This time last year Katherine Burgess was sailing a 30-year-old Optimist, with enthusiasm and commitment to burn but without the boat to put her on a level playing field with her peers.

But, since being chosen as one of 15 recipients in the 2016 round of John Merricks Sailing Trust / OnBoard partnership, which has so far seen 53 single-handed junior pathway boats and boards donated to youngsters who might not otherwise have had the chance to realise their potential, Katherine hasn't looked back. 

We had the awesome news this week that this partnership is being extended for another three years. Hurray! You can read the full story on that here - John Merricks Sailing Trust to extend support to RYA OnBoard for next three years

And with entries for this year's RYA Zone and Home Country Championships on 23-24 September open, now is the time to consider if any of your sailors could benefit from applying for a 2017 OnBoard JMST boat.

Still not convinced? Let 12-year-old Katherine tell you what a difference it's made to her...

What would you say to someone considering applying for a JMST boat but thinking 'I won't get picked'?

It's a brilliant opportunity. You have nothing to lose, and you never know, you might be one of the lucky ones selected, as I was.  

How has your new boat helped you become a better sailor in your first six months with it?

The boat is easier to rig than my old boat and when I'm sailing it's easier and less time consuming to change the control settings. It doesn't have the buoyancy tanks and has bags like all the other modern boats. It's a stiffer boat and the foils are racing foils instead of wooden, heavy ones. The new sail is suited to my weight, and everything is just new and works smoothly. It's made me more independent in my sailing.

How has this been reflected in your performances?

I struggled to roll tack correctly, but with my new boat and set up it's a lot easier. This is also the case with gybing and tiler movement. In training I have the confidence to try things and the belief I can get better. In regattas and open meetings I've been getting higher results and they are most often consistent.  

Have you become a more confident sailor since having the new boat?

Because my boat is now the same as everyone else's I believe I can compete at the same standard and have not got a disadvantage. This belief in myself has also helped improve my sailing ability greatly and helped with goal setting and reviewing my performance in training and competitions. My decision making has become better with more practice; I like the fact my decisions affect how my boat goes and I have the power to change the outcomes. I've also improved my starting technique and understand the importance of a good start. I can now foresee difficult situations and can take appropriate action to mitigate any impact to my race.

How has being part of the Zone Squad and the Midland Optimist Training group helped you in this?

By building new friendships where we motivate each other to improve. We are all at a similar competitive standard and like to work together to practice the training strategies. We have had brilliant coaching.

Do you have a standout moment where you really appreciated how the new boat was helping?

In my old boat, at last year's Zone Championships I was really struggling in the windy conditions as the boat was nose diving. The new boat set up is better and I don't do this as much. At a recent Open meeting at Staunton Harold I was planing along beautifully and wasn't scared I would nose dive anymore.

What are your hopes for the remainder of the time you own the boat?

In the next year I want to get consistently better, do another year of Zone Squads, or even a higher squad if I continue to improve, and get good Ranking results. I was encouraged with my Optimist Inlands results in April. I enjoyed the Grafham Easter Egg and even got a 4th in the last race, having been 2nd at the windward mark. At the Draycote Open I was really pleased to come 4th, only missing 3rd by two points in the last race.

Over to Katherine's mum, Vickie...

"Katherine really is improving greatly and we're impressed by her focus and determination to do well. On the way to the Draycote Open she talked to me about her plan and the goal she had set herself, which she went on to meet! The friendships she's made through the Midlands Oppies have been brilliant. The children are wonderful together and really encourage each other, whilst having a lot of fun. The other parents have been really supportive to us as a new family to the group and made us feel very welcome." 

Convinced now? What to do next...