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

The delighted dozen have been awarded exclusive use of their own boat or windsurfing board for the next two years through the life-changing 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 six years, 76 boats and boards have now been donated with some remarkable success stories.

The 2018 winners are:

Alex Thompson  11 ASWC Portsmouth /  Portsmouth Planers T15  Bic Techno 293OD 
Jack Rathburn  11  Glossop Sailing Club Bic Techno 293OD
Ben McDiarmid  13  Largs Sailing Club Laser 4.7
Bay Gorrod  13 Starcross Yacht Club   Optimist
Max Yeowart  10 Teesdale Sailing and Watersports Club  Optimist 
Rowan Joseph  8 Pembrokeshire Performance Sailing Academy  Optimist
Sophie Cuthbert  11  Felpham Sailing Club RS Tera
Bethany Doga  12  Llandudno Sailing Club Topper 
Charlie O'Malley  12 Donaghadee Sailing Club  Topper 
Tyler Playfair  11  Carrickfergus Sailing Club Topper
Dominic Atherton  12  Grafham Water Sailing Club Topper
Henry Martin   11  Portchester Sailing Club Topper

Kirsteen McDiarmid, Ben's mum, was so emotional to discover her son had been rewarded with his new Laser 4.7 she phoned him to tell him at school! She admits the boat will make a difference to their lives.

"Stuff like this doesn't happen to us!" Kirsteen exclaimed. "I couldn't believe it, I was in shock! We didn't get our hopes up because John, the boss at Largs SC, told me the club had already been lucky enough to have the loan of a boat, so this is so amazing, I can't tell you.

"Now I don't have to worry about him sinking when we do the long distance attempt next year. Sometimes you just have to hang in there and maybe someone somewhere will be kind enough to help you. Thank you doesn't cover it. I can only promise we will take good care of the boat and I'm sure Ben will do everyone proud." 

Meanwhile, until now Bay, who has recently been selected for the South West Zone Squad, has been sailing a 25 year old boat. His dad Jim said: "This will really make a huge difference to him and he is looking forward to getting out in his new boat and seeing how it goes. It is also fantastic to know that, after Bay moves on from the class, the boat will be available to other junior sailors at Starcross YC to help in their racing progression."

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.

Bethany recently had to hire a Topper at Plas Menai when she spent her first weekend training with the North Wales Regional Topper Squad.

Her mum, Elaine, said: "Bethany can't quite believe this is happening and neither can I. This will help her gain the necessary skills and experience to move into the GBR squads and further develop her sailing skills. Now she will have her own 'race ready' Topper for training and events and will be able to participate at some of the 2019 national Topper events without us worrying if we can hire one. It's a wonderful early Christmas present." 

Hannah Cockle, RYA OnBoard Operations Officer, added: "This really is one of my favourite parts of my job! OnBoard is all about making it easier and cheaper to get more young people aged 8-18 on the water regularly and that is what the JMST partnership helps achieve in no uncertain terms.

"It is such a thrill telling the sailors and their families their applications have been successful because we know what a difference getting a boat or board will make to their lives. For many it will be the difference between continuing in the sport and not, so we cannot thank JMST enough to continuing to support this programme."

How can you apply next year?

This year's recipients all applied for and were awarded their new boats or boards after attending their respective British Youth Sailing Regional Junior Championships at the end of September. Declarations of Eligibility for next year's applications will open on 1 July 2019.

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.