Ten youngsters from across the UK have been handed a huge boost in their ambitions to become top class dinghy sailors thanks to a national programme helping young talent progress in the sport.

The delighted sailors have been awarded exclusive use of their own boat 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. In its seven years, 86 boats and boards have now been donated with some remarkable success stories.

The 2020 winners are:




Josephine Rist-Heppell

Brightlingsea Sailing Club, Essex


Joshua Pickard

Bowmoor Sailing Club, Gloucestershire


Jude Armstrong

Upper Thames Sailing Club, Buckinghamshire


Alina Zubair

Hollingworth Lake Sailing Club, Lancashire


Cicely Blair

St Andrews Sailing Club, Scotland


Rory Pollard

County Antrim Yacht Club, Northern Ireland)


Isabel Ritchie

Notts County Sailing Club, Nottinghamshire


Ellis Richards

Llyn Brenig Sailing Club, Denbighshire

Ilca 4

Elizabeth Shilling

Derwent Reservoir Sailing Club, Co Durham

Ilca 4

Rafferty Seddon

Salterns Sailing Club, Hampshire

RS Tera

“WOW, just Wow!

This was Rafferty’s response to be being told he was a lucky recipient of an RS Tera. He has named his boat “Ghost Rider” as he found out he had won over Halloween and is on the last Alex Rider series of books (for those that know Alex Rider!). Rafferty said: “I am completely and utterly over the moon to have been awarded a Tera. Because of the Coronavirus I have been able to spend more time on the water. My family, coaches and Salterns Sailing Club have all supported me to enjoy myself and improve during this crazy year. To end it all by winning a boat of my own has made it all SO worthwhile and I can’t wait to get stuck into my first season of winter sailing. Thank you, I’m so happy!”

“Wow” - was also Ellis’s reaction! “This fantastic opportunity has become surreal, being a winner has left me overwhelmed. I am so lucky, excited and intrigued to see what the future will hold for me in the big word of sailing. This is going to be life changing for me and I am truly grateful. I would like to say a big thank you to everyone involved from the JMST and RYA OnBoard, this is amazing, and I can’t wait to be working with you”.

Whilst Josie’s mum, Juliette, reported that 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!”


Cicely didn’t quite believe her dad when he told her after she finished school on school, stating it was like a dream come true: “I feel so lucky to have been successful in getting a Topper for me and the club. I didn’t think I would win but I really hoped I would, so I tried not think about it.

It feels amazing that I will have a boat just for me to use and it will really help for many reasons, one of them being that I don’t have to worry about borrowing a boat from the club and take it for a while when other people can’t use it.

I think it will really help me for going to races so that I have it all set up for me and now I don’t have to worry about parts being lost and I can really look after it. I can’t wait to go out on my new boat and take her to competitions. It’s totally amazing!”


Whilst Jude is looking forward to going to lots more competitions and attending area training with her own Topper: “This will help me become a better sailor, I am really looking forward to sailing my new boat - thank you!”

Isabel was shaking with excitement when she found out: “I am super excited to be awarded a topper, I It is a huge honour to be chosen. Thank you so much to the Merrick Trust. A big thank you to the coaches, instructors and members at Notts County Sailing Club who have been so supportive and give up so much of their time to our Youth Squad. It means so much because the equipment will help me continue to compete at the club and start to race in different regional opens too.”

Rory believes that all the hard work he has dedicated to something he loves is now paying off: “Winning to me shows success. Having a new Topper awarded to me by the John Merricks Sailing Trust and RYA Onboard scheme will give me the best opportunity possible in the sport I love and live for. I couldn’t be more thankful to you for having faith in me. I know that through the dedication and personal drive I have in sailing will ensure this award will help me achieve my goals. Thank you so much!”


Elizabeth believes that she is now the happiest sailor in Derwent: “I’m so so excited about winning this amazing boat, I’m sure there were other deserving applicants and the thought of owning my new boat makes me want to jump about with joy.

Thank you so much to the John Merricks Sailing Trust and RYA OnBoard scheme for making me the happiest sailor in Derwent and I am so looking forward to sailing against my brothers, Dad and with all my friends who inspire and support me every time we go on the water.”

Josh said: “I was so excited when I heard that I've won the new boat! I can't wait to start using it after lockdown. It means a lot to me as I love sailing and love going fast - it will help me beat my sister.”

Josh’s dad added: “It is wonderful that Bowmoor were awarded the boat, with Josh getting use of it for the next two years. Sailing is just properly starting to click with him and, as a fairly competitive little chap, he is loving racing. To enable racing to restart, Bowmoor have been running two pursuit races each Sunday over the summer. Josh thought nothing of being the first boat to start and sailing for the full duration of a pursuit race and, depending on the weather, has been right up there in the results on occasion. 

The youth sailing at Bowmoor has gone from strength-to-strength over the past couple of years, and the momentum has continued despite lockdown this year. To their credit, during "Lockdown 2.0" they have maintained the momentum through organising Zoom fitness sessions, Virtual Regatta racing, subsequent analysis of the Virtual Regatta races (over Zoom, with recordings, PowerPoint, etc.) to look at tactics, rules, etc., plus social activities such as quizzes, building blow-boats within a time limit using stuff around the house, etc. This is wonderful as it is maintaining their enthusiasm and keeping everyone in touch - they deserve huge credit for doing this!

The club also encourages the older youth sailors to qualify as coaches/instructors and pass on their enthusiasm and knowledge to the younger sailors. They relate much better to people nearer their own age, plus the youth sailors have more recent memory of what it is like to learn, the nuances of sailing the youth/junior boats, etc.”

JMST and OnBoard making real difference

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 medalist, John Merricks. As OnBoard's official charity partner, JMST will donate at least 80 single-handed junior pathway boats and boards to promising sailors over eight years, giving them the chance to progress their skills and continue to participate in the sport.

We are delighted to announce that the JMST and OnBoard partnership will continue for another three years. 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.

Since 2005, OnBoard has helped over three quarters of a million young people try sailing and windsurfing and learn an activity that often stays with them for life. The programme enables youngsters to enjoy all the excitement and relaxation being on the water offers, whilst nurturing a wide range of broader learning benefits and invaluable life skills, from problem solving to leadership and teamwork.