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Nick Craig is the 2011 YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year

Uber dinghy sailor scoops prestigeous annual prize and shares his thoughts

Tuesday January 10th 2012, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

Dinghy sailor Nick Craig has won the YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year for 2011.

The announcement was made at an awards ceremony held at Trinity House, London. Craig was nominated on the basis of an outstanding 2011 season, which included winning the OK Dinghy World Championship for the fourth time, the OK Dinghy National Title for the eighth time, the OK Dinghy Inland title for the sixth time, the RS400 National Championship for the fifth time, and the D1 Nationals at his first attempt. To cap off an outstanding year he won the Endeavour Trophy, the champion of champions event, for a record equalling fifth time. In his sailing career he has now won seven world titles and 22 national titles.

The other finalists for the YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year award were Ben Ainslie and Dee Caffari.

Despite having already won three Olympic Gold medals and a Silver, Ben is far from sitting back and basking in the glory of his past successes. In this pre Olympic year he has worked hard to achieve yet more spectacular results including winning the 2011 Weymouth Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta and the Weymouth and Portland International Regatta (Olympic test event). His outstanding performance has once again earned him a place within Team GB to compete at the 2012 London Olympics.

Dee Caffari is best known for being the only female sailor to have sailed around the world singlehanded non-stop both west- and eastabout. Last spring two handed Barcelona World Race Dee Caffari and her co skipper, Spaniard Anna Corbella finished in sixth place. On completion of this race Dee entered the record books as the only woman to have circumnavigated the globe, non stop, three times.

The trophy was presented to Nick Craig by Geoff Holt MBE, the 2010 YJA Pantaenius Yachtsman of the Year winner.

So how did Craig expect to do compared with the other nominees? “I had an inkling that I had a chance because it's a non-Olympic year and Ben and Dee have won it several times before, but I was kind of hoping I wouldn't as I didn't really fancy giving a speech in front of all those legends.”

Then when his name was read out? “I thought, oh no, I've got to give a speech! But of course I was also very delighted.”

“It was a great day out. Very well organised, super food and wine and nice to have a day out with my wife, which doesn't happen often these days. It was also great to meet so many household sailing names who were all very personable, even if my wife did ask 'Who's Russell?' after meeting Russell Coutts.”

In his speech Craig thanked Mark Jardine and Sue Pelling for nominating him and everyone else for voting for him and amateur sailors up and down the country. After also thanking his own sponsor Gill and Pantaenius for sponsoring the awards, Craig then thanked his crews for putting up with him “being a grumpy git in a boat, especially the amazingly talented Toby Lewis, Fiona Clark, James Stewart and Keith Bedborough” with whom he has won 95 per cent of his titles. He also thanked his wife Emma “for putting up with all my dull stories of which way up the beat I went and all the time she's looked after the kids while I've been out sailing.”

Now that it has sunk in, “It feels very bizarre as I think Ben and Dee's achievements are well beyond mine. But I guess it was also a vote for the amateur sailors who put so much energy into the sport with so many active sailing clubs in the UK, with such popular winter pursuits going on right now and more competitive classes in the UK than in any other country. Amateurs have very different constraints, getting up at 5.30 to get two hours in the gym before work, driving miles to get to a decent open, back late on Sunday and then back to work. So it was fantastic that amateur sailing got such great recognition.”

“Just about everyone said how fantastic it was to see an amateur win and see this huge part of the sport recognised - Rodney Pattison seemed especially pleased because he won all his medals as an amateur. Ben was also very gracious and said well done and took an interest in what sailing I was up to - it would be great to see him win gold again in August.”

Craig works hard and plays hard, preferring to keep the day job and his sailing separate, but does he think it is important that amateurs get recognised in the same way as the professionals? “I think the pros ultimately deserve more recognition as they are simply better at the sport. However, amateurs shouldn't be forgotten as 99 per cent of the sport is amateur and there are some very talented amateur sailors who just can't put as much time into our wonderful sport.”

Does winning something like this compare to winning a championship? “I am probably a strange creature because I'll always prefer the buzz of a last race in a championship when it's down to the wire. But I felt real satisfaction in seeing amateurs recognised and it was a buzz seeing my name on the trophy mixed in with all the absolute legends.”

What ambitions has he got left in sailing? “I'd like to keep sailing the classes I love well and, as always, am loving the challenge of getting into some new classes. I'm really enjoying getting into the Merlin and will hopefully be back in the Finn for the Masters and I'd love to get a D-One.”

Craig places big demands on himself and those around him to compete well and to win, but what drives him to keep doing it at this level every year? “I just love competing, trying to sail better each time I go out and trying my hand at new boats. I love the sport, especially on a big breeze and waves day; the socials are great as well and no other sport combines the physical and mental demands so well. So my desire hasn't dimmed after 30 years of sailing, but I guess my body will slow down eventually. But I love it, by Monday afternoon I'm itching for my next weekend sailing fix.”

YJA Pantaenius Young Sailor of the Year

The 2011 YJA Pantaenius Young Sailor of the Year was announced at a separate ceremony held on Saturday at the Tullett Prebon London International Boat Show. Annabel Vose and Megan Brickwood from Southampton were presented with the award by Skandia Team GBR’s Iain Percy OBE.

Annabel and Megan started 2011 by winning the Ladies World Title in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the 420 World Championships at just 16 years old and despite having a broken mast in one race. They won Silver and were 1st female crew at the Flanders Youth Regatta and won the Bronze medal at the 2011 Open 420 Junior European Championships.

Annabel and Megan were selected from amongst a strong field of nominees for this year’s Award, 13 of which were drawn from the RYA Regional Young Sailor of the Year winners who are voted for by RYA affiliated sailing clubs and who were presented with their awards by Peter Cook, President of the YJA. These young sailors have made a significant impact on youth sailing, ranging from Gold medal winning achievements and overcoming adversity, to the huge amount of hard work and effort they give back to their clubs.

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