Wednesday, 21st September 2016
One of the UK’s major sailing hubs is Lymington, a port town on the Solent near to where Chris Cecil-Wright lives. The Royal Lymington Yacht Club – the launch pad for Sir Ben Ainslie’s stellar career – is renowned for its sailing prowess, and Chris believes that two of the club’s young members, 15-year olds Vita Heathcote and Milly Boyle, have the potential to realise their own Olympic dreams.
‘Vita and her family are my neighbours and she and her buddy Milly sail a 420 dinghy together,’ explains Chris, ‘They go out in any weather; it was blowing 25 knots last night on the river and they were doing circuits, the only kids out there. I think they’re inspirational and that they might go all the way to gold at the Olympics.’
A 420 is a 2-crew dinghy of 4.2m, and is the youth training vessel for the larger 470, an Olympic class dinghy. The girls, who have been friends since they were 5 years old, both began sailing Optimist (Oppie) single-handed dinghies when they were 6. ‘I was 7 when I sailed my first regatta,’ explains Vita, ‘and it was scary when the wind picked up. Now I love the wind, because you can go so fast.’
The girls converted to sailing a 420 together in September 2015 – with Vita at the helm and Milly mastering the trapeze and trimming the jib – and promptly won their first event. They secured their place in the European and World Championships 2016 – competitions that will see them using a set of sails donated by Cecil Wright.
Vita and Milly have already gathered a clutch of trophies between them from competing in their Oppies. Vita has won both the junior and senior UK Optimist Champion titles and Youth Sailor of the Year 2015, and at age 12 Milly won the Eric Twiname Championship. In 2013, the girls – together with Milly’s twin sister Charlotte – were announced as the Winner Team of the UK and each had an Optimist boat personalized for them.
An advantage of competing at the top level is the opportunity for travel to exotic locations such as Martinique, Argentina, Italy, France and Spain. ‘Martinique was one of my favourites,’ says Milly, ‘it was always hot and we went for runs in the jungle. Also Lake Garda, where we had mountains towering over us as we sailed.’
SAILING IN SYNC
The girls train in their 420 every Thursday evening with Shelly, their coach, and also on the weekends if they’re not competing, ‘When we train we go round courses trying to improve on every lap,’ says Vita, ‘I focus on speed and staying on the wind, while Milly is looking at the gusts, thinking of upwind tactics and concentrating on keeping the spinnaker flying when we’re downwind.’
In the adrenaline-fuelled moments before a race begins, Vita and Milly think that their connection gives them added confidence, ‘If you get a good start you’re pretty much set for the race, so we’re really on edge at that point,’ explains Milly, ‘We say very few words to each other, but we know exactly how the other one feels. That’s why we’ve done so well already: we just get each other and we’re a great team.’
They also share a desire to compete at the highest level. ‘It would be amazing to be on a team for the America’s Cup and Milly and I would like to start an Olympic campaign in the 470,’ says Vita. Milly agrees: ‘I do dream about an Olympic campaign, but definitely with Vita. I don’t want to do it with anyone else.’