Aspiring young sailors take on challenging North Pacific

23 March 2016

“I am really hoping to learn as much as I can about ocean racing and see if I could get into it as a professional career,” says Heather Thomas, 19, from Otley, West Yorkshire as she sets off on the race of her life in the Seattle Pacific Challenge.

The opportunity was donated by Clipper Race founder and chairman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation (ASSF), the charity that Sir Ben Ainslie helped to establish in memory of his friend and Olympic sailing gold medallist Andrew “Bart” Simpson. Taking part in the race, Heather is representing ASSF, which uses sailing to develop personal skills that improve young people’s ability to succeed in life and provides access to jobs and careers in the maritime sector.

Heather, who was nominated for the opportunity by Otley Sailing Club where she volunteers, has joined the Da Nang Viet Nam team. She says: “It's my ultimate dream and this race could be the springboard into other opportunities, giving me some of the experience and knowledge to fulfil my dreams. I am really hoping that I can help my team to do well- it would be fantastic if we won. I also really want to know more about the awesome people I am sailing with- I have met the majority of them before but I would love to get to know them all better!

"My Skipper Wendy is awesome, she is very safety conscious but also really good fun. There is not enough women in sailing and the women on the Clipper Race are here showing that women can do what men can do. We have 11 women on board and only 6 men so it’s going to be interesting on board but really great.

“Preparation for the race has been pretty full on. I’ve had kit to get, visas to sort out and of course the four weeks of training. I did all of my training over the summer and I learnt an amazing amount; because of my dinghy and sail training background, I knew most of the basics but it was really interesting sailing on a boat built for racing. I learnt a lot about maximising speed. Visas were an interesting experience- I have never had to do one before as I haven't been out of Europe so I was surprised by the questions and the amount of detail I needed.

“I am really looking forward to the adrenaline of the race on board the biggest adventure of my life. I think I will find the cold the most challenging. I really struggle to keep warm when sailing so getting the layers right will be important and also keeping motivated to keep trimming and keep sailing the boat to its full potential will be challenging at times, especially when you are really tired, but I suppose that's why we have a team to keep each other going through the difficult times.

"It’s quite competitive between me and Charlie but I am confident I will win!" She adds.

Heather is competing against fellow ASSF ambassador, 20-year-old Charlie Stannard from Tower Hamlets, London.

Charlie was introduced to sailing through the Docklands Sailing and Watersport Centre. After first coming to the centre for ‘something to do,’ Charlie caught the sailing bug and excelled quickly in dinghy racing. Despite financial pressures, Charlie has persisted with his passion for sailing, and with charity support, he has gone on to compete in the London Regatta, and the London Youth Games, for Tower Hamlets, as well as three national and two world championships, medalling on numerous occasions.

He says: “I'm looking forward to racing with my fellow IchorCoal team mates as well as all the other amazing people I've met along the way. Visiting two amazing countries as well is also a bonus and something I would not be doing if it wasn't for the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation!

“The tricky conditions should be challenging but a great learning process teaching me good team work skills and how sailing in big winds on a 70 foot yacht, something a lot bigger than what I'm used to. The main objective for the race is to complete it, whilst having fun with my team at the same time!

“My friends and family are really excited for me as it is a once in a lifetime opportunity that not many get to participate in. They are wishing me a safe and enjoyable journey across the Pacific Ocean and look forward to hearing the stories when I'm back.”

Charlie adds: “I’d like to say a big thank you to all the guys at the ASSF and the Clipper Race as without these guys this experience wouldn't be possible.”

To find out more about Heather and Charlie, click here.

To learn more about the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation, click here.

To discover more about the city of Seattle and some of the events planned during the fleet’s visit, click here.

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