Sisters of the sea sail towards stellar sporting careers

Hannah and Rebecca Stowe of Baston outside Bourne Grammar School.
Hannah and Rebecca Stowe of Baston outside Bourne Grammar School.

There is no shame in saying that sisters Hannah (15) and Rebecca Stowe (18) of Baston were born to sail.

The pair, who both attend Bourne Grammar School, were exposed to the waves at an early age by their dad Iain Stowe, a former international sailor himself.

Hannah Stowe in action.

Hannah Stowe in action.

Sailing is as normal to Hannah and Rebecca (or Bex as she is known to her friends at Rutland Sailing Club) as doing their school work inside a motorhome on the way to a major championship.

Such are the sacrifices and complexities of competitive life on the high seas, although Rebecca said: “Actually, we’ve not been members of the club for that long.

“I’ve been sailing ever since I was six and Hannah started when she was 11, so we’ve just grown up with racing.

“We talk about the sport with our friends and if they see something to do with sailing, the club and what we’ve done, they tell us about it.

Rebecca Stowe sails with race partner Lydia Richley.

Rebecca Stowe sails with race partner Lydia Richley.

“Sailing is a hard sport to follow because it’s not shown very frequently on TV but those of us in the sport are like a little family that meets up in the summer.”

Despite its low profile, sailors are among Britain’s greatest ever sportsmen and women, with four-time Olympic gold medallist and 2013 Americas Cup hero Sir Ben Ainslie, double gold medallist Shirley Robertson and record-breaking transatlantic sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur.

Hannah said: “It’s nice to go away and compete in another environment where it’s more fun and quite social.

“There’s a whole group of us and our families who go and we often stay at the same places.

“We went to the National Youth Championships in Weymouth at Easter and in the middle of the night, there were a lot of barbecues and games of table football.

“The events are really competitive but everyone stays really friendly at the same time.”

Hannah and Rebecca compete in the Topper sailing class where competitors as young as 14 could find themselves up against rivals four years older than them.

Competitions can last between two and five days, with intense training squads in between which combine physical exercise and real racing with theory and the academics of sailing.

Rebecca said: “A lot of people think we just sit and hold a rope, but there are a lot of factors that affect what happens.

“The ability to be confident and know what you’re doing is quite important, you have to monitor tides, clouds, the sail itself and the way it’s set up.

“If it’s a really windy day, the races are physically demanding and you have to find ways of getting lots of energy into your body.

“When you come to the end of a day’s sailing, your hands start cramping and you lose control but you have to keep going.

“It’s worth it though because even if you have a bad day or bad result, you still have your friends.”

Both Hannah and Rebecca have progressed sufficiently to be called up to national training squads and for Rebecca to be placed inside the top 50 in the World Junior Age Group Topper Championships in 2012.

Hannah said: “In one of my last boats, I was on the podium at the national championships, although sometimes it’s not even the results that matter.

“You may go to a world championships and come 50th out of 200 sailors, but you get to see people who do it better than you so you can improve yourself.”

Rebecca said: “My first really good memory of sailing was when I was eight or nine and went to my first national championships.

“I found it quite surreal when I thought about how long I was on the water and how hard it was all day.

“But at the same time, I really enjoyed it and now I don’t know what I’d do at the weekends without sailing.”

Speaking about Hannah and Rebecca, a Rutland Sailing Club spokesman said: “We are proud of their achievements which are a reward for both their commitment, dedication and hard work in training and excellent results in competitions over the seasons.

“The Royal Yachting Association squad system, supported by the class association, exists to feed the country’s most talented junior sailors into the Youth and Olympic programmes, with the ultimate aim of continued success at international and Olympic events.

“Selection for the squads is based on performance at regattas held each year, taking place over pre-determined weekends at sailing clubs the length and breadth of the country.

“These clubs stretch from Weymouth on the south coast, home to sailing for the 2012 Olympics, to Largs in west Scotland.

“All the events typically have three races a day each lasting about an hour, but by the time you take into account the time taken to sail out to the start line (sometimes a couple of miles out at sea) and the time needed both to reset the course between races and deal with the many false starts, the sailors can be out on the water for up to six hours, requiring both physical stamina and amazing concentration.”