Two young Waiheke sailors, Serena Woodall and Jemma Walden, have been accepted into the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron youth training programme for 2017.
The course, which has been run by RNZYS each year since 1987, provides intensive keel-boat sail training for youth and is a stepping stone to the Volvo Ocean Race, America’s Cup and Match Racing. Many New Zealand sailing representatives are graduates of the programme.
Serena and Jemma are members of the Waiheke Sea Scouts senior youth, Venturers section. They coach sea scouts and are members of the Waiheke High School sailing team.
Last summer the pair won the Auckland sunburst championships on handicap and the Auckland area sea scouts intermediate sunburst competition. They also formed part of the crew for the Northland Senior Cutter sailing champs and Jemma won the Auckland women’s youth laser championship cup.
Jemma and Serena say that the experiences they have with their friends sailing around Waiheke and nearby islands and to the city for competitions are invaluable. “We are used to sailing in some testy weather conditions and keeping our boats running,” says Jemma.
The recent fundraising visit by Olympic gold medalists Jo Alleh and Polly Powrie gave them the confidence to apply to the RNZYS. “We talked to them about the programme. Polly’s brother did it and she said we should too”, says Jemma.
The RNZYS youth squad sail seven-metre Elliot 7s, which have a crew of four or five sailors. The 11-month programme commences late April next year and will be held in Waitemata Harbour over successive weekends. Jemma, who will be a year 12 student in 2017, is not put off by the prospect of sailing in winter. “I don’t mind that”, she said.
The yacht squadron’s administrator Sara Tucker, herself a graduate of the youth programme, said they try to have at least one female sailor on each boat. In the 2016 group of 48 participants, five were young women. •

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