“Every challenge I go through in sailing, makes me realise how strong I am as a women.” Leonie Conway
Leonie Conway grew up in landlocked Kildare and is about to set off to sail across the Atlantic as part of the team on RV Song of the Whale with Marine Conservation Research.
We wanted to share the story of a girl that thought she wasn’t sporty as a child to becoming an outdoor sports instructor and offshore adventurer. She inspired us and we hope her story might inspire others to set new goals and find new horizons …
“Growing up I always loved the water and the outdoors, but I wasn’t good at team sports so just assumed that I wasn’t a sporty person – I hated that feeling.” Leonie shared.
DISCOVERING MY SPORT
“When I was in my tweens I fell off a sand bank while on holiday in Wexford and I couldn’t get back up - I remember looking at the light hitting the top of the water and not being able to get to it! My brother was by my side and pulled me out of the water to safety.
I am pleased to say my very smart mother put me into Irish Water Safety classes and I finally found a sport I loved, so I continued to progress through the training programme to lifeguard and onto become a swimming instructor in my early 20s..
At age 26 I fell in love with all things outdoors while travelling round New Zealand and decided I wanted to explore the outdoor life more. I returned to Ireland and joined the Kinsale College Outdoor Adventure Education and Leadership course.
During my college years I volunteered with Surf2 Heal and met some amazing people and some inspiring women. Then went on to volunteer for Gecko Adventures, where I fell in love with windsurfing and was given my first paid job in the adventure industry.
After two years of training as an instructor in sailing, kayaking, climbing, windsurfing and much more in Kinsale I was ready for more.
I started working as a Keelboat Instructor with Sailing Into Wellness, helping people overcome challenges through sailing … every day of teaching was extremely fulfilling.
My partner, Eoin Keyes, introduced me to live-aboard life on his 22ft boat and in 2021 we sailed non-stop around Ireland … we sailed for 11 days, Kinsale to Kinsale. I have so many memories from this trip, from stowaway birds to being stuck for a day and a half with no wind and of course some late-night repairs … it was amazing and once again left me wanting more. So we followed that with two months of cruising around the Canaries.
Eoin and I have now bought a boat together and we live on board her in Kinsale – she is a Beneteau First 32.
I saw the Irish Sailing Women at the Helm event was coming to Crosshaven and signed up as crew on a 1720. This was my first experience of racing and it was a steep learning curve, but I loved it. So in 2022 I joined the Sia Partners Irish Sailing Women at the Helm event in National Yacht Club and had a ball.
I decided I wanted MORE … my next goal was to sail across the Atlantic.
The opportunity to join the crew delivering a sailing vesselt to North America from UK came up and I jumped at the opportunity. I managed to organise a US visa AND squeeze in Irish Sailing Senior Instructor training in the few weeks from being accepted as a member of the team and my departure to UK to step on board.
I will be sailing on board the purpose-built 21 metre research vessel, Song of the Whale, with Marine Conservation Research (MCR). MCR scientists will be then collaborating with US colleagues in Florida and the to then sailing north to New England studying the distribution of the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.
I am extremely excited for the crossing and of course nervous - I never underestimate the sea and have every respect for her.
I’m turning 30th on the sail, what a great place to turn 30th!” Leonie Conway
We look forward to sharing Leonie's blog of her journey across the Atlantic through December.
Sailing Into Wellness in action ...