Vanessa Hutchison (11) from Uckfield, East Sussex, along with her family visited Panerai’s classic yacht, ‘Eilean’ in St Katherine Docks before the awards presentation.

The Panerai Challenger Trophy was created by Italian luxury watchmaker Panerai together with the RYA’s OnBoard programme and is designed to promote the power of sailing in positively impacting young people’s lives. The initiative funds grants to young individuals that have overcome physical, economic or social challenges to achieve significant milestones in their sailing or windsurfing.

Vanessa received £2,500 to continue her development in sailing, along with £5,000 for her club, Crawley Mariners Yacht Club (CMYC) in Felbridge, West Sussex, which will be used to improve and update the club’s shower and changing facilities to further support its junior sailors.

Vanessa spent several years from the age of two undergoing intensive treatment at Great Ormond Street and The Royal Marsden for serious illness. She was then encouraged to take part in active pastimes, and her family joined CMYC four years ago. Vanessa achieved the globally recognised RYA Stages 1 & 2 in dinghy sailing in 2018, and in 2017 & 2018 she went on two trips with the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust (EMCT) progressing to her Start Yachting certificate. She has also raised funds for the EMCT by baking cakes and selling them at her club.

Photo: Vanessa helming the EMCT boat.

Vanessa’s father Ian said: “Sailing has helped Vanessa's confidence, independence and physical fitness. She’s very excited at the prospect using her award to upgrade her sailing dinghy and kit so that she can be drier and warmer. She is really pleased that the club will be able to improve its facilities with its award too. The chance to sail on the classic yacht Eilean was the highlight of her trip to London.”

Diana Thompson of CMYC added: “We were thrilled to hear that Vanessa was one of the finalists for the award and know she will use it wisely towards her sailing objectives.

“The club is delighted that it will also benefit from the award, and we plan to improve our showers and changing facilities. This will enable many other young people and OnBoard sailors to benefit as well.”

Jean-Marc Pontroué, CEO of Panerai, who has overseen the launch of these projects, commented: “Sailing can unite communities across the world, and we are delighted to partner with the RYA to support young talent for a second year running. Panerai continues its quest to strengthen the links with the sea and community initiatives to nurture this journey into the future.”

RYA Chief Executive, Sarah Treseder said: “Each story speaks of perseverance and hardship, but also of hope and happiness. It was extremely challenging to select the finalist and we hope Bradley’s truly inspiring story will help inspire more young people to harness the positive benefits that watersports can bring to a young person’s life. We thank Panerai for making this possible.”

Sarah added: “Created together with the RYA’s OnBoard programme, this joint initiative with Panerai, is designed to promote the many positive benefits which getting out onto the water can bring to young people’s lives. We are thrilled that this year, we have once again heard from so many inspiring youngsters and their stories of overcoming adversity, plus the positive benefits which this has brought to themselves, their families and their sailing communities.”

During this 3-year initiative, Panerai has committed to making a total investment of £120,000 to demonstrate the sport’s accessibility and to inspire the next generation of sailors.

The brand, known for its relationship to watersports, has recently unveiled their sponsorship of America’s Cup Challenger, Luna Rossa.

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.

CMYC is an RYA OnBoard Centre, RYA Training Centre and British Youth Sailing Recognised Club. It works with local schools running RYA OnBoard taster sessions, and with other youth activity groups which use its lake and facilities.

For more information about how to get involved in sailing visit www.rya.org.uk/go/onboard