Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week may be one of the world’s oldest regattas, but tradition does not hold back a large number of entries from some of the UK’s best young sailors – Rupert Holmes looks at the regatta’s youth initiatives.
In 2014 these numbered more than 20 boats with their entire crews aged under 25, across a wide swath of both the dayboat classes in White Group and the bigger Black Group yachts. There were also further entries where the skipper was below 25, although other crew members may have been older.
Both title sponsor Aberdeen Asset Management and regatta organiser Cowes Week Limited are firmly behind supporting the youth element of the event and promoting it hard.
Cowes Week Limited sales and marketing director, Michelle Warner said:
“Quite simply, youth sailing is the future of the sport.
“We’re right behind it, as are the yacht clubs, the classes and our official charity, Cowes-based UKSA, which is one of the UK’s foremost providers of sailing experiences to young people.”
Richard Thornton, Chief Executive of UKSA, added:
“At UKSA we use the power of the sea to make a change. From our main site in Cowes we have a wide reach, with over 9,000 young people a year benefiting from what we do, whether that’s encouraging an eight-year-old to get onto the water for the first time, to training the captain of a 3000gt superyacht, and everything in between.
“We used the money raised during this year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week to give every Year 6 Island child a chance to try sailing with us, for free. We’re proud that we lead so many young people into sailing, help them develop their skills and ultimately become the world’s future yachtsmen and women.”
Collectively, Cowes Week, title sponsor Aberdeen Asset Management, UKSA and the clubs and classes involved with the event are doing everything they can to provide pathways for young people to progress from dinghy sailing, which is very well supported by the Royal Yachting Association, with local, regional and national coaching to a high standard. However, only a very small number of the sailors in these programmes will join the Olympic Squad, leaving other talented sailors to seek alternative pathways within the sport.
Of course, historically for many people Cowes Week has been about sailing with younger members of their family, but enabling young people to move to sailing independently in a boat of their own is an important next step. For the last 3 years Aberdeen Asset Management has supported youth sailing by introducing the Under 25 initiative and hotly contested Under 25 Trophy. By fully funding the entry fee and providing kit for an agreed number of crews, they helped to increase the numbers taking part by almost 10 per cent each year.
More recently, even local businesses have become involved in initiatives to support young sailors. For instance, this year East Cowes Marina offered the young crews taking part in Aberdeen’s Under 25 initiative a 50 per cent reduction in berthing costs during Cowes Week. Organisers are looking at other ways in which they can make the event more cost-effective for youth sailors who are at a time in their lives when funds aren’t so readily available.
Individual classes and local clubs are also doing much to promote sailing among new generations. The Etchells fleet, in which three of the 15 Cowes Week entries in 2014 were crewed by young sailors, goes further than many classes in this respect. Since 2012 they have made two fully funded boats available for youth teams each season. In addition, with support from the RYA, the class has worked with a total of 90 young sailors, including some of the UK’s most promising new talent, over the past three years. Much of this has been made possible by generous funding by the Class Admiral, Edward S Fort OBE.
David Frankes, captain of the Cowes Fleet said:
“What we offer tends to follow on from when young people leave home, often to become a student. At this stage their parents are less likely to be supporting them in dinghy racing, but at the same time they don’t have spare money of their own to spend on sailing.”
The scheme also brings benefits to the class that are not always obvious from the outside.
“We have also solved two common problems through populating many of the other boats in the fleet with young sailors as crew. Firstly young people who are hungry for success and want to take part in a full programme of racing are looking for boats to sail on. At the same time, owners who want to sail at a high level often find the friends they might invite to race are either not at that level, or are not sufficiently committed.
“What’s great with the youth sailors is that they are talented, are prepared to commit to a season’s programme, and will help to look after the boat as well. It solves all the crew problems that owners often have. As well as all being very good sailors, they are also people who, if they were your daughter or son, you would be really proud of them.”
While the class has a more extensive offering for youth sailors than many, the Etchells is by no means the only class to offer strong support for young sailors. There are many other classes and yacht clubs that have established pathways into keelboat and yacht racing for their younger members. The Squib class for instance, had eight sailors under 25 sailing in its 31-strong fleet in Cowes Week 2014. The Royal Victoria Yacht Club, home of the Isle of Wight’s Squib fleet for example, has club-owned boats that have been available to young sailors with crews selected to sail during Cowes Week.
Similarly the Royal Yacht Squadron and Royal Thames Yacht Club’s fleet of modified J/80s that are a regular sight in the Solent during the summer and Queen Mary SC during the winter, have been a valuable resource for younger members’ racing.
In Sussex the Shoreham Youth Team was started to encourage young teenagers to work as a team on a racing keelboat. Since 2008 it has operated as a rolling 18-month project, with the outgoing teams taking on the winter training for the next budding keelboat sailors. The aim is to compete successfully in Cowes Week, where the team’s boat is a regular podium finisher in both the Sonar Class and for the Under 25 trophy.
Increasingly sailing has to compete with other activities for people’s valuable and limited spare time. Enthusiastic and skilled young ambassadors for the sport is an important means to spread the word and foster greater participation among a new generation of sailors. Aberdeen Asset Management’s Under 25 initiative, together with the work of the UKSA and the yacht clubs and class associations, is therefore helping to provide the sailors of the future for both Cowes Week and other events.
Entries for the 2015 regatta, which will run between 8th–15th August, are now open via the event website.