I was 300 miles from home in the central Solent with a team of people I had never met before, preparing for a forecast gusting plus 30 knots. Despite having eight years of dinghy sailing experience behind me I knew that by stepping onboard a racing yacht for the first time I was embarking on a new and exciting challenge.
At the beginning of March 2017 the search began for a recipient of a new sailing scholarship. The initial aim of this search was to find someone to compete in a Rolex Fastnet race campaign. Chronyko delivers training through immersive events and the decision to offer this scholarship was a way of demonstrating our commitment to developing skills. By providing the recipient with training both on and off the water, this was to be a way of telling chronyko’s story through their experiences.
As a result of chronyko only having been incorporated a few short weeks before the scholarship was launched, the race was immediately on. With the start of the planned Fastnet race campaign fast approaching there was a real urgency to find a suitable candidate. However, with little online or social media presence it was going to need a lot of support from other people and organisations to get the word out quickly.
The pressure was therefore on right from the start of the campaign and the stakes were high. Sponsoring a race campaign on this scale is a sizable investment for a startup company. This risk is offset by the potential rewards for success; however, without the right candidate the scholarship programme attached to the race campaign would be dead before it even started. What was needed were people who could reach out to potential candidates.
With the generous support of Olympians, Paralympians, charitable organizations and sailing publications it was possible to reach a huge number of people in a short time. In doing this the sailing community should look proudly on itself, exhibiting a willingness to share this opportunity with as many people as it could reach. So the message was now out there, and it was time to wait for the applications to begin arriving.
The applicants were asked to tell their own story, of their sailing, of their work to help and support others and of their experiences with science and technology. Slowly to begin with, but then more steadily, the applications were received. The stories that were told within them were both inspiring and humbling in equal measure.
There were stories of childhoods spent sailing on cool blue Scandinavian waters, of island hopping adventures off the west coast of Canada and days battling wind and tide in the Solent. There were achievements in robotics, the joys of teaching science to children and of volunteering time to enable people who had never sailed before to get out on the water. There were stories of big dreams, big ambitions and of those for who sailing was simply about facing their own fears. The diversity of the applicants was vast, these were people of all ages, from all parts of the world and from a broad cross-section of the sailing community.
As the closing date for the applications passed the task at hand now changed to that of selecting a final four. These candidates would join us for a sailing day on Fortissimo, the Class 40 operated by Dream or Two Sailing, on which the race campaign would be completed. But how was it possible to select only four people from all the applications that had been received? The only fair way to do this was to assess each application against all of the criteria that had been set-out at the start. Despite all of this it was still a tough exercise to go through and great applicants would end up missing out.
The scholarship recipient would need to be an ambassador for chronyko, and as the campaign unfolded they would need to have the capacity to learn and grow both as a sailor and as a person. They would also need to be able to inspire others with their story and have enough sailing experience to be able to take on the challenge of a Fastnet campaign. Given chronyko’s vision as a business it was also preferable for the participant to have a background or proven success in a STEM subject.
The decision making was done by breaking down the applications and also conducting background research on each applicant. Only when the applicants had become more than just words on the page was it then possible to select the final four. So it was now time to let Alyson, Joan, Amy and Cat know that they had been shortlisted. It was also time for the difficult task of letting the other applicants know that they had been unsuccessful. Once again it was difficult to be prepared for the incredible messages of support that were received in response to this. Even those who had not been successful passed on their thanks and shared more stories of how they’d been inspired and how their ambitions and passions had been re-invigorated by the process.
But with the crew now selected the countdown to the sailing day could begin. As with any important sailing day the forecasts seemed to be changing right up until the morning. Even when the forecast looked settled the wind was threatening to drop off in the early afternoon and not enable our sailors to have a real taste of what Class 40 sailing can offer.
Every one of the candidates joining the sailing day had a different background, skills and talents that they could offer the scholarship programme. It was always the intention that the sailing day wasn’t a competition. Rather it was a chance to enjoy a day’s sailing and to learn more about each of the sailors’ backgrounds and stories. The day was made even more special by the fact that everyone took this approach to heart.
It was only now that the fear and uncertainty that had accompanied the launch of the scholarship began to fade into the distance as the realisation cam that there were four fabulous and inspiring sailors onboard Fortissimo. All could be worthy recipients of the scholarship.
After a safety brief and with blue skies above Portsmouth, Fortissimo glided out onto the Solent in a perfect spring breeze. The plan was to complete some sailing drills and show off the capabilities of the boat to each of the sailors. It didn’t take long for the crew to rise to the challenge of sailing a thoroughbred racing boat.
Even with just a few short hours of race training behind them, these sailors were showing the signs of being a great race crew. It was now assured that the scholarship was going to be awarded to a talented sailor with a great story to tell. But that also came with a price, the realisation that selecting a recipient was going to be an even harder decision to make. In the spring sunshine and a perfect breeze the day flew by and soon Fortissimo was tied up again in her home at Royal Clarence Marina.
The final step in the selection process had now been reached, which was to be one-to-one discussions with each candidate over a much needed cold drink. Each chat revealed more depth to the applicant’s background, only serving to increase the difficulty of the decision. When these one-to-ones were complete and the last of our crew had departed on their homeward journey a decision could be made. With four talented and passionate candidates to choose between this would turn out to be the hardest part of the entire process.
But a decision needed to be made and finally it was. The inaugural chronyko scholarship would be awarded to Cat. All that now remained were some difficult phone calls to the other unsuccessful candidates, followed by one exciting call to the well deserved recipient.
As a result of her scholarship Cat will have the opportunity to continue on her journey towards realising her ambition of becoming a professional offshore sailor. As a result of conversations that have taken place since its launch, the scholarship has also now evolved into a sailing pathway, proudly supported by chronyko, that will extend far beyond the end of the Fastnet race. On this journey Cat will have the opportunity to learn about topics as diverse as high performance sailing, meteorology, psychology, digital marketing, navigation, safety and many many more.
So this story is now one for Cat to tell you as over the coming months she embarks on her campaign to conquer one of the most infamous races on the planet. The great thing about this journey is that you can be there every step of the way with her. So after an inspiring selection process we’re now ready to close this chapter of our story and begin the next.
But how does Cat’s story begin? Well, you know that already. The words you read at the start of this chapter were hers.