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Inner-city teacher beats Olympians as 'sailor of the decade'

By Judith Burns
Education reporter

Published

An inner-city teacher who led a team of teenagers to compete in one of sailing's toughest races has beaten Olympic stars to the title of International Sailor of the Decade.

Jon Holt started the sailing programme at Greig City Academy, London, in 2014, with an old yacht bought on eBay.

The school is the only comprehensive to have competed in the Fastnet race.

Olympians Sir Ben Ainslie and Andrew "Bart" Simpson were also shortlisted for the award.

Mr Holt also saw off sailing heroes Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Dee Caffari, both known for historic voyages around the globe non-stop and single-handed.

The accolade, from the Yachting Journalists Association together with insurers MS Amlin, recognises sailors who have had the greatest positive impact on the sport.

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The award was decided by a vote of sailing journalists.

Mr Holt described it as "extraordinary - because I saw the list of who was on there and I think that we all do different things within sailing but they have achieved so much".

"It's quite a shock actually," he said.

"They are my idols within sailing.

"I have grown up watching documentaries about what they do."

From a single yacht, which took a whole summer to make seaworthy, the academy now has a fully fledged sailing programme, after school, at weekends and in the holidays.

Determined fundraising produced substantial sponsorship and the school was able to buy and renovate Scaramouche, a 45ft (13.7m) Admiral's Cup yacht built in 1981.

image copyrightJon Holt Greig City Academy
image captionScaramouche's crew operated day and night in four-hour shifts during Fastnet

And it was on Scaramouche that a team of teenagers from north London really made headlines, making Greig City Academy the first comprehensive school ever to enter the gruelling Fastnet race, coming 144th out of 362 starters in 2017.

They took part again in 2019.

"We are showing people what can be done," Mr Holt said.

"We're showing that you can get into the sport and join the existing structures which are there, if you just dare to try - and that is what we have done."

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