Youth finalists announced for challenging Pacific Ocean experience

03 December 2014

Two lucky youths have been shortlisted by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Sir Ben Ainslie for a chance to experience Mother Nature’s toughest conditions in the Pacific Ocean crossing of the 2015-16 race.

Following nominations from all over the UK, Charlie Stannard, 19, from Tower Hamlets, London, and Heather Thomas, 18, from Otley, West Yorkshire, will visit Clipper Race HQ in Gosport, Hampshire at the end of March, 2015 for a level one training assessment to determine the winner.

Sir Robin said: “Congratulations to Charlie and Heather who both impressed us with their level of passion and dedication to sailing.

“On behalf of the Clipper Race, and the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation, we wish Charlie and Heather the best of success during the final selection process. Regardless of who wins the overall prize, they are both in for a highly inspiring introduction to ocean racing on board our specially designed Clipper 70 yachts.”

Charlie, who was nominated by Steve Mitchell, RYA Regional Development Officer for the Thames Valley and London region, said: “I felt incredibly proud to find out I was even being nominated for this competition, so to find out that I am a finalist was a huge surprise."

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.

Charlie adds: “Being bought up in London’s east end, where I still live, I would say I am pretty fearless, and ready to give anything a go. To be able to train with the Clipper Race yachts, meet so many interesting people from all over the world, and possibly race across the Pacific Ocean is definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, and would be an incredible challenge.”

Heather Thomas was nominated by Norman Stephens, senior instructor and trustee from Otley Sailing Club, in recognition of all the hard work and commitment she has shown from an early age to actively encourage sailing for all ages and abilities.

Heather says: “When I was first told the news that I had got through to the final two places of the competition, I was overwhelmed. I never thought when I sent my application that I would get this far."

Heather started sailing at the age of seven and has since worked her way through the RYA Youth Sailing Scheme, becoming a dinghy instructor by age 16. Heather volunteers with all aspects of the club’s training, from the kids club to the adult and disability courses and is currently the Committee’s Junior Representative. For the past two years, Heather has also volunteered as a watch leader on the sail training vessel James Cook, run by Ocean Youth Trust North, and has spent the majority of her school holidays and many weekends helping with groups, and gaining experience of offshore sailing around the UK’s west coast.

Heather adds: “I can hardly believe that I may have the possibility to sail across the Pacific and take part in such a prestigious event. I am really looking forward to the training, meeting new people and learning the skills required for yacht racing. I feel extremely honoured to have been given this opportunity.”

The Pacific Ocean leg of the race crosses 5,500 miles of ocean and takes approximately one month to complete. Starting in Qingdao, China in March 2016, and ending in the West Coast of the USA, the Pacific is the world’s largest ocean.

The lucky winner will be trained to encounter Mother Nature’s toughest, yet most exhilarating conditions, including towering waves, howling winds, and high speed surfs, and at times, the fleet’s closest human neighbours will be the astronauts orbiting above them in the international space station.

The unique prize, including full race training and return flights to and from the race start and finish was donated by Clipper Race founder and chairman, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation, the charity that Sir Ben Ainslie helped to establish in memory of his friend and Olympic sailing gold medallist Andrew “Bart” Simpson.

The Foundation uses sailing to develop personal skills that improve young people’s ability to succeed in life and access to jobs and careers in the maritime sector. Anyone in the UK aged 18-24, could be nominated for the prize with no previous sailing experience necessary. The runner up will receive the full Clipper Race training.

Click here to find out moreabout the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation.

Click here to hear Sir RobinKnox-Johnston tell us why the Pacific Ocean is one of his favourite Clipper Race legs.

Feeling inspired to take on the challenge for yourself? There are still spaces to join the Pacific Ocean crossing. Click here to find out more and join the race.

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