Meet Sussex’s sailing superheroes

With two Olympic gold medals and an OBE already to her name Chichester-based Sarah Ayton has now been awarded one of the highest honours a sailor can achieve – the International Sailing Federation Rolex World Sailor of the Year award for 2015.

Saturday, 21st November 2015, 7:00 am
Sarah Ayton with two of her medals

Picking up the prestigious award at a ceremony in Sanya, China, in recognition of her outstanding performance as the only female sailor on the Extreme Sailing Series, Ayton was nominated alongside some of the sport’s most influential female sailors including British Volvo Ocean Race skipper Sam Davies, undefeated kiteboarding champion Elena Kalinina from Russia, Danish World Match Racing Tour champion Lotte Meldgaard and French RS:X Windsurfing champion Charline Picon.

Ayton said: “I’m overwhelmed, it is such a huge honour to even be nominated for an award that so many inspirational women have won or been nominated for in the past. My heart was racing and when my name was called as the winner - I was more nervous than before the final race at the Olympic Games.”

As the only woman currently competing in the series Ayton plays a key part in Leigh McMillan’s championship-leading crew on The Wave, Muscat. On board Ayton is involved in both sail-handling and manoeuvres but also, most crucially, in calling tactics that have helped The Wave, Muscat to five regatta victories this season out of a possible seven.

“On the water my role in the Extreme Sailing Series is just like any other sailor - you get stuck into racing and being a woman doesn’t come into it, I’m the tactician,” explained Ayton. “But it’s off the water is when it really hits home what a unique position I’m in.

“A lot of female guests come up to me, almost with a tear in their eye, and I guess they are inspired watching me out there on the water. I fell really privileged to be in that position, to be able to inspire anyone in the world of sailing or elsewhere.”

Andy Tourell, the Extreme Sailing Series event director, said: “I am delighted for Sarah who has made a huge impact on the series not only as a world class talent but also an ambassador for the sport, blazing trails for female sailors and inspiring the next generation around the world.”

After complimenting her fellow nominees, Ayton thanked her parents, sponsors and supporters in her speech.

Meanwhile, a sailor will receive one of the Royal Yachting Association’s most prestigious awards from HRH the Princess Royal, President of the RYA, later this month in celebration of her huge contribution to the sport.

Dell Quay Sailing Club’s Sarah Eggleton, 50, from Fishbourne, will be honoured with an RYA Outstanding Contribution Award by sailing’s national governing body, which recognises individuals who have made a significant volunteer contribution to their club or organisation.

Over 20 years as a Dell Quay SC member, Eggleton has made a significant contribution to club life, not least to getting more local youngsters sailing. Since taking over as junior co-ordinator in 2005, she has ensured Dell Quay provides a quality service during all training courses and encourages many of the juniors she has coached to go on to pursue their own dinghy instructor qualifications.

In addition to getting more than 70 juniors on to the water each year, she ensures junior week runs smoothly, from organising safety boat cover to feeding hundreds of people and making sure the kids enjoy their sailing.

She has helped expand the club’s junior training and event activities including the club achieving RYA Champion Club status, recognised for feeding talented youngsters on to the RYA’s World Class junior and youth pathways.

Thanks to the mum-of-three efforts over the past decade, many of those she has taught and inspired have gone on to pursue careers in the marine industry and carry life skills she has imparted to them into their adult lives.

Eggleton said: “I am humbled, thrilled and feel very privileged to receive this award. Sailing has given me a spirit of adventure and as well as the chance to meet great people. To see young children gain confidence and to see happy faces coming off the water, is so pleasing, as is now working with young Dinghy Instructors who we have taught from the age of eight at Dell Quay.

“Sailing is such a great sport to get involved in as it allows you to be close to the elements and to test your mental and physical skills. I have worked with a great team at Dell Quay, especially Sue Nash, my fellow senior instructor. Together we have have overcome shared challenges and had great fun.

“Dell Quay is a great club and the people there have supported me and become good friends. My children have all enjoyed learning to sail at the club and making new friends. Junior Week has been a great part of their childhood and I have loved being able to share it with them as Senior Instructor.”

Eggleton was nominated by her club and selected as a winner by the RYA awards panel. She will enjoy a celebratory lunch in the presence of The Princess Royal, and be presented with a commemorative medallion and certificate.

Duncan Truswell, RYA Sport development manager, added: “The RYA Volunteer Awards are all about celebrating the commitment of the countless volunteers who do fantastic work to support boating in all its forms. These people are the lifeblood of our sport; they keep our sailing clubs, events and our organisations thriving and make it possible for others to get out on the water.”

For more information about the RYA Volunteer Awards visit

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