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Walmer sailor Catherine Westbrook named in GB team for 2017 World Blind Sailing Championships in America

By Alex Hoad

Walmer sailor Catherine Westbrook could not hide her excitement after being named in the Great Britain team for the World Blind Sailing Championships in America next month.

Westbrook has only been sailing for three years, joining Downs Sailing Club and later sailing with members of Royal Cinque Ports Yacht Club, despite having been completely blind since the age of two, when she had her eyes removed to save her life after an aggressive bout of cancer.

The 25-year-old teaching assistant at St Mary’s Primary School has more than held her own sailing against fully-sighted male crews ever since.

Catherine Westbrook in action.

Catherine Westbrook in action.

Last year, she and Downs member Eric Styles – who took her out on the water for the first time in 2014 – finished ninth in the National Hornet Championships for small dinghies.

She will now join the GB squad to fly to the US on September 9 ahead of the competition for the Squadron Cup on Lake Michigan after a three-day training camp at Cowes later this month, just before her 26th birthday.

Westbrook said: “Last October I saw a website which said the selection process for the GB Blind Sailing Team was beginning that month. I got in touch and I only started blind sailing in January.”

Lucy Hodges, Commodore of Blind Sailing, said: “This Worlds will see Catherine take part.

“She has been a great find, she is out racing every week in able-bodied fleets and to others no one would know she is totally blind.”

Westbrook said: “It’s nice when you hear nice things like that being said about you but I guess it means the pressure is on now.

“At the moment I am just excited, I am not particularly nervous.”

Despite many fully-sighted people being afraid of the waves, Westbrook has earned a reputation as an adrenaline junkie.

She added: “I just get out there and do it. To me, there is nothing better than being out there sailing. I’ve wanted to do it my whole life. Being unable to see doesn’t matter to me at all.

“My formula is not to panic, I am not often flapped and to always do what I’m told and listen to instruction.”

Westbrook is in charge of the main sail in the GB team which is guided by sighted tactician Martin Moody and crew Ian Shirra, with blind previous world champion Sharon Grennan in charge of the helm.

Westbrook will again compete in the National Hornet Championships in Colwyn Bay, north Wales, next week while she also claimed yacht of the week at Ramsgate week last month, crewing Bernard Sealy’s yacht Karibia Breezes.

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