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Aon national youth programme: NZ sailing's springboard to success

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The Aon national youth programme is a key checkpoint on many young sailors' road to the Olympic Games - and an important tool in retaining athletes who may otherwise be lost to the sport.

That's according to Yachting New Zealand chief executive David Abercrombie, with the organisation celebrating the eighth year of its successful partnership with the country's leading insurance broker.

The Aon national youth programme is designed to help New Zealand's top young sailors make the often-challenging transition from youth to Olympic classes through a series of coaching clinics led by some of the most recognisable sailing names around.

"We are proud of our longstanding partnership with Aon and the work we've done together in shaping our future talent," Abercrombie said.

"Without them, we would not be able to provide the level of support to our sailors and coaches as we have. It has allowed us to build a comprehensive youth programme that has set several sailors on a path to future success with every member of the current NZL Sailing Team coming through the programme.

"Just as importantly, though, it has also been key to the retention of sailors by providing opportunities through our Aon Fast Track programme."


Murrays Bay Sailing Club hosted the first clinic of this year's Aon national youth programme in early March. Photo: Angela Jordan

The first clinic of the 2024 programme was held at Murrays Bay Sailing Club on Auckland's North Shore earlier this month, with eight coaches spending two days putting almost 50 young sailors through their paces.

These coaches include Olympians Jenny Armstrong and Andrew Murdoch, 2023 world championship bronze medallist George Gautrey, and former youth sailing aces Kate Stewart, Scott McKenzie and Markus Sommerville.

Armstrong won gold in the women's 470 at the 2000 Games in Sydney, while Murdoch finished fifth in the then men's Laser at the 2008 and 2012 Games.

They joined Gautrey in coaching the ILCA 6 intake at Murrays Bay, while Stewart - a two-time youth world champs medallist in the girls 29er - mentored sailors in the double-handed skiff class alongside seasoned Olympic coach Geoff Woolley and Somerville, one of Yachting New Zealand's 49er coaches.

The coaching group also included top Kiwi windfoiler Patrick Haybittle.

"A strength of our programme is the world-class coaches that we have regularly engaged at the clinics," Yachting New Zealand's youth and events manager Sam Mackay said.

"Having their collective experience of success provides an incredibly valuable opportunity for sailors to step up their sailing."


The programme features some of New Zealand's top sailing coaches. Photo: Angela Jordan

The programme covers topics like starting, boat handling techniques and boat speed with several sessions planned across the country over the coming months.

Key lessons from the team that attended the 2023 youth world championships in Brazil have also been shared at the first clinics as the programme ramps up ahead of the New Zealand youth trials in April and the 2024 youth worlds at Lake Garda, Italy in July.

"A focus for us in this year's programme is to ensure our sailors are exposed to conditions on either end of the scale - extremely light and very heavy - as this was one of the areas for improvement identified by the group that went to Brazil," said Armstrong, Yachting New Zealand's women's sailing manager and ILCA 6 programme manager.

"We'll also be spending a lot more time on the water while at the same time ensuring we're helping the sailors manage the balance between sailing, school and life."


Yachting New Zealand and Aon are into the eighth year of their partnership. Photo: Angela Jordan

To be eligible to attend the national programme, sailors must be committed to their sport, train regularly (a minimum of three days a week) and be capable of sailing in over 20 knots without tying a coach to a safety role.

Sailors should also aim to compete at their class nationals and the New Zealand youth championships.

For more information contact Mackay at or click here to find out more.