Voted Sailor of the Year at the 2022 British Yachting Awards, Ellie was in town to speak at a seminar hosted by North Sails and Bluenose Yacht Sales, local dealer for the Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300. Ken Read and a variety of crews have been sailing one of these in the DH scene around Newport the past couple of years. Ellie and her dad sail one, very successfully, in the UK.
Coop: Ellie, welcome to Newport and thanks for jamming an hour to chat with me. Would you give me a sentence or two on where you are from in England, where that is, and how sailing entered into your life?
ED: Hi, and thanks for the opportunity. If you look at a map of England, and drop a pin in the very middle, that’s me, smack bang in the middle, as far from any coast as you can get. I currently live in Southampton, on the south coast, and I’m study Marine Engineering at Southhampton University. I learned to sail at Trearddur Bay in Anglesea in North Wales. It is a small local sailing club that is only open in August of every year. They have a sailing school, my dad went when he was a little boy – his family is massive. Now all my cousins go; it is all families. I learned to sail there in Oppies (British for Optis), transitioned to 420s and ended up sailing in the international circuit.
Coop: You mentioned last evening something about a funny episode with your dad sailing in a Mirror dinghy [An 11’ hard chine, plywood, home build style dinghy designed by Jack holt in the 1960s].
ED: (with a smile) Yes, our original Mirror, called Jellie Baby, then upgraded to a fiberglass one (a bit quicker). I loved to sail, loved going sailing with Dad, but I was not quite up for going racing
Coop: And you were what, 6 or 7 years old?
ED: Yes, that kind of age. Dad was like, “Yeah, we’ll just go out for a sail, we can watch the race…” Unbeknown to me, he started the race. Then in a while he said, “Well Ellie, we are winning the race. Should we keep going and win the race or…?” I’m too competitive so I said, “Let’s keep going.” Even back then when I did not WANT to race.
Coop: And this is using the little kite and all?
ED: Oh, yeah. And it is really special now, because that is where it started, with my dad, “not racing.” And now, sailing doublehanded with my dad on Chillie Pepper [Dad’s Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300]
Coop: And then you went to primary and high school at your dot in the middle of England. What was the segue; from the Mirror to 420s directly or…?
ED: I was crewing with dad but taking sailing lessons at the Trearddur Bay Sailing Club, in Oppies in August. Then, about three years in someone asked Dad, “Is your daughter going for the squads?” Dad said, “Oh I don’t know, what’s that? Anyway, we joined the regional squads for the Oppie, at about 10 or 11, and progressed through the Oppie squads. Then when I was 14, I joined the 420 squad with one of my really good friends, Rachel. We had sailed against each other all thru Oppies. About four months into that we went to our first international event, in Athens.
Coop: When was this?
ED: Ohh, 2016. I was 14.
Coop: Was that the Worlds?
ED: The Europeans.
Coop: So, still a hundred boats?
ED: Yeah, about that. But before that I went to a few events with the Oppies: Holland, Lake Garda, a Big Optimist regatta. That one holds the Guinness World Record for the largest (numbers of boats) one-design regatta. [Coop: 1,055 Optis) Absolutely wild, sooo many boats. I think they had six fleets and still the starting lines we so long they had an RC boat in the middle of the starting line. I went to a few international regattas, Athens, Portugal, Fremantle, and Newport, though not as part of the Official GBR team.
Coop: How’d you like sailing in the Doctor?
ED: Oh, the Fremantle Doctor, my god that was windy. Rachael and I were only 92 kg., so we were about 25 kilos off the pace. We got the bendiest mast possible, got the flattest sails, and put prebend on the mast as hard as possible.
Coop: How did you do on the Newport regatta? Were you in the mixed Open class or “just” the women’s?
ED: Well, coming here we were the top British girls’ team, and we ended up OK.
Coop: How’d you like sailing out here?
ED: Oh, I cannot really remember much. Too much sailing since then (laughs). I do remember sailing under the big bridge.
Coop: You know that is sacred water out there? That is where the Aussies beat the Americans in 1983 to take the America’s Cup. When was that regatta?
Coop: So, five years ago makes you halfway through high school?
Coop: Where was sailing on your mental radar in the “What am I gonna do after high school stakes? Were you in the “I’m going to get a job, or go to Uni, and be a lawyer, doctor or rocket scientist, was it always going to have something to do with sailing?
ED: When I was about 16, I went on a Uni tour on which you spend a couple of days. I did one at Southampton. And really, I knew I was always going to go to Southampton.
Coop: So, halfway through high school you knew this was going to be the deal?
ED: Yes. I have one more year there for my Masters and then I am out.
Coop: Was there a link between going to Southampton and falling into this doublehanded sailing?
ED: The 420 sailing stopped in 2021. Dad had sailed before having a family. He was in the army and sailed there. So, when I was born he stopped his sailing and started driving us around for our sailing. After I was going to Uni he said, “OK, back to sailing for me.” He had been following the Sun Fast 3300 and similar boats for a while. In the lockdown he said, “OK, let’s get one of these boats and go sailing.” We sold the 420 and he bought a 3300.
We did out first race soon after we got the boat. It was the Around the Island Race, around the Isle of Wight. We did that race “shorthanded” – three of us. Shorthanded is not necessarily solo or doublehanded, rather simply fewer crew that would be ‘normal’ on a boat of “X” size, and we were three, Dad, me and Phillip, a family friend. We had only got the boat four days before, literally brand new out of the box and only been sailing twice.
We got through a tricky bit of navigation at the Needles, where there is a pile of rocks, and ended up going downwind in a gybing duel with another 3300 sailed by Henry Bomby [Rising star of GBR solo sailing] and Shirley Robertson, Olympian and America’s Cup broadcaster]. We were gybing on the 5-meter depth contour lines. I was on the bow and thinking, “Oh my god, there is Shirley Robertson!” “Oh, we are sailing against her,” and so on. They got a wrap in their kite and ended up in foul current, and we ended up beating them.
We were motoring back to the marina, and talking about how we did. We reckoned we were in the top five, and Dad’s phone rang. It was a woman from the Royal Ocean Racing Club office who said, “You have provisionally won your class.” We were stunned. Then she asked, “We’ve never heard of you. Who are you?” Dad said, “Let me call you back. We’re about to dock the boat.”
Coop: Was this a 3300 class?
ED: No, it was an IRC handicap class.
Coop: Were there a lot of 3300s in that class?
ED: Oh, 35, 40, 50…a lot. There are thousands of boats that do this race. ■
Look for Part 2 of Coop’s conversation with Ellie in our May edition.