Clare Chapple, 32, has been Guernsey’s Sailing Development Officer for the last four years and loves nothing more than introducing children and young people to the joys of being on the water.
‘I started sailing at the age of seven when my Dad taught me in one of the tiny Oppies on the Model Yacht Pond,’ said Clare.
She soon moved from the pond onto the sea and by the age of nine was regularly competing in local competitions.
‘I enjoyed the independence, of being able to do something by yourself, the problem solving.’
Clare took part in her first national competition at the age of 11 in Pwllheli in north-west Wales where she came 60th out of around 90 boats.
‘This was a great start to my national racing career as I hadn’t done any big fleet racing before,’ said Clare.
‘In Guernsey we are used to having around 15 boats on the start line. In Wales it was 90!’
By the age of 12 Clare had qualified for the National Junior Squad where she spent three years honing her skills, still in the small Optimist boats. She then moved up to the Laser 4.7 – the smallest rig of the laser class. Her best result was to place 5th best girl in the 2004 Youth World Championships in Lake Garda when she was 16.
‘That was an amazing experience; there were so many boats – 273 entries from 23 countries and the girls were competing against the boys on an even footing in the races,’ said Clare.
Due to the large number of entries, the format of the championships was to split the competitors into four groups each day for a qualifier series followed by a split into gold, silver, bronze and emerald for a final series with competitors allowed to drop their worst score from each series. Lowest points wins.
‘Lake Garda is a windy venue known for its steady afternoon breeze which made it a bit of a one-track course, where strength and fitness played a huge part.’ said Clare. ‘The tactics were really simple, get off the start line first and maintain your lane out to the right-hand side of the race course.’
Just before attending the World Championships, Clare was one of only two girls to qualify for the Laser Radial National Youth Squad which gave her access to a comprehensive winter training programme meaning Clare was travelling off-island virtually every weekend whilst still trying to study for her A Levels.
‘I was lucky that the headteacher at Ladies College was very supportive as were all the teachers and so I was able to swap biology groups to make sure I didn’t miss as many lessons.’
Clare’s highest sailing accolade was to be crowned 2006 Girls English National Youth Champion sailing the women's Olympic class Laser Radial boat.
Clare took a year out between A Levels and university to focus on her fitness and full-time sailing and in 2007 again qualified for the British Senior European Team – something she had achieved previously but had been unable to compete in because they clashed with her exams.
Clare is delighted to be giving something back to local sailing after such an illustrious national and international career.
‘I have benefitted so much from sailing; it has helped my independence, my mental toughness, resilience and confidence.
‘It doesn’t really matter what sport you choose to do in the future, I just want to give as many people as possible the chance to have a go and have the same opportunity to give sailing a try as I did’.
As Sport Development Officer for Sailing, Clare is involved at all levels of training and development.
‘We start from five years old on the Model Yacht Pond with the Oppies and very small sails. Generally, we focus on balance and gaining confidence.’
Schools have been taking part since the Guernsey Sailing Trust started more than 30 years ago and now every single school has had the opportunity to learn the rudiments of sailing.
The Sailing Trust works in partnership with the Guernsey Yacht Club to offer after school and beginner sessions, sharing equipment and expertise.
There are also plenty of opportunities to train as a sailing instructor. Sailing is also an inclusive sport.
The Trust’s Sailability programme enables people with disabilities to get involved in sailing thanks to some specially adapted boats and there are various opportunities, lessons and courses running throughout the summer for those interested in improving their skills, with bursaries available for those who show talent and interest but who may not be able to afford lessons. The Trust can’t wait to be back out on the water.
‘Our plans for this summer are to offer as close to normal as possible,’ said Clare.
‘We are looking at running some family staycation trips in the evenings as well as powerboat courses, social sails and trips around Jethou, Herm and Fermain Bay.
‘We are lucky to have a pretty big supply of young and enthusiastic qualified coaches thanks to our comprehensive training programme. It’s great to see sailors’ confidence increase as they pass their knowledge onto younger students and adults who are all keen to learn.’
If a glimpse across the water towards Herm isn’t enough to tempt you try the sport, then Clare has some further words to entice you.
‘It’s really fun, it’s a great way to see the environment and I like the sense of freedom and confidence it gives you. You are learning all the time. Sailing is a massive sport. Brains are equally as important as physical strength!’