Celia Willison is just 17 years of age and on Saturday 4th June, she will start her first ever Category 1 offshore yacht race, ANZ Sail Fiji.
But Celia is no stranger to the sea. She practically grew up on boats and at just the tender age of eight days old, she was already sailing on her father’s Huon D’or 36.
Celia began cruising with her parents and has sailed the waters between Hobart and Tahiti and by the age of six, had spent many nights at sea.
But that was with her family.
Now Celia is proving herself to be the next generation of offshore sailor. Celia isn’t interested in the Olympic path, her passion for the sport sails beyond the safe harbour of short course mark roundings.
In the 2016 edition of ANZ Sail Fiji, Celia will step on board the Elliott 50 Ran Tan II and stand her ground as vital part of the eight sailor crew.
“I was bored of dinghy sailing and needed more of a challenge so I looked at keelboats,” she said.
“I joined the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron Youth Program which gave me the opportunity to get on board big boats for Wednesday night series and Saturday racing. I loved it and was pretty much hooked straight away.
“Anyone can get into keelboat racing. You just have to go into it with the right attitude and be willing to learn, to take advice and to listen.
“Brian (Petersen, owner/skipper of Ran Tan II), has been awesome. He gave me the opportunity to become a regular crew member and has been welcoming of me. He was even impressed with how fast I picked everything up!
“I’ve done the Winter Series, Coastal Classic, Commodores Cup, Bay of Islands Sailing Week and the Auckland Regatta with Brian and the Ran Tan II team. It’s great to be a part of it.
Celia has had to grit her teeth during the process of being accepted as a sailor and not just as a young girl in a male dominated sport.
“You can’t take things to heart. Just go with the flow and take on all the suggestions thrown in your direction. It’s the only way you are going to improve,” said Celia.
“Ran Tan regular Zib Campbell has been awesome. It’s great to have another female on board, just to level things out a bit!”
But taking on 1,100 nautical miles is nothing to be sneezed at. It’s cold, wet and generally miserable for most of the time, but Celia looks at the ANZ Sail Fiji race as a chance to prove herself as a serious offshore sailor.
“You just have to accept that it’s not going to be comfortable!”
Celia’s long term goal is the make a career out of sailing. Although she is non committal to wanting to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race, she is confident that yachting will be something she will be doing in years to come.
“I’ve only just started, so I’m just taking it mile by mile at the moment. Who knows what the future will hold!
Her career in sailing is underway as a crew member and also as a coach. Celia is a regular sailing coach at Royal Akarana Yacht Club developing the next generation of future sailors.
“Coaching is great. It’s my chance to give back to the sport,”
Speaking with wisdom beyond her years, it’s easy to see why Celia has slotted in perfectly with the Ran Tan II crew.
“Ran Tan II is set to do the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race this year. I’m going to prove that I should be on the crew list for that race. But before then, I have to get through Fiji.”
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Header Image: Celia Willison in action on the bow during RNZYS racing. Photo by Sara Tucker