Interview with Gavia Wilkinson-Cox, 75th Edinburgh Cup and UK Dragon Grand Prix Regatta Chair

When did you start sailing? Well, I think the answer to this is ‘I’ve always sailed’! I was lucky enough to be born into sailing. In fact, I was virtually born into the Edinburgh Cup! My father’s boat was the committee boat for the Edinburgh Cup in Torquay. My then heavily pregnant mother, who each day was left on the dockside, became nicknamed ‘The Duchess of Edinburgh’! With impeccable timing I arrived the following week! I was named after my father’s boat (it means Seagull in Latin!). For the first 6 months of my life there were the two Gavia’s and to this day I’m astonished that my father sold the boat, and not the baby! I started sailing various family sailing boats before they became motorboats. I cut my teeth in dinghy sailing in an International Cadet and was competing as crew from 6yrs old. I sailed my first national championship at 8yrs old, winning the ladies trophy (as crew!) at the Cadet Nationals in Burnham. From 10yrs old I owned and helmed my own Cadet. I then moved to National 12 dinghies and also started crewing in Dragons and onwards…

When did you first sail a Dragon? I was probably about 15 when I started crewing in local Dragons in Torquay.

Jon Mortimer, Mark Hart and Gavia winning her first race as helm at the Edinburgh Cup 2006, claiming the Kin Trophy

When and where did you first race in the Edinburgh Cup and who with? Quite possibly this would have been 1970 in Torquay. And I certainly sailed in 1972, both the Edinburgh Cup and the British Olympic Sailing trials in Torquay crewing for Peter Cullen (Richard/Solent fleet’s father). Following the Olympic trials, I was invited to my first overseas Dragon regatta in Douarnenez – the start of the Dragon regatta travel bug! And as a consequence of my mother being a Timekeeper on the committee boat for the trials, I was ‘invited’ for an interview by the then Secretary-General of the Royal Yachting Association as his secretary, a job I took up in September 1972, on returning from attending the Olympic Regatta in Keil, Germany, as guest of the RYA. This led to an 18-year career with the RYA, then IYRU/now World Sailing.

How many Edinburgh Cups have you competed in? I don’t know this either! But a tremendous lot! And I’ve certainly raced Dragons in all the regular venues which would have been Edinburgh Cups! I’ve been actively racing in Dragons since the late ‘60s and, whilst I have been fortunate over the years to have sailed on just about anything that floated and raced, Dragons were always my go to/return to class. So, whilst I might have diverted into other classes it was always Dragons that I returned to.

Tell us a little about your background in sailing and fundraising event management? My first job wasn’t in sailing but came about thanks to an introduction whilst Dragon sailing to the CEO of P&O, Euan Geddes, who subsequently invited me for interview and offered me my first job in the PR department of P&O in London. In spring 1972 I left P&O in order to compete in the Olympic trials of the Dragon Class taking place at my home club in Torquay. It was during this regatta that my mother, who was on the race committee, met my future boss, Nigel Hacking, Secretary General of the Royal Yachting Association and International Yacht Racing Union (now World Sailing). And thus my second job was as his PA at the RYA and my third as his PA with the IYRU. With the IYRU I travelled the world and visited over 50 nations. My key areas of responsibility covered:

Cowes Week 2019

– The World Women’s Sailing Championship – promoting women’s sailing worldwide. – The World Youth Sailing Championship – promoting youth sailing (boys and girls) worldwide. – The Olympic Regattas. – International Conferences in London and worldwide. When I left the IYRU in 1989 I began my own business, Event Network, focusing on bespoke event management, sponsorship and charity and fundraising events for nearly 25 years. Whilst my regular work was in event planning, corporate, private and promotional, it was the major charity work, events and promotional campaigns that was the principal area of my activities. Prior to starting Event Network I had served on the committee for the British Olympic Yachting Appeal (BOYA) Ball, fundraising for Olympic sailors. With Event Network I organised events for organisations as diverse as the Horse of the Year Show, Kensington Day Centre, the British Red Cross, the Sea Cadets, the British Sports Ball, Earl Mountbatten Hospice, Motor Neurone Disease and the Sail for Gold Ball from 1992 to 2012 – held every Olympic year to raise funds for the British Olympic and Paralympic sailing programme. I have also been on the RNLI Central London Committee and involved with numerous fundraising activities for over 30 years.

