Editor’s note: This is the second part of Coop’s conversation with Ellie, a rising star in the doublehanded offshore racing world. Sailing with her father on their Jeanneau Sun Fast 3330, she was named Sailor of the Year at the 2022 British Yachting Awards. Part 1 is at windcheckmagazine.com.
Coop: Ellie, we left you with the RORC doing their Butch and Sundance imitation: “Who are you guys?” …and you guys trying to park the boat. First race is over so onto the first race review. What was the discussion?
ED: Oh, it was all in. We’re going to do every race we can. I had just come out of dinghies, had no “big boat” experience and was not at all clued up, but Dad had done a lot of yacht sailing, in the Army and so on. We did a lot of short-handed races, with Phillip, so I had good instruction. Phillip is a very good sailor and navigator and has done a lot in his life. He is an age contemporary with Dad, so lots of experience on board, then me. Sailing with Phillip aboard was a bit easier, heaps of experience plus a spare pair of hands as needed. We were jumping in the deep end but not being stupid and getting lots of rest.
We were also sailing with Piers-Hugh Smith from the Artemis Offshore Academy. Dad met him when Piers gave him a lift to the Isle of Wight one time. They are talking as you do and Dad said, “Maybe we should get in touch.” Piers and I ended up doing a doublehanded race together – my first DH overnight race, actually. Part of the course took us around a mark called Bembridge Ledge. We’d been fiddling with the charting software and forgot to put Bembridge back in as a waypoint of the course. We were going pretty well, in the front of the pack and all was good.
This mark was right on the track. We sailed right by it, but on the wrong side by two meters. A while later, we were about five miles down course and the VHF lit up with a call from Shirley Robertson. She said we passed the mark on the wrong side and needed to return and round correctly or she would protest. I was livid, as you can imagine. We returned, re-round correctly, rehoisted the kite and get back on track. We scratched back a few miles but were way back in the cheap seats. I was annoyed at myself, but tried to clear my mind. After a while, I found myself quite glad that Shirley behaved as she did. She treated me like any other competitor and didn’t take it easy on me.
Coop: You wanna sail with the big girls, you gotta put your big girl boots on…
ED: Exactly. It was a good lesson. After we finished I thought, “I just did a 24-hour race doublehanded. I never thought I would ever do that.”
Coop: When did the amalgamating between the RORC and the short-handed community begin ?
ED: In 2005, the RORC offered a DH class in the Fastnet Race. That was very forward-looking and inclusive compared to what was happening in the rest of the sailing world. During in the lockdown, Henry Bomby figured we needed a series. He brought together a group of people including sailors, professional and Corinthian, boat dealers and race committees. The question was, “What do we need to create?” In other words, a way to get people to buy into the idea of taking up racing with only two people on board.
They realized there were a lot of boats “out there” but with nowhere to go – they just did their own thing. From this we created what became the UK Doublehanded Series, and that development showed the RORC and the wider sailing community that DH sailing is a “class” in its own right. Now, the RORC has 88 applications for entry in the DH class for the Fastnet.
Coop: How was the cross pollination with the SORC guys?
ED: There is one race the SORC runs, the Around the Island Race on the Isle of Wight. Other than that, we do not mingle with the SORC group.
Coop: That group is pretty much as the name implies, solo sailors doing the OSTAR, Trans Quadra and so on, but it seems like Henry’s idea has kicked off very well.
ED: Certainly has.
Coop: When did the Round Britain and Ireland Race surface on your whiteboard? Were you all sitting at the bar after a race and…?
ED: (Chuckles) Well, Dad said it as a joke. He was thinking about doing it 4-up with Phillip and another crew, and then he looked over at me and said, “Do you fancy doing it?” There are two similar around the United Kingdom races, the Royal Western YC organizes the one that stops and the RORC does the non-stop race, sponsored by Sevenstar Transport.
About a year in advance, the RORC started putting out feelers looking for expressions of interest. Well, there was. It turned out that 70% of the 47-boat fleet was doublehanded and a DH boat won the race overall. Then dad started a bit of umming and arrring: “Do you think we should really do this race?” Most of the other boats had already done the race, or a similar race or a Transat, something with the same density. In general we were the greenest pair on the water, but we decided we were going to compete and we were going to finish the race. So that is what we did.
Coop: How did you place?
ED: Sixth overall in fleet and I think fifth in our handicap class. There were several Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300s, one of which was sailed by Dee (Caffari) and Shirley (Robertson) who we beat, I am happy to say.
Coop: I get the sense that you’ve been absorbed into this community and that has organically brought into the fold a collection of younger sailors, say under 25 years old…
ED: Sure. There are a lot of boats in the Solent and one of the main issues is matching crews and owners. One element we developed is a crew match so the skippers and crews can find each other. There are other initiatives in the UK along this theme. RORC has a Griffon Committee, on which I sit. This is more for fully crewed programs, but it’s focused on youth sailors getting sea time on yachts. There is also Generation JOG (Junior Offshore Group), and there’s a really good DH one called Tigris owned by a guy called Gavin. He has a Sun Fast 3600 and has bought a classic wooden boat named Wavetrain which he lends out for DH sailing, with mixed crews, under 25.
We have weather briefings before each race. A pro navigator or a meteo guy will come in and speak to the weather aspects of this particular race, go over what the conditions are going to be. And we have water training days. We go out to train and bring a couple of kids with us. They get to see what it’s all about and get some experience, and so sign up for other opportunities. A lot of younger sailors don’t think they are good enough to sail on a “yacht,” but everyone has to start somewhere. We try to give them enough confidence to just say, “Yes!” and do it. And this is an issue women have too. They are good sailors, but don’t have the confidence to sign up because they might be light on offshore experience.
Coop: This theme is one of the constants in all my Women on the Water interviews. They all say, “Just say ‘Yes’ to everything.” Are all these independent initiatives across pollinating?
ED: Right. You don’t need ten organizations all trying to do the same thing, so we try and coordinate wherever possible.
Coop: Are there areas of the UK where people are trying similar things? I mean, the Solent is a big center, a sailing magnet like Newport. Are people trying to do this work further afield?
ED: Well, it is tough because people congregate on the Solent. This is where most of the racing is, where the boats are kept, the big or good yards. People travel from Scotland to sail on the Solent. The good news about the UK is nothing is really that far away from anything else.
Coop: Ellie, I want to thank you for making the time on this rushed weekend to sit with me and discuss sailing stuff obviously near and dear to you. I appreciate your time, and good luck at Uni and of course with your sailing.
ED: Great, thanks. ■