The retirement this month of noted northern sailor Ron Hutchieson as Chairman of Irish Sailing's Racing Rules & Appeals Board brings to a conclusion an exceptionally long period of devoted and very effective honorary official service to sailing and its administration and development locally, nationally and internationally.
In boats, he was best known for his interest in the well-being and growth of the Laser Class, a dedication which was at such a level that his term as Honorary Secretary of the Irish Laser Class was from 1974 – when the Laser made its debut in this country – until 2017. This was a historic forty-three year period during which he guided this very special boat and its rapidly increasing numbers to an unrivalled national role as one of the pillars of Irish sailing.
It was Ron Hutchieson, and a few special others like him across the world, who provided the structures and healthy national class associations through which the Laser became - in 1996 – perhaps the only boat type to be selected for the Olympics that has managed to retain its global popularity as an accessible solo dinghy which can be happily raced by sailors of all abilities at every level, regardless of its high-powered Olympic associations.
On that count alone, despite its introduction to the Oympics only 24 years ago, the Laser has succeeded in expressing the Olympic ideal through sailing with more meaning and popularity than any other class. And for Ron Hutchieson and others who had worked tirelessly for the wellbeing of the class in Ireland for so many years, it was a special satisfaction that, just a year before his retirement as the class's Honorary Secretary, Annalise Murphy of the National YC brought the Irish Laser Class the much-celebrated highlight of the Olympic Silver Medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.
When this is linked to the fact that his Ballyholme clubmate Bill O'Hara rose with others in Irish Laser racing's elite squad to Gold Medal standard at world level, the breadth and depth of success though the Hutchieson Laser years is given an added perspective. But remarkably, there is much more to Ron's input to Irish and international sailing than his valuable work for the Lasers, as he has found further expression for his special talents in on-water race administration and rules interpretation ashore.
Those who are finding life a challenge through the current Lockdown phases – which means just about all of us – would do well to remember that Ron's greatest contributions to the development of the Laser class and Irish sailing on an all-island basis took place during some of the worst years of The Troubles.
Yet Ron Hutchieson and others like him determinedly and uncomplainingly traversed Ireland on a regular basis in those sometimes very hazardous periods, keeping the Irish sailing show on the road so effectively that despite the civic unrest and the occasional but extremely real personal physical dangers, sailing wasn't merely kept going – on the contrary, it developed and expanded, and in its friendly non-political all-Ireland functioning, it was undoubtedly a force for peace.
Paddy Boyd of Dun Laoghaire, who was Secretary-General of the Irish Sailing Association during some of those most difficult years, recalls Ron as a determined yet very fair debater when contentious issues arose.
"He was and is a great friend to all Irish sailing and particularly to the Laser class, and I like to think that his attention to detail rubbed off on those of us who crave clearly written and unambiguous Notices of Race and Sailing Instructions.
However while Ron's influences were beneficial across the board and he is undoubtedly the example to follow, there are times when we're still some distance from his exceptionally high standards. But perhaps that tells us as much about his idealism for the sport he loves, as it does about the ability of the rest of us to live up to his own extraordinarily high standards"
We get an added insight into the quality of the Hutchieson contribution through quoting the comments of senior Irish Laser figure Colin Leonard during the ceremony at the Laser Nationals in Crