

Hannah Cockle, RYA OnBoard Operations Officer, said: "We cannot thank JMST enough for continuing to support the programme. Over the next three years, £110,000 worth of funding will be going into junior sailing. This money will have a direct impact to the recipients lucky enough to be awarded a boat - they can now feel confident that they will be able to continue their progression in the sport.

“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 affordable to get more young people aged 8-18 on the water regularly and that is what the JMST partnership helps us to achieve". 

Details on how to apply for the 2021 JMST and OnBoard partnership will be issued soon.

Run by the RYA, OnBoard is a grass roots programme which introduces sailing and windsurfing to young people aged 8 to 18, through schools, youth groups and training centres.

The low cost sessions are designed to promote equal access to sailing for young people from all social and economic backgrounds, whilst encouraging their character development.

Since 2005, OnBoard has introduced more than 900,000 children to sailing and windsurfing in the UK, converting some 70,000 of them into regular participants.

For more information about how to get involved in sailing visit