This is not the first time you’ve run the Edinburgh Cup. When was the first time and how many times have you run it? I think this makes five, all here in Cowes, except 2013 in Weymouth. Most recently was the 69 th Edinburgh Cup in 2017 here in Cowes. What I do know FOR SURE is that it IS my last!

Gavia launching the new Jerboa

How long have you owned a Dragon and how did you become a Dragon owner? I became a Dragon owner in 2002 thanks to the generosity of Pat Dyas who, at the time of his death, left his Dragon, Jerboa IV, to me and my co-crew Richard Vass. I had known Pat since my late teens, through Dragon sailing when he and his crew lodged in our Torquay home for one Edinburgh Cup. His was one of the Dragons I regularly crewed on in Cowes and I had been running Pat Dyas’ Dragon Jerboa for him for some time. We eventually took ownership in 2003 and agreed that I would sail her to the end of that season, in recognition of Pat’s generosity, then find a new owner to buy Richard and I out at the end of the year. That ‘new owner’ was me, buying Richard out! Since then, I have gone on to have 3 more Dragons. My present Dragon, the seventh Jerboa in total (though my 4 th ), was acquired earlier in 2023 as a young 2- year-old!

You’ve sailed very successfully for many years, both in the UK and on the International Circuit. What do you feel have been your greatest achievements in the Dragon? With the help of many key people in my early years of helming a Dragon, not least USA coach Ron Rosenberg, and the consistency of sailing with my middleman Mark Hart over so very many years – I hope I’m learning to helm! In rating successes – it’s always memorable when you win your first first! So memorable and notable was my first Edinburgh Cup race win, again here in Cowes, with Mark Hart and Jon Mortimer. Other notable excitements were: Winning the 1 st Race of the Worlds in Kinsale Coming 2 nd overall at the Gold Cup, Cascais 2nd overall, Monaco Grand Prix

Winning Cowes Week, Regates Royales and St Tropez Dragon International and various Cannes Dragon regattas. But particularly notable to me is being able to be on the same racecourse and racing against so many extraordinarily talented and high profile sailors; from America’s Cup helms, to Olympic sailors, to multi discipline international champions – the Dragon Class’s best kept secret is the sheer quality and magnitude of the sailors competing in our class on a regular and usually very unsung basis. Outside of racing I am pleased to have teamed up with the RYA’s British Keelboat Academy (BKA) over many years and through this been able to introduce, and take forward, many young sailors. I personally had a lot of help as a youngster and along the way, it is good to be able to pay back via encouraging other young sailors into Dragon sailing.

As well as organising the event you will also be racing. How have you prepared for the regatta and who will you sail with? In March of this year I acquired a new Dragon, well new to me and just 2 years old. It’s been difficult to get any meaningful time on the water with my regatta crew though. I will be sailing with, of course, my regular and long-standing middleman and crew boss, Mark Hart together with Jake Hardman, who has been with us over the last 3 years (BKA) and Sam de la Feuillade, also BKA. We are very short of time on the water, and regatta time together having had to make do with just a few training days – so our regatta preparation is far from ideal! The boat is really quite different, and we have a lot of new systems to learn! As both a competitor and the Regatta Chair, what are your hopes for the 75th Edinburgh Cup and UK Grand Prix? From the outset of the organisation my goal has been that the 75th Edinburgh Cup/UK Grand Prix be a celebration and festival of Dragon sailing: excellent racing and excellent shoreside fun. I hope that, together with my team, I deliver a truly memorable regatta – one that I can be proud of. One that the Solent Dragon Fleet, the British Dragon Association, and the International Dragon Class Association can all be proud of.