Published on 15 June 2018
This summer student Ellie Lyall will proudly represent the University of Sunderland as a Sail Training Tall Ships Ambassador.
Currently in her final year of a BA Journalism degree, Ellie is in training for what promises to be the experience of a lifetime.
As Sunderland prepares to host the Tall Ships this July, we catch up with the 21-year-old who has already caught the seafaring bug.
Hi Ellie, tell us how you first get involved with the Tall Ships Races?
It was surprisingly easy for me. I got a phone call from my programme leader, and he was telling be about how he has been asked to find someone who would be interested in becoming the University's Tall Ships Ambassador. I accepted on a total whim, but I'm so glad I did as it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
Did you know much about the Tall Ships prior to getting involved?
I knew a little, but only because my best friend is a qualified sailing instructor so I would hear all of her stories and how amazing it sounds, but I never really thought that was for me. I don't have much of a track record for being an adventurous person, so I was quite literally jumping into the deep end.
What does being the Sunderland Sail Training Ambassador 2018 involve?
Well, thankfully for me, there is a big emphasis on the word 'training'. Myself and the other ambassadors were all pretty much novices in terms of sailing and Tall Ships, so we all learned the ropes together. Since 2016, we have all been meeting up for various activities, from sailing in dinghies at Sunderland Yacht Club and visiting the team down at the Sunderland Maritime Heritage Centre, to going backstage at the Sunderland Empire to learn the links between sailing and the theatre. We've even had the chance to go on a tall ships voyage prior to the race. This was all to equip us with the knowledge and skills needed to help encourage people in the run up to the event to sign up as a trainee on board one of the ships for the race. We've also been using our experience to help the new trainees with anything they're unsure about.
What ship will you be travelling on?
I'm going to be on STS Lord Nelson (aka Nelly), a fully accessible tall ship for people of all abilities. I've sailed on Nelly once before, so I'm really glad to be going back. One of my fellow ambassadors, Brandon Barker, has sailed on a couple of voyages on Lord Nelson too. He's actually going to be a watch leader for the race this time around, so that's pretty exciting.
What are you most looking forward to about the event in Sunderland?
I'm just really excited to see the river and the quayside come to life for the race. From the library, I've been watching the dredging boats go up and down the river, and it's just so nice to see. It's starting to feel real now.
What kind of preparation work have you had to do to get ready for the race itself?
I've been learning the basics of sailing in dinghies at Sunderland Yacht Club, where I spent a lot of time last summer. Almost all of the ambassadors have been on a tall ship voyage, too. What has probably helped me the most is my degree, funnily enough. For my practical project, which is the equivalent of a dissertation on my journalism course, we got to choose our own topics, so I decided to write a series of articles all about the Tall Ships Race in the run up to July. So, with all of the research and interviewing I've been carrying out this year at uni, I couldn't feel more prepared really!
What are you most looking forward to about the race itself?
Even though I've done a Tall Ship voyage before, it was just off the North East coast and in the middle of April (but, with no wind cover, it was the coldest I had ever felt in my whole life). So this time I'm really looking forward to getting stuck into the adventure and sailing to a completely different country. And since it's July, I'm hoping for slightly warmer weather too.
What are you least looking forward to about the race itself?
Sea-sickness. I got it so bad on my last voyage. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Because I suffered so much, one of my articles in my practical project at uni was all about sea-sickness. Whenever I spoke to any experienced sailors, I asked them for advice about it so I could compile a listicle of top tips to beat it. With all of these tips in mind, I'm going to be joining the race fully prepared this time around.
What do you hope the legacy of the event will be for Sunderland?
I'm hoping this means more people get involved in sailing, particularly Tall Ship sailing. I've seen the kind of change it brings about in people, even in myself, and the race is the perfect time to show that off. I also hope the race makes people realise just how good Wearside has it in terms of their coastal position, and I hope more people will take advantage of that in the future.
How are you enjoying your course at the University of Sunderland?
It was more challenging than I thought it would be when I originally enrolled in 2015, but I've exceeded my own expectations and then some thanks to the support and experience from the uni. I originally enrolled thinking I was going to be sitting at a typewriter all day with a press ticket in my hat, but by the second day of my course I had signed up to be on Spark's news team. By my second year, I was deputy head of broadcast news at Spark and helped to launch Spark Reports, a Newsbeat-style nightly news programme that we felt was more in tune with Spark's target audience and allowed us to be more fun and creative with our radio packages. The facilities and the media hub were what drew me to this university in the first place, so I'm really glad I made the most of my time up in the hub, as it has proven to be invaluable experience.
What are your plans for the future, career wise?
I'm going to be travelling a lot this summer, which I can't wait for, but I'm also going to be keeping my ear to the ground for any job opportunities, or even work experience roles within the journalism and PR sector. I'm at a bit of a stalemate. I want to enjoy this summer to the fullest, so I don't want to let any job-hunting stress or anxiety fully take over, but I'm also chomping at the bit to start a career. It's all about trying to keep the balance at the moment.
The Tall Ships will be in Sunderland between Wednesday, 11 July and Saturday, 14 July.
For everything you need to know about the event, visit here