Brockenhurst College has paid tribute to teenage sailing star Jess Eales, describing her as one of its brightest students with “huge potential”.

Jess was found dead in woodland just weeks after representing her country at a youth sailing championship in Portugal.

College principal Di Roberts said: “Jess was one of our brightest students and a pleasure to know.

“Intelligent, articulate and with a maturity beyond her years, she had huge potential.”

Last night it was revealed that Jess, of Lymington, died 24 hours after celebrating her 17th birthday by joining friends on a sailing trip in the Solent.

Her 24-year-old cousin, Misty Eales, of Pennington, said: “It looks like she had a lovely day out.

“She posted photos online and was laughing in every one. She looked really happy.”

Misty’s mother, Donna Chase, added: “She was very clever and talented. She was always getting As in her results.

“She had a lovely personality and was a beautiful girl. Her parents were very proud of her.”

Jess was one of Britain’s best young sailors and her death has shocked friends and colleagues, who have praised her character and talent.

Heartfelt tributes have been left on her Facebook page by some of those who knew her best.

Anna Prescott wrote: “The four years I spent sailing with you were definitely the best four years of my life. You were so inspirational and had a great future ahead of you.”

Billy Matthews added: “There are no words, I’m truly speechless. You were always the perfect person.”

Jess’s body was found near Shirley Holms car park, between Boldre and Sway, last Thursday at 9.30am. Police have confirmed that her death is not being treated as suspicious but an inquest will be held.

Jess was a member of the Royal Lymington Yacht Club, which has described her death as a tragedy.

Mark Nicholls, of the Royal Yachting Association, who worked with Jess, said: “She was a young sailor who showed promising talent which can now unfortunately never be fulfilled.”