THE BIG INTERVIEW: Emma sets sail for sporting future on the water

Emma Agar
Emma Agar
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Hannah Mills, Saskia Clark, Shirley Robertson, Sarah Webb, Sarah Ayton, Pippa Wilson - and Emma Agar?

All of them Olympic sailing champions, except for Emma (13) who has plenty of time to decide whether her seven years as a member of Welland Yacht Club could lead to something more historic later in life.

Sailing with Niall Holland

Sailing with Niall Holland

But for now, the Spalding High School Year 9 student has her heart set on doing even better than last year when she won both the Cadets’ and Brass Monkey Trophies, a handicap series judged over a whole season from April to December.

Emma said: “My dad, Andy, sailed when he was young and when we moved to Spalding, he found Welland Yacht Club and came down with my brother, Sean.

“When I was old enough, I first came down in 2009 because I wanted to sail and it was just a little bit of fun that I did.

“But when my brother won the Maclaren Crew Trophy (for the best crew member of the season) in 2012, it made me want to beat him.”

Overall, I had a really good year in 2016 but I think 2017 is going to be even better.

Emma Agar

In her first year at Welland, Emma joined her dad in an Enterprise two-man sailing dinghy and won the club’s under-12s’ trophy, although the number of junior sailors at the club then was scarce.

Andy said: “Youngsters could turn up and crew with adults, but that was about it.

“Then we started the junior section about five years ago and now youngsters can come down for two hours and, depending on their ability, we either teach them the basics or put them in an advanced group where they are taught how to race.

“After that, youngsters can take part in adult races although sailing is one of those sports that can be quite frustrating until you get some more tuition.

Brass Monkey Trophy

Brass Monkey Trophy

“Whereas youngsters who can pick it up really quickly realise that they can go far in the sport.”

Emma’s first racing season was in 2010 when she went from crewing with her dad to taking on an Optimist dinghy for beginners single-handedly.

She said: “Because I was small, it was like sailing in a bath tub and so I would come down to the club every weekend to learn how to crew it.

“Then the club had an open day and children who were playing football and netball before started to come down.

“When I started to race, I realised that I had to beat the juniors who had started coming down because everyone was watching me.

“Other sailors at the club didn’t see me as someone who would just do it for a couple of week because I’d progressed very quickly to be a single-handed sailor.”

In 2011, Emma signed up for an assistant instructor’s course run by the governing body of sailing, the Royal Yachting Association (RYA).

The course help the teenager learn basic sailing techniques and dinghy handling skills in preparation for racing against adult sailors in future years.

Emma said: “Dad definitely kept me going but everyone at Welland was so nice too when I did a few races and didn’t do anything major.

“I was still sailing an Optimist boat when, in 2012, the club had an under-tens’ trophy which me and my brother went for.

“But because it was just the two of us, Welland boosted it into an under-12s trophy which I won.

“Then I went from an Optimist boat to a Laser Pico for the first time and found that even though it was a bit bigger, it felt a lot lighter.

“In races, I’d keep up with everyone and made it look like I was more developed as a sailor because I could what everyone else was doing.

Emma’s first full club regatta came in 2013, the same year in which she won the A1 Transport Open Regatta junior prize and another under-12s’ trophy.

Andy said: “Emma’s sailing history is almost identical to mine in that I started sailing when I was seven and went through with it to my mid to late teens.

“But I did a lot of offshore sailing, as well as inshore, and I took the attitude towards the sport that I wanted to sail when I had children.

“My son was seven when he expressed an interest of getting in a boat and Emma was six.

“But it’s never been because I sail that I wanted my children to do it.

“They have to want to do it and when my son stopped sailing five or six years ago, that was his choice after finding an interest in football.”

Another sporting interest could eventually take Emma away from the water too, but only after a three-year in which she won two Cadet Regatta Cups, two A1 Cadet Regatta junior trophies, the Talents Trophy for most promising young sailor and qualified as an RYA assistant instructor.

Andy Prior, sailing secretary at Welland Yacht Club, said: “Emma went from Optimist and Laser Pico to Topper which she hated at first because it was harder for her to crew.

“But with her RYA grading, we were able to buy three new Toppers for the club which allowed her to get a sailing handicap and be more competitive.

“All of a sudden, Emma wasn’t coming last any more and she was moving up in handicap terms.”

Emma’s days as an Optimist sailor were finally over in 2014 when she progressed to a Laser Pico and ended the year as the most promising young sailor at the club.

“There was one race, for the Rob Creek Trophy, where everyone thought I’d just do a lap and then finish the race.

“But when I finished two laps, everyone knew I was alright.

“In 2014, a flood of juniors started coming down to Welland and I had more competition.

“However, I got better at sailing as I was motivated to beat them and it was then that I thought ‘if I can beat the juniors, why can’t I beat the adults?’”

Results in 2014 gave Emma what was then her proudest moment when she lifted the Talents Trophy and after converting to a topper vessel, more success came her way in 2015.

She said: “I won the Cadet Regatta Cup again and qualified as an RYA assistant instructor which made me understand the safest way I can teach youngsters.

“There’s a big belief around that sailing has to be expensive and that it’s for older people.

“But you can make the sport as costly or as cheap, as friendly or as competitive, as you want and I would say to anyone who enjoys sport to try sailing because you’re not going to know how much fun it is if you don’t try it out.”

Emma’s main challenge is balancing sailing with school work which, she admitted, there is lots of.

She said: “I have a few free nights so that I can focus on sailing on Sundays and I do my homework around it.

“I also do ballet which I started when I was two, along with football and netball at school.

“There’s pressure academically at Spalding High School, as well as to do sport.

“But I still want to do sailing as a hobby and get into some competitions.”

The desire to sail more was fuelled last year which started with Emma as the leading junior at the club.

She said: “I started the season pretty confidently and thought I was going to win some races, as well as beating the adults.

“At the same time, I was having so much fun with the other junior sailors as we did what we could to improve, when we had to do it.

“I was determined to do every single race I could and I was keeping up with the adults.

“At one regatta, I beat my dad and in another event, I won two out of the three races.”

The fruits of a successful season first started to show in May 2016 when Emma won two races in the personal handicap pursuit series.

A third place in the club’s fourth regatta of the season came next before Emma managed a clean sweep of three races to take the Cadet’s Trophy in September.

Andy Agar said: “Emma was in a race where you had to sail from one buoy to another, turn round the corner and then sail back.

“She sailed past the buoy but instead of turning back, Emma kept going until she saw a man walking a dog.

“Then she realised that her Tipper had gone too far, so she turned round, came back and still got in first.

“One weekend later, she saw the man and his dog again for which she got a ‘well done’ from him.”

In October, Emma came close to adding the Carl Bilbie Pursuit Trophy, an adult regatta where boats sail for an hour under a handicap system which is decided according to where each vessel is on the course.

Emma said: “It’s a cat and mouse game where you can look down the water and find out if you’re far enough ahead of the others.

“It’s different to the Carl Bilbie race where the first boat that crosses the line wins.

“Often it depends on the day because you could go out in strong winds or find that two or three older sailors who are quite close to me.”

The year ended for Emma with the Brass Monkey Trophy in which strong winds, multiple capsizes and retirements worked in the teenager’s favour.

“I remember that the day was so windy that one boat capsized and another one retired before the race had even started,” Emma said.

“People at school who read about it in the newspaper congratulated me.

“Overall, I had a really good year in 2016 but I think 2017 is going to be even better.”