Bethany Doga started sailing at the age of 10 at an All-Afloat project in Colwyn Bay a month after her father passed away, a sporting opportunity her family have found ‘life-changing’ in helping them through the toughest of times.
“It gave her something to focus on at that time,” explains mum, Elaine Doga. “It was when she was in Year 5, with a taster weekend out on the water all day. She loved it and came back talking about it and wanting to go again.”
That was part of an All Afloat scheme, which progressed through sponsored membership at Llandudno Sailing Club, club training and an OnBoard Festival aimed at new sailors and held on Llyn Tegid, Bala.
Bethany then joined the North Wales regional Topper squad, training and competing regularly throughout the winter, progressing to winning the gold medal in the Silver Fleet at this year’s Bala OnBoard Festival and competing in Welsh and UK-wide competitions.
“It has been life-changing for us,” explained Elaine. “It has been a focus for us all, not just for Bethany.
“Without the All Afloat scheme, sailing is not something I would have thought of. The taster session came a month after her father had passed away, so I think it came at a really good time for her.
“I think the attraction of sailing is just the freedom when she is out there, she is just in her own world, her own space, just sailing away.”
Sister Emily has also started sailing, while Elaine has been out on the water herself as part of the Only Girls Afloat scheme, also in Llandudno as the club has become central to the family. They have become great volunteers at the club, helping out at events and raising money for All-Afloat.
Another key moment came last year when Bethany was one of the recipients of a boat from the John Merricks Sailing Trust, a charity designed to help promising young sailors fulfil their potential.
“Last year we applied for a John Merrick Trust Topper boat and we were successful,” said Elaine. “It’s lovely, she has her own boat to train and compete in, it’s made a massive difference to her.
“We get it for two years, until November 2020 and then we give it to Llandudno sailing club. Maybe Emily could be sailing in it one day.”
RYA Cymru Wales Chief Executive Gerwyn Owen is delighted to see the impact the All Afloat scheme, started by predecessor Phil Braden, can have in transforming lives through the sport of sailing.
“The All Afloat scheme is aimed at providing sailing opportunities for people who would not normally have the chance to get into the sport,” he explained.
“It has been great to see Bethany progress from that into our regional squad system, it shows what a scheme like All Afloat can achieve.
“It also shows there is help out there, such as the boats given out every year by the John Merricks Sailing Trust for those who deserve such backing. There are ways of making sailing a more accessible sport than many believe.”
Bethany has been making the most of the opportunities since the first chance to try sailing with a group of her primary school friends, an opportunity which would have been unlikely without All-Afloat.
“I had been sailing many, many years ago with my uncle, but it was not something I continued with,” explained Elaine.
“I have met quite a few people, got involved in Llandudno sailing club and helping there when I can.
“It has been quite an adventure for all of us. Bethany took part again in the Bala OnBoard festival for the third year, winning gold in the silver fleet. Then she came first in the overall silver fleet as well, so we need to get her name on that trophy.”
From a taster session to trophy-winning and being part of the performance squad – it has been quite a journey for Bethany and the Doga family, all thanks to All Afloat and RYA Cymru Wales.