BRAVE Unity Bowns didn’t think twice when her dad collapsed at the helm of a yacht.
The 11-year-old leapt into action, taking control of the 24ft vessel and single-handedly navigating to shore.
Unity, a Year 7 pupil at Portsmouth High School, was in open water when her dad Matthew, 58, blacked out briefly falling ill with gallstones pancreatitis, which sees stones block enzymes meant for digestion in the pancreas, and then attack the pancreas.
Quick-thinking Unity took control of the boat while phoning her mother, Rachel, 47, of Beach Road, Emsworth, who was waiting at Emsworth pontoon.
Unity’s dad had called earlier that morning to say he felt unwell after staying out overnight aboard the Achilles 24 with Unity, ahead of planned practice with the boat’s spinnaker sail.
When Unity’s dad collapsed she knew she had to get help and used the outboard motor to power back to Emsworth, despite hardly being able to see where she was going from her place at the helm.
She said: ‘It was a bit scary knowing that daddy might be in trouble. I wasn’t really sure what to do so I phoned mummy but it did feel a bit like I was on my own.
‘I sort of knew what I was meant to be doing because daddy had told me a lot about this sort of thing but I’d never thought I’d experience it first hand.
‘I was thinking of getting daddy in safely but there were two parts to that – making sure he was still OK while he was down below crouched over and hunched – and to get the boat back.
‘It was quite easy until it came to mooring up, it was tricky doing it on my own. I think daddy is quite proud of me.’
The Royal Yachting Association has awarded Unity for her ‘courage and fortitude in an emergency’, with deputy head Heather Trim at Portsmouth High giving her the certificate at school.
It was the first time that Unity, who has been sailing since she was four years old, had solo skippered a boat that big.
She had to navigate past a number of boats as she moved from their anchored position at Mill Rythe back to the pontoon, where a member of Emsworth Sailing Club took Matthew to hospital.
Rachel said she was initially concerned that Unity might not be able to handle the boat.
‘She’s very practical and down to earth. She just got on with it,’ she added.
‘I was very proud of her and so was her dad.’
Unity’s dad is now recovering well.