CHRISTCHURCH youngster Sam de la Feuillade embarks on the next stage of his Olympic dream this weekend by taking part in his first national event.
After just 18 months in the sport, the 11-year-old member of Christchurch, Royal Lymington and Salterns sailing clubs takes to the water at the Volvo Gill Optimist Inland Championships at Graffham tomorrow and on Sunday.
Sam’s trip to Cambridgeshire for the two-day event will provide the perfect warm-up for the main national event of the season at Weymouth and Portland in July.
A relative latecomer to sailing at the age of nine, Sam’s swift progress on the waves blossomed in 2013 with victories in the Burghfield and Spinnaker Optimist Open (Regatta fleet) and the Spinnaker Sailing Club Winter Optimist Series.
Training twice a week with Royal Lymington’s Optimist squad, as well as sessions at Christchurch Sailing Club, the Priory School pupil’s achievements were recognised with a Dorset Sports Achievement Award for his sailing last year.
Dad Paul de la Feuillade, himself a keen sailor, revealed his son had quickly developed lofty ambitions without too much influence from his family.
“My wife and I have always sailed together but we definitely didn’t want to push Sam towards sailing,” said de la Feuillade senior.
“We made a conscious decision not to drag him along just because it was the obvious thing to do. We didn’t want it to be a chore for him but, about a year-and-a-half ago, he started badgering us to go sailing.
“That meant he came in relatively late but he quickly found an aptitude for it.
“He is a good sailor and enjoys doing well at the events.
“There is a cross-over between the regattas for beginners and the main fleet and Sam is just at that transition now.”
Asked whether young Sam had dared to dream of following in the footsteps of Olympian Sir Ben Ainslie, his father added: “He is quite methodical and looks at taking it one step at a time, but he’s determined to do well and we’re committed to helping him get as far as he can.
“His first objective is to get into the Royal Yachting Association’s Zone Squad by the end of the season and with how he is progressing, we think he stands a reasonable chance.”