Libby sails to national team selection

TEENAGE sailor Libby Watkins has been named in the national squad for the European Championships at Lake Garda, Italy.

TEENAGE sailor Libby Watkins has been named in the national squad for the European Championships at Lake Garda, Italy.

The 15-year-old Ipswich High School pupil was chosen for the England team for the third consecutive year with her friend and sailing partner, Abby Heathcote, who is also 15.

The girls will make up one of 14 pairings for the squad, and will also compete in the Fat Face grand prix circuit over the course of the year and the National Championships in May.

Watkins, who lives in West Mersea, said: “I would like to get into the top 10. All of a sudden over the summer everything has just clicked and it has been really good.

“We had been working really well and we just went out sailing one day and I think everything just fell together. We thought it was a fluke, but every time since we have been doing really well.”

Watkins and Heathcote sail 14ft Feva boats, which have three sails and a two-man crew. At Lake Garda, they will compete against 200 other pairings, aged 11 to 17, in their class.

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They will also be travelling the country for the grand prix, racing once a month on top of regular training sessions with professional coaches from the Royal Yachting Association.

Last year, they competed at the World Championships in Sweden and were the top girls pairing, coming sixth overall.

But this will be their last season in the Feva squad, and the girls are hoping to move to a 29er - a bigger, faster fibreglass boat - after the European Championships.

Watkins and her 11-year-old brother Jonny, who is part of the RS Tera race squad, have both been sailing since the age of eight.

And although Libby broke her arm in her first year, it has not put her off.

She said: “I was quite young and I think it was actually my parents who got me started because we had just moved to Mersea so they thought it would be quite good to get me sailing.

“When I was younger I actually hated sailing so much and it wasn't until I got a new Optimist boat over the winter when I was about 12 that all of a sudden I loved it.

“I am really competitive. It is mostly sailing but I think I am quite a competitive person generally. But it's all good fun.”

Despite being a regular fixture in the national team, Watkins is remaining realistic about any chance of reaching the 2012 Olympics, not least because she would have to change class.

“I am sure it would be really amazing to go to the Olympics and participate in them but I am sure there are a lot better people,” said Watkins. “But it would be so amazing and if I could get up there it would be a lifetime dream.”

Her father, Ru Watkins, said: “It all started in Dabchicks, it's the home club for both of them. They enjoy it and they are committed to it, they are the ones that ask to go out all the time.

“Libby enjoys it because sailing with a friend is a lot more fun. They have worked hard for it and it's a good effort.

“All of us are really proud of them, they have plugged away at it and they are doing very well.”

Libby is also part of the new Elite Sportswoman programme at Ipswich High School, where she is a GCSE student.

The programme aims to help national-level athletes at the school fulfil training commitments while keeping up with their schoolwork, and puts them in touch with a sporting mentor as well as attempting to secure sponsorship for them.