Scarborough woman who sailed 45,000 around the world honoured in photography collection

Tracy Thorpe, 51, from Scarborough.
Tracy Thorpe, 51, from Scarborough.

A woman from Scarborough who sailed 45,000 around the world whilst studying for a degree has been honoured in a new photography collection.

Tracy Thorpe, 51, from Scarborough, is a professional crew on yachts and completed a Modern Languages degree with the Open University (OU) whilst sailing and graduated with first class honours in 2017.

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From completing her level 3 French oral exam in the back office of a shipyard in Nova Scotia to speaking to her tutors on the satellite phone from the middle of the ocean, Tracy is passionate about the power of education, particularly flexible learning.

To celebrate the university's 50th anniversary, a new photography collection has been released which includes 10 modern portraits of inspiring students, alumni and staff taken by renowned British photographer Chris Floyd.

For Ms Thorpe, studying while on board posed many unusual challenges – stormy weather, multiple time zones and erratic WiFi connections to name a few.

She said: “I’d dreamed for years of studying for a degree but I always thought that my job would make it impossible. My work as a professional sailor means that I travel all over the world, sometimes in very remote places. The flexibility of the OU has enabled me to achieve that dream.”

The OU decided to marking the landmark anniversary by telling its remarkable story through the power of photographs.

Former and current OU students, including a prisoner turned academic, a woman research pioneer in moon exploration and a soldier who studied in the field with waterproofed books, all feature in the new collection.

The institution has grown from supporting just 24,000 students in 1969 to over 19 million students and learners today.

It is the largest university in the UK and supports students across England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and around the world.

The OU’s Vice Chancellor Mary Kellett said: “We’ve come a long way since 1969. Our story is one that changes lives, pushes boundaries and challenges society to think differently about education.

"Our mission to be open to all, the way we teach, and our range of students are what makes the OU unique.

"These photographs bring this to life brilliantly, with every image highlighting the reach, flexibility and diversity of the excellent education we offer and the tenacity and commitment of our students.”

The special collection, titled 'The Open University: 50 years' also includes newly released archive images dating from 1969, when the ‘university of air’ was founded, including rare pictures from events such as the Fourcault Experiment recreation, the Queen’s visit to campus, the OU’s first ever graduation ceremony at Alexandra Palace, and revolutionary home science equipment in use.

The full photography collection is available to view here.