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29th May, 2022

Sailing prodigies rub shoulders with Olympic gold medallists at awards evening

TWO SAILING prodigies from Rugby who have been making waves at Draycote Water Sailing Club had the chance to rub shoulders with Olympic gold medallists from the sport at a gala black tie dinner, after being shortlisted for a prestigious Young Sailor of the Year Award.

Millie Irish, 17, of Southam College, and Jess Powell, 11, of Rugby High School, were nominated for the title as part of the annual awards of the Yachting Journalists’ Association.

They were invited to a special ceremony in Southampton, where other guests and nominees included the British Sailing Team and representatives of round-the-world racing sailor Pip Hare, who won Yachtsman of the Year.

The girls, both from Rugby, were shortlisted for the award after winning the double-handed RS Feva class national championship earlier this year at Hayling Island Sailing Club on the south coast, where they beat 84 other boats – 168 competitors – including a double Olympic medallist.

Although they were beaten to the award by Katie McCabe – who, at the age of 14 and sailing a wooden yacht she restored, recently became the youngest person ever to complete a solo circumnavigation of the UK – the pair made the most of their evening among their heroes.

Draycote Water Sailing Club Commodore Jeremy Atkins, who attended the evening, said: “This was tough competition and Katie won the award, but that wasn’t going to stop Millie and Jess having a great evening. They really entered into the spirit of the occasion, introducing themselves to their fellow nominees and chatting to a number of sailors present from the Tokyo Olympics, including three gold medallists.

“While we would all have loved Millie and Jess to win, to be nominated was a real honour. And to see the way they made the most of the evening made us really proud and demonstrated the independence and confidence that sailing teaches young people.”

The evening was a full circle for Jess who, in 2016 at the age of six, met Hannah Mills after she had just won a sailing gold medal at the Rio Olympics to add to a silver from London 2012. Inspired, Jess told her parents, “I would like to sail!”

Hannah Mills went on to win another gold at Tokyo to become the most successful female Olympic sailor of all time, and was shortlisted for the Yachtsman of the Year Award. Although Hannah was not present on the evening because she was competing in France, her crew and fellow gold medallist Eilidh McIntyre was at the dinner.

Jess said: “It was an honour to be nominated. To be invited to the awards dinner and to see some of the GB Olympic Team sailors and their medals was an inspirational opportunity and very exciting. It was also great to have Jeremy there as club commodore and a huge supporter.”

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