Belfast Telegraph

A boat of her own... talented sailor Autumn Hallliday (12) is gifted a dinghy to pursue her dreams

Autumn Halliday from Killyleagh has been given a craft for two years
Autumn Halliday from Killyleagh has been given a craft for two years
Autumn Halliday from Killyleagh has been given a craft for two years
Autumn Halliday from Killyleagh has been given a craft for two years

By Christopher Leebody

A young Co Down girl has been handed her own sailing boat after impressing officials at the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) with her talent.

Autumn Halliday (12) from Killyleagh is a junior member of the Strangford Lough Yacht Club (SLYC) and has only been sailing for the past three years.

However, her skill at sea means she is the only sailor from Northern Ireland this year to be chosen, as part of the RYA's prestigious OnBoard programme, to receive her own Topper boat.

The partnership, alongside the John Merricks Sailing Trust, gives boats to young people with outstanding drive and talent and have the potential to achieve great things in sailing.

Over the last six years, 76 boats and boards have been donated to young people aged eight to 18.

Autumn confessed that she "felt like screaming" and thought mum Nicola (49) was joking when she heard the good news.

The Regent House Grammar pupil had no history or interest in sailing until some of her friends told her about it.

Now she can't imagine life without the waves.

"Some of my friends were already sailing," she said. "They seemed to like it and so I tried it and really loved it.

"There are so many things I love about it, you can't narrow it down.

"Being out on the windy and rainy days are the best. The adrenaline rush is great.

"Once you start you can't give up, it is addictive.

"If anybody has been wondering about taking up sailing, they should definitely go for it.

"You can be involved just for fun and there are so many types of sailing."

Aspiring to compete in more and more competitive events, Autumn's next goal is the 2021 World Topper Championships in Cork - with the Killyleagh girl not willing to set a limit on her ambition in the sport.

"My goal is to make a name for myself in the sailing world. Competing is the best thing. If you can win competitions, you can make a name for yourself," she added.

However, while she has lofty ambitions, Autumn and her mum know that she has a job balancing her studies with sailing.

"You really have to manage your time," she said.

Autumn and her older brother Cody (15) have recently been inducted into the RYA cup squad.

With her sailing career now becoming increasingly competitive, the award of the boat - given to the SLYC and gifted to Autumn for the next two years - was described by mum Nicola as "just amazing".

She said: "When she was sailing before, she had the use of the club owned dinghy, but if we wanted her to get involved in any racing, we had to hire one.

"It was a lot of hassle.

"Financially I just couldn't go out and afford to buy a new Topper.

"Whenever we found out that she had won it, she was just ecstatic.

"The freedom they (Autumn and her brother) get when they are out on the water... she describes it as like a fuzzy feeling inside.

"It is like enjoyment packed with adrenaline."

Responding to the award, RYA Northern Ireland's James Farrell said: "It is fantastic to see Autumn awarded her own boat. She is an enthusiastic and talented young sailor and a great ambassador for the sport.

"At RYANI we are looking forward to seeing Autumn develop her skills now that she has her own boat to practice in, we are confident she will achieve great things," he added.

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