Photos: Barry Pickthall / PPL

Rev Bob Shepton - YJA Apollo Yachtsman of the Year

As Mike Golding picks up a special award from the Yachting Journalists' Association

Friday January 10th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

A retired youth leader and former church curate with a passion for sailing icy Arctic waters has been voted British yachtsman of the year by Britain’s top sailing journalists.

The Rev Bob Shepton, a former Royal Marine, later a parish curate and subsequently full time youth leader in London’s East End, was awarded the YJA Apollo Yachtsman of the Year title at a ceremony in London today.

Severely disabled teenager Natasha Lambert who can neither walk nor speak, yet made a remarkable cross-Channel voyage alone last July, has been named the YJA Apollo Young Sailor of the Year.

Outstanding solo round the world sailor, Mike Golding received a YJA special award from the Yachting Journalists’ Association, recognising his achievement in international yacht racing and contribution to the sport.

Ben Jelf, a 13-year-old powerboat enthusiast, who has been exhibiting extraordinary skills in powered speed runs to earn him the accolade of becoming the youngest ever powerboat champion when just 11 years old, also received a YJA Special Award.

The recipients were presented with their accolades at an awards luncheon held at Trinity House, London by Bob Fisher, chairman of the Yachting Journalists' Association, which organises the awards.

The Rev Bob Shepton, now living in Argyl, Scotland, completed the unique feat of sailing his 33ft sloop through hostile Arctic conditions of the North West Passage in both directions in successive years, His latest voyage last July, when aged 78, west to east, was in particularly bleak conditions and was managed by only three boats this year. His was one of two by members of the Royal Cruising Club. The adventure youth leader who was chaplain to two London schools, cruises extensively in the Arctic on his Westerly Dodo's Delight and last year faced extremely harsh conditions with 30-40 percent more ice, and strong head winds. This led to no Spring at all in Alaska and rivers frozen later than at any time in 96 years. Yet, as well as completing the passage successively, he also found time to carry out underwater filming for a Scottish marine biology consultancy to analyse the Arctic seabed flora.

Rev Bob Shepton won the award in a close-run vote ahead of Jeanne Socrates a 70-year-old retired maths teacher from Ealing, West London, who last July, became the oldest woman to sail solo non-stop around the world, on her third attempt, and Mike Golding from Southampton, following completion last year of his sixth competitive circumnavigation.

Natasha Lambert, the 16-year old YJA Apollo Young Sailor of the Year from Cowes, controls her specially adapted boat, the Classe 6.50 Mini, Miss Isle Too, with a ‘sip and puff’ system designed by her father. The crossing from Boulogne to Dover took four and a half hours and raised funds for various charities for sailing for disabled people. Through sailing she says she is able to take an active part in the community and achieve her dreams.

Natasha faced competition from Kieran Martin, the 18-year-old windsurfer from Cheadle, who won the RS:X Boys ISAF Youth Worlds championship in Cyprus, last July and the RYA RS:X Boys Youth National championship, and Milo Gill Taylor, aged 13, from Ringwood, Hampshire. He won the 2013 GBR Optimist Trials, the 2013 UK Optimist Nationals and the 2013 Bermuda Optimist Gold Cup after becoming the youngest ever sailor to qualify for the Optimist Worlds team in 2011.

This year for the first time the awards are made with backing from business entrepreneur Nick Davis. He lives in the heart of sailing activity in Cowes. A keen sailor himself, he is anxious to recognise the nation's top sailors and encourage aspiring and successful youngsters in the world of sailing through his marine interests and his company Apollo Boats, also based in Cowes.

Guests at the luncheon included former winners of the awards as well as marine and sailing personalities and Britain’s top yachting journalists who were welcomed by Nick Davis, chief executive of Apollo, and Bob Fisher, YJA chairman.

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