When eight-year-old Heather Thomas first tentatively set foot in a dinghy with OnBoard at Otley SC in Yorkshire, she certainly wouldn't have dreamt that 11 years later she would be sailing around the world in one of the iconic sailing races.

But that is exactly what has happened as OB once again proves its value in opening up doors that young people may never otherwise have even got to knock on.

Now 19, Heather took to sailing like the proverbial duck after her OB introduction to the sport and by 16, so passionate was she about sharing her love for sailing, that she qualified as an RYA Dinghy Instructor.

Heather spotted a competition for a place on the Clipper Race on the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation (ASSF) website when she was signing up for Otley's Bart's Bash two years ago. And much to her great surprise she discovered she had been shortlisted by race founder, Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, and America's Cup winner and Olympic legend, Sir Ben Ainslie!

Heather said: "OnBoard definitely had an impact on my ambitions as it enabled me to experience sailing with my peers in a safe and fun environment and to develop my sailing at my own pace." 

World's Away

Heather, who also volunteers on the Ocean Youth Trust vessel 'James Cook' and has her Watch Leader and RYA Day Skipper certificates, won a place on leg 6 of this year's Clipper, racing across the Pacific from Qingdao in China to Seattle USA. 

But she enjoyed it so much that she decided to continue on to the end of her own volition, tackling leg 7 to New York via the Panama Canal before her final leg returns to the UK via Londonderry and the Netherlands, arriving back at the end of July. 

Writing in one her race blogs, Heather said: "The thing I love most about sailing is the calmness that washes over you when you are focused on making the boat go as fast as possible. This is the same whether you are sailing in a 30 knot breeze or a 3 knot breeze, whether I am sailing my Laser back at Otley or on a 70ft racing yacht in the Pacific Ocean, the feeling is still the same. 

"As a kid my instructor Norman used to tell me if you can sail at Otley, you can sail anywhere and I suppose he is right. I am especially reminded of this now when wind for Da Nang (the boat Heather is racing on) is light and maintaining momentum is hard. 

In another blog she added: "There have been some incredible and mind blowing moments as well. The stars at night, dolphins surrounding the boat at dawn and the phosphorescence lighting up the waves in the dark. Magical moments that remind me how lucky I am to have this experience.

"A big thank you to all of the volunteers that through the years have coached, fed, entertained and kept me safe allowing me to become the sailor I am today. I share my achievements with all of Otley SC."

What do they say about little acorns and oak trees?