A visit from HRH The Princess Royal, President of the RYA, was the highlight of the day as Queen Mary Sailability celebrated its 20th anniversary of sailing at Queen Mary Sailing Club on Thames Water's Queen Mary Reservoir, Ashford, on 29 June 2017.

On arrival Her Royal Highness was met by Michael More-Molyneux, Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, who presented Cllr Peter Martin, Surrey County Council Chairman,

Cllr Vivienne Leighton, Spelthorne Mayor, David West, Thames Water Site Manager, Sophie Jezierski, Queen Mary Sailing Club (QMSC) Commodore, Alan Woolford, QM Sailability Chairman and Joff McGill, RYA Sailability Manager.

Her Royal Highness next met children and teachers from Walton Leigh, Woodlands, Park and Manor Mead schools for children with learning difficulties, whose pupils sail at Queen Mary Sailability.

Richard Steele, QMSC Vice Commodore, invited Her Royal Highness to name Zingaroo, a new Drascombe Longboat, which has been modified so that wheelchair users can helm the boat, and introduced Spelthorne and Surrey councillors.

Julie Edwards from Sport England was on hand to explain how the new pontoons used by Sailability sailors to get afloat had been funded by a Sport England grant.

QM Sailability founder members Mike Browne, John Draper, Mike Cogswell and Bob Greig were introduced to Her Royal Highness, and Alan Woolford gave visitors a brief history on how it was formed 20 years ago: “Mike (Browne) came to the club and said he and some mates from Stoke Mandeville wanted to learn how to sail, and the club asked me to look into it…...”

Mike Browne represented Great Britain in the sailing at the Sydney 2000 Paralympics, and sailed the Atlantic and Mediterranean in a boat he created called Impossible Dream. He and others readily acknowledged Alan’s work in forming and running the organisation over the 20 years.

Her Royal Highness was introduced to another Paralympian, double Paralympic bronze medallist and five times SKUD World Champion Alexandra Rickham, who started sailing with the help of Queen Mary Sailability. Alexandra lives in Epsom and QMSC is her home club.

Alan Woolford says: “20 years on RYA Sailability continues to encourage and support people with disabilities to take up the sailing and boating. Many go on to enjoy sailing on a regular basis, and we hope the new boat will help more, like Alexandra and Mike, to make it to the absolute top level in our sport.”

Richard Percy, CEO of the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation, invited Her Royal Highness to present a Bart’s Bash certificate to Sailability member Janet Horsfield. In the 2016 Bart’s Bash, the World’s largest sailing event which raises funds for the Andrew Simpson foundation, Janet finished first Hansa dinghy, was second out of 63 disabled sailors worldwide and came 422nd out of 4,526 boats overall.

Further introductions followed enabling Sailability sailors, members of its after school club, the volunteer support team, RYA Sailability and sailing development staff, and QMSC members to meet and chat with Her Royal Highness.

Visitors were entertained by short talks from event organiser Andrew Craig, Alan Woolford, Mike Browne, after school club member Emma Hoffman-Becking and others, whilst out on the water Sailability members displayed their skills in Hansa dinghies.

Her Royal Highness concluded her visit by cutting QM Sailability’s 20th birthday cake and unveiling a plaque to commemorate the event, before Emma Hoffman-Becking presented her with a bouquet, and visitors retired to the club house to enjoy a wonderful buffet.

“Queen Mary Sailability should be very proud of their achievements over 20 years,” said RYA Sailability Manager Joff McGill. “A huge number of people have contributed their time, effort and skills to make it happen and the RYA are very grateful. I know they will continue to go from strength to strength and the new boat is going to be a fabulous addition to the fleet.”

Through RYA Sailability on average over 12,000 people with a disability get on the water each month, with approximately 1,500 becoming regular participants. Queen Mary and Thames Sailability have accreditation from RYA Sailability for boating with people with physical, sensory and learning disabilities.

Queen Mary Sailability's role is to encourage and support people with disabilities to take up the sport of sailing and facilitate their integration into the boating community. Based at Queen Mary Sailing Club and staffed by volunteers, the group meets every Thursday from April through October, with mornings for special schools and afternoons for individuals.. The group also meets on Saturday mornings integrated with able bodied sailors for Saturday Club. Racing and race training has become a regular activity in Hansa dinghies. For more information visit http://www.queenmary.org.uk/sailability.aspx

For more about RYA Sailability visit http://www.rya.org.uk/programmes/rya-sailability/Pages/hub.aspx

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