Why Junior Sailing? Our Stories…

Thinking of signing up for Friday evening Junior Training,
but not quite sure…?

Four former Juniors tell their stories

Emma Phillips is a former National Female Champion from the Poole Autumn Regatta. She won the RYA South West Young Sailor of the Year award and she was also selected for the Topper National Youth Squad. She joined SYC Juniors at the age of eight.

I started Junior sailing when I was 8 years old. I first went out in the Wayfarer with Sylvia and then the club Oppies on a piece of rope. It was a great way to start getting confident being in a boat. As soon as I was confident I got my first ever boat. I sailed it at Juniors for about 4 years with all my other friends who sailed Oppies. We learnt how to tack and gybe, how to sail up wind and downwind and - the exciting part - how to capsize!

Roadford Lake with all the Juniors is the biggest event on the Junior calendar. The weekend consists of lots of fun sailing, playing games, sailing over to the cafe for ice cream and camping! It’s always great fun even if it’s raining!

By the beginning of last year I had outgrown my Optimist and moved into a Topper; at this time I didn’t know how much Toppers had to offer. On Friday nights we learnt how to race and the basic skills and rules you need to use when racing. As well as Friday nights, Mark Elkington and Mike Baker ran “Begin to Race” on Saturdays which was a great stepping stone to introduce you to the first level of racing.

Last September I entered a regional Topper event and finished mid-fleet; there were 62 Toppers at this event. At the event I heard about the South West Zone Squad and decided to apply, not really knowing if I stood a chance. After doing the other qualifying events my application for the squad was accepted.

I then trained with the squad all winter at clubs all around the South West. I competed at events all over the country, in fleets of over 200 boats at some events and 370 boats at the National Championship in Scotland.
I have also made lots of new friends, and got some top results including National Female Champion at Poole Autumn regatta and won the RYA South West Young Sailor of the Year award. Now I am in the National Youth Squad, but if it wasn’t for Starcross Juniors I might not have had this fantastic sailing year.

The Topper is a brilliant boat for 8 to 16 year olds, the 4.2 rig is a good place to start, and the people who sail Toppers are great fun and really friendly.

So give Starcross Juniors a go. It's great fun, you will make some great friends and you never know where it might take you!

Emma Phillips


Olivia McKay went in three years from being a complete beginner to being selected for the South West Zone Topper Squad. At that time she wrote:

Three years ago, I was unable to sail, and I joined the Friday night sailors, firstly in the Oppies, then as a Pico/Feva crew, and in the last 2 Summer seasons as a Topper sailor.

The gentle introduction, and informal approach, meant that I felt comfortable to learn in a fun environment. With the help of my patient and supportive dad, I have subsequently been ferried around the country to take part in SouthWest Topper open meetings and am now moving forward to sailing at national events. Last Summer I was selected for the South West Topper Zone Squad, which was a great opportunity to develop my sailing skills and have more fun on the water. I would recommend the experience to anyone!

Thank you, Starcross, for helping me to achieve what I have so far, and watch this space….

Olivia McKay


Will McGrath and Sam Woolner came up through SYC Juniors and sailed together in the Hornet European Championships in 2006, taking 10th place. Both gave something back to the Junior Section by later becoming instructors. Each of them tells his story here:

Will: I started sailing at Starcross when I was six. My first experience was in the good old Club Wayfarer, where I first took the helm when it was my turn. I got hooked....

Shortly after, I got my own Oppie, 'Dolphin'. That was also the first boat i attempted to help dad paint. After that I moved into a Pico and started to race on my own. My real racing experience started in the Mirror circuit when I crewed for Olly Taylor. We got into the National squad and all, but I got bored, I wanted faster, so I got a Laser when I was 10 or 11 and joined in the Friday night racing groups. It improved my sailing so much. Inevitably, being me... by the age of 14 I started to get bored again and wanted a faster double handed boat. So I got Hornet 2108 and started to helm that with Sam crewing.

The Hornet was a huge step from a Laser Radial, and after just 10 months came the Hornet Europeans, in which Sam and I came 10th overall, with a fantastic week's racing. By the end of the week we were on form - in a force 6, we managed to pull a 6th out of the bag!

One significant thing for me with the Friday nights is just how keen it made me and how much fun I had. The social side is awesome as well. Over the years i progressed up the groups until finally in 2006 I decided to assist the others and become an instructor.

Friday nights taught me so much about sailing, and is an opportunity not to miss.

Will McGrath


Sam: I started sailing on the first Junior night, back when I was 5. My parents threw me out in a club Oppy, on a leash in a force 5. I think this is where my love of windy weather comes from. I got my first Oppy when I was 7; it was my first boat restoration (with a bit of help from my Dad). I went up the groups in my Oppy ending up in the top group back when it was full of Oppies instead of Lasers, doing Opens and the Nationals. I got some really good coaching and have fond memories of the top Oppy group coached by Roger Taylor, Crispin and my Dad. But, not being the smallest child around, I moved up into a Mirror, doing a bit of crewing for a few people including memorable windy open meetings with Olly Taylor. Finally I got my own Mirror, but it didn't feel fast enough as a helm and after a year I moved out and got my first Laser.

By this time I had been working at Spinnakers for a year, starting when I was 11. I worked my way up the Laser ladder meanwhile getting very valuable training at SYC on Friday nights, which considerably helped when it came to doing my youth certificates at Spinnakers. After doing the Laser thing, I decided that, now being an instructor and having felt I had got everything I could out of the Junior boats and nights, I sold my Laser and started to help coach the Lasers on Friday nights in 2003. In 2004 I bought my first Hornet, sailing it with Matt McGrath, and eventually ended up crewing for Will in 2005. With all our experience, knowledge and racing skills from the Junior nights, we were able to get 10th place at the Hornet Europeans in 2006. Now I'm at Uni on the dinghy team, I sail a 49er and I'm studying to be a senior instructor.

Without the Junior nights, I wouldn't be the sailor and coach I am today. I think that learning to sail, in such a brilliant atmosphere with your friends and great coaches, is really important and it's what gave me my head start in sailing. Thanks to the SYC Junior nights, sailing is a huge part of my life, I've made so many friends and had the chance to sail in too many classes to list. I've been to Europeans, Nationals and too many Open meetings to think about. It's all thanks to all the people who put in so much hard work to make sure SYC have future sailors and champions.

Sam Woolner

  • Sam is now Managing Director at Exe Sails and Covers in Topsham, and SYC is grateful for the firm's sponsorship of prizes at recent major events