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Youth finalists announced for challenging Pacific Ocean Clipper Race experience

Following nominations from all over the UK, Charlie Stannard, 19, from Tower Hamlets, London, and Heather Thomas, 18, from Otley, North Yorkshire, have been shortlisted by legendary sailing duo Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Sir Ben Ainslie for the chance to win a crew place on the challenging Pacific Ocean leg of the Clipper 2015-16 Round the World Yacht Race.

The unique prize, worth more than £10,000, 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.

To win the incredible opportunity applicants had to be 18 to 24 years old and had to be nominated by someone else for the experience.

Sir Robin, who became the first man to ever sail solo, non-stop around the world in 1968/69 said: “Congratulations to Charlie and Heather who both impressed us with their level of passion and dedication to sailing.

“On behalf of the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation, and the Clipper Race, 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.”

The finalists will now both the Clipper Race HQ in Gosport, Hampshire at the end of March, 2015 for extensive on the water training. Following assessment from their skipper, one person will then be selected to win the overall prize, including three further levels of race training and return flights to and from the race. The runner up will also be given the opportunity to complete the full Clipper Race training, worth £5,000 alone.

Charlie Stannard was nominated by Steve Mitchell, RYA Regional Development Officer for the Thames Valley and London region. Charlie was introduced to sailing through the Docklands Sailing and Watersport Centre which provides affordable sailing programmes for young people.

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 Stannard 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. 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 sail across the Pacific would be an awesome challenge.”

“Thank you to the Clipper Race and the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m looking forward to training with many interesting people from all over the world and to taking my sailing experience to the next level.”

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 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 said: “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.

“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 Clipper Race training, meeting new people and learning the skills required for yacht racing. I feel extremely honoured to have been given this opportunity by the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation.”

The Clipper 2015-16 Race starts next August and will be the tenth edition of the world’s longest ocean race, also known as one of the toughest endurance challenges on the planet. The only event of its kind in the world for amateur sailors, twelve teams race against each other on board the world’s largest matched fleet of Clipper 70 ocean racing yachts. The overall route is 40,000 nautical miles long and includes up to 16 individually scored races, covering six continents.

The Pacific Ocean leg of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race is 5,500 miles long and will take 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. Crew members 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.

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