A LOYAL volunteer at West Wiltshire Youth Sailing Association in Westbury is among 44 sailors who are being celebrated across the UK for their exceptional dedication to boating.

The RYA Volunteer Awards recognise and say ‘thank you’ to volunteers who have made an outstanding contribution to the sport, with recipients nominated by their sailing clubs, class associations and members of the boating community.

Chris Wheeler, 74, who is to be presented with a lifetime commitment award, has filled many posts at WWYSA, most recently chief instructor, offering youngsters the benefit of his vast sailing knowledge, experience and generally happy outlook for over 35 years.

Following an arson attack at the WWYSA clubhouse on The Lake near Westbury Railway Station four and a half years ago, Mr Wheeler mobilised everyone in the rebuild and ensured the club was up and running quickly within six weeks from a temporary building.

The clubhouse was torched after thieves stole two outboard engines and all of the club’s spare equipment, meaning they had to sail from Shearwater Lake near Longleat until they could get the club back up and running in Westbury.

Mr Wheeler was then appointed project manager when Sport England awarded partial funding for new facilities and managed the role brilliantly, rallying a skilled volunteer team and saving the club a huge amount of money.

A RYA spokesman said: "Chris’s enthusiasm is infectious and his desire to help others never falters. His patient presence is always calm and encouraging and he instils a sense of confidence and security."

Mr Wheeler, of The Ham, Westbury, said: “I’ve been with the club for about 38 years, and put in many, many hours, just helping to keep it going and making sure everything’s as it should be.

"I’m really a ‘backroom boy’ and not one for putting myself forward, but I’m quietly pleased – it hasn’t really hit me yet.”

He is married to Paula and has two children, James and Kirsty, who he taught to sail when they were young.

Traditionally, RYA award winners attend a prestigious ceremony in London. However, this year, due to the ongoing pandemic, Mr Wheeler will receive his award through the post and celebrations will be postponed.

The WWYSA is a charitable trust, based at a lake at Station Approach in Westbury. Its primary aim is to introduce young people between the ages of eight and 18 to the sport of sailing.

Starting in 1967, the WWYSA had just three boats and a group of keen volunteers. Forty years on, it now has 19 boats, two safety boats and a team of RYA-qualified instructors able to offer sailing tuition to around 100 children a week throughout the sailing season.

The WWYSA is self-financing and run completely by volunteers and is a RYA-recognised teaching centre operating on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings during the sailing season from March to October.

The club also has members who sail model yachts from the lake at Westbury.