​Meet the Youngest Clipper 2019-20 Race Crew: Ellen O’Brien

23 January 2020

Name: Ellen O’Brien

Age: 18

Occupation: A Level Student

Hometown: Tunbridge Wells, UK

Leg: 4: The Australian Coast-to-Coast Leg

Team: GoToBermuda

For some teenagers, the perfect school Christmas holiday might look something like extra lay-ins, binge-watching the latest Netflix series, spending time with mates and possibly even squeezing in some of that dreaded yet necessary exam revision.

For Ellen O’Brien, an A Level student from Tunbridge Wells, UK, and the youngest of almost 700 Clipper 2019-20 Race Crew, this Christmas break has gone down as one to remember as she swapped normal family festivities to race Leg 4 of the Clipper Race on board GoToBermuda.

Image: Ellen, centre, and her GoToBermuda teammates cross the finish line in Airlie Beach

“I was away for Christmas for the first time. It was weird not waking up with my parents and my brother but I had my Clipper Race family with me and it’s absolutely a Christmas I will never forget.”

After reaching Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays in third place, Ellen reflected on her race: “They were the toughest weeks of my life in some ways, but also the happiest. It was everything I expected and a million times more! To anyone who is remotely thinking about doing the Clipper Race, it has absolutely been above and beyond any expectations.

“We had blistering heat, I don't think I’ve been so hot in my life! And we also had freezing cold temperatures as we headed south. Living below deck was far harder than I thought. I think I was a bit naïve as to how challenging the constant angle of the boat would be.”

Image: Ellen, front row, right, celebrates fourth place with her GoToBermuda teammates.

Like some 40 percent of Race Crew, Ellen was a sailing newbie when she signed up to take part. She says: “I had never sailed before Clipper Race training. My confidence built during each week of training and during the race, my confidence just went even higher. It’s definitely something I want to keep up for sure.”

During Leg 4, Ellen encountered a local weather phenomenon called a southerly buster, which sees a sharp drop in temperature and brings sudden dramatic weather with wind speeds of over 75mph. She recalls: “Everything went silent and our skipper told us we needed to get ready for the Southerly Buster and then it just swooped in - it was the most exciting thing ever! The whole deck was high on adrenalin - it was so cool!”

A life-changing endurance challenge, Ellen has taken a lot away from the experience: “I've learnt my boundaries. Until now, I’ve very much lived within my comfort zone, I’ve never really had a reason to test myself, but learnt how to take a step back if everything is going crazy, not to get too caught up in it all. I’ve also learnt that worrying won't get you anywhere and. I’ve also shown myself that anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it and if they really, really want it. I really wanted this so much and look where I am now.”

Her father, Chris O’Brien, was on the dock in Airlie Beach awaiting her arrival. He says: “It was so emotional when Ellen left, I was actually a bit surprised that she got on the boat! But it’s been absolutely brilliant. I am proud of her for getting on the boat and to watch her over the last few weeks - to see where they head, read all the blogs, I felt really happy that she was progressing so well and getting on with it all amazingly.

Image: Ellen says goodbye to her father on the dock in Fremantle ahead of the race.

“It has been a journey for me, not just Ellen! I follow her on the Race Viewer which is the heartbeat of the Clipper Race for us supporters. You just log on and every hour, when you get live position updates, you’re checking in to see where we are, how we're getting on, you find yourself asking why they’re heading a certain way - you start becoming an amateur sailor yourself!

“I am inspired, but whether I have the nerve to do it myself is another matter. She’s putting me to shame!

Now back at home, it’s time to get back to studies. Ellen adds: “I am doing my Geography A Level, I had a few weather lessons but didn't manage any real revision so it’s back to school for me next week.”

Whilst Ellen wants to keep sailing, it might be a little different from the race. She said: “I quite like the idea of Champagne sailing!”

Keep up to speed with Ellen’s teammates progress via the GoToBermuda team page.

Inspired by Ellen’s story? You too could be racing the world’s oceans in the next edition of the Clipper Race starting in summer 2021. Hit the button below to find out more.

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