Video: Leeds sailor’s Pacific challenge

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SAILOR Heather Thomas is hoping to follow in the wake of famous yachtswomen by taking on the world’s most treacherous seas.

The 18-year-old from Otley was bitten by the sailing bug on a family sailing holiday to Greece when she was seven.

Heather Thomas at Otley Sailing Club

Heather Thomas at Otley Sailing Club

She joined Otley Sailing Club, spending every spare hour and weekend on the club’s Weston Water, a flooded gravel pit, where she quickly mastered the basics of handling smaller craft.

But the A-level student at Otley’s Prince Henry’s Grammar School is taking her hobby to a new level with a tilt for a place aboard an ocean racing yacht.

She has reached a shortlist of two to take part in a 5,500-mile, month-long journey from China to the United States, crossing the world’s largest ocean as part of the Clipper Round the World race.

If she gets the place, it will be reward for the hard hours sailing off the coast of England, Scotland and Ireland.

In March she will travel to Clipper Race HQ in Gosport, Hampshire for a training assessment to determine who gets the place.

She is up against a 19-year-old man from London.

Yesterday she admitted that sailing solo around the world is her ultimate dream.

“It’s an expensive thing to do, but if I get the chance, I would want to do it - that’s my dream.”

In the meantime she is hoping to get her A-levels and then a job as a yacht’s bosun in charge of the equipment and engine.

Asked why she enjoys sailing, she said it was the “feeling of freedom” which came from being out on the water, often alone.

Her father, Matt, said his daughter had shown great skill on the water.

“Heather has taken to sailing like a duck to water. All she wants is to be around boats and wants to make a career out of it.”

He said: “The Pacific is a real adventure, with the worst of the weather that can be thrown at you. It’s about battling against the elements and I have no doubt that Heather is fully up to the job - I have no worries about her on that score. She has experience on large boats.”

The family’s love of sailing goes back 43 years when Mr Thomas’ father Eric built his own boat.

Heather had enjoyed her first sailing experience as her grandfather had his final trip, he said.

“He (his father) invited me and my family to sail on a yacht in Greece. There was a little trepidation as I thought my girls would hate it but everyone enjoyed it. My dad had had a stroke and wanted to experience sailing one last time.”