Vanessa Hutchison (11) from Uckfield in Sussex is one of just four finalists from across the UK in the Panerai Challenger Trophy.

The Trophy is an initiative from Italian luxury watchmaker Panerai and the RYA to recognise an outstanding young person between the ages of 8 – 18 years who has embraced the power of sailing or windsurfing to achieve a personal triumph to inspire us all. The finalists have all overcome physical, economic or social challenges to achieve a significant milestone within sailing or windsurfing.

The four young finalists, along with their families, will experience sailing on the River Thames on board Panerai’s classic yacht, ‘Eilean’, before the trophy presentation on 22 June. The winner will receive a grant of £5,000 to continue their development in sailing, windsurfing or more broadly within the marine industry. Their sailing club or training centre will also receive a grant of up to £10,000 to purchase new equipment that further supports junior sailors or windsurfers. The three runners up will receive £2,500 each and their clubs £5,000 each.

Vanessa, a member of Crawley Mariners Yacht Club (CMYC), Felbridge, West Sussex, 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 been active in helping raise funds for her sailing club by baking cakes and selling them at her club.

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 will be the highlight of her trip to London.”

Diana Thompson of CMYC added: “We are thrilled to hear that Vanessa is 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.”

Now in its second year or the award, Panerai has commissioned the acclaimed Simon Hasan to design and produce the trophy, which has, once again, been inspired by the craft of classic boat building and Panerai’s Eilean, built in the famous Scottish boatyard Fife in 1936. Given his innovative use of materials, embracing both ancient craft and industrial processes, he was a natural fit to the task.

Over three years, Panerai has committed to donate £120,000 towards the initiative to demonstrate the sport’s accessibility and 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.

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: “We are very pleased to receive so many fantastic applications in the second year of the partnership. Each story speaks of perseverance and hardship, but also of hope and happiness. It was extremely challenging to select the finalist but we now have four amazing stories which will inspire more young people to harness the positive benefits that watersports can bring to a young person’s life and 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.”

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