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HRH The Princess Royal presents the RYA Yachtmaster of the Year 2017

by Loretta Spridgeon / RYA 10 Jan 13:54 GMT 10 January 2018
HRH The Princess Royal presents the RYA Yachtmaster of the Year 2017 © RYA

Four time Paralympian Hannah Stodel has been awarded the RYA Yachtmaster™ of the Year 2017 for her first class sailing skills and empathy for others when passing her RYA Yachtmaster™ certificate of competence examination.

Hannah, from Colchester, was presented with the award today (10 January 2018) by HRH The Princess Royal at the 64th London Boat Show at ExCeL, London.

She undertook her training for the Yachtmaster Offshore for Sail exam with Girls For Sail at Shepards Wharf in Cowes. Hannah's examiner, Philippe Falle, described her as "a natural", crediting her as "the best Yachtmaster candidate I've ever had; and an absolute inspiration."

The winner of the prestigious Yachtmaster™ of the Year annual award must possess outstanding skills and knowledge as a skipper and will have successfully demonstrated their expertise and experience during their exam.

Hannah (32) was born missing her right forearm. Growing up on the East coast of the UK, she learned to sail as a way of coping with the bullying around her disability and it provided her with a sense of freedom and a 'can do' attitude.

She learned how to race from her parents, both fierce competitors: her mother narrowly missed out on selection to the 1988 Olympic Games in Korea while her father was a strong player on the Hornet and 505 circuits. As a 13 year-old Hannah sailed with, and was inspired by, Dame Ellen MacArthur.

With a sports scholarship to the Royal Hospital School in Ipswich, Hannah took on the 29er, Laser 3000 and Laser 4.7 racing circuits. She went on to represent Great Britain at Youth and Junior levels in World and European Championships in the Mirror and 29er Classes for the able-bodied.

In 2002, coached by Andy Cassell, Hannah began sailing a Sonar and went on to compete in multiple World Championships and four Paralympic Games.

Hannah's current target is to become the first disabled athlete to take on one of the toughest challenges in the sport – the 2020 Vendée Globe, an unassisted and non-stop circumnavigation of the world.

In order to prepare for the challenge, Hannah recently took some preparatory training for her RYA Yachtmaster Offshore exam. Although an experienced Sonar sailor, Hannah had to acquire and utilise new skills in order to successfully complete the course, and to succeed in the exam where the range of skills required as the master of a larger vessel are somewhat different from those of a successful single or double handed dinghy or keel boat racer.

From the report submitted by her Examiner, it is clear that she did this to a remarkable degree. Not only did Hannah exhibit 'impeccable' sailing skills, she was completely confident on the boat and showed great empathy for the others on the course, supporting and encouraging them throughout.

Speaking after the presentation on the RYA Stand (WB034), Hannah said: "I'm still a bit shocked that I won the award. It's just incredible – and I burst into tears at the train station when I took the call to say that I had won. It's amazing and a true honour."

Richard Falk, RYA Director of Training and Qualifications, said: "It is evident from the examiner's report that Hannah has immensely refined sailing and communication skills and is an extremely worthy recipient of this prestigious award.

"To be the best candidate of the year amongst more than 3,500 people who undertake the certificate of competence exam each year is an outstanding achievement – and one that Hannah should rightly feel proud of."

Nominations for the highly-respected award are put forward by the RYA's worldwide team of RYA Yachtmaster Examiners. In recognition of her achievement, Hannah received the RYA Yachtmaster Trophy – donated by the Royal Institute of Navigation.

To find out how you can learn to sail, visit www.rya.org.uk/coursestraining or come along to the RYA Stand WB034 at the #LondonBoatShow to find out more.

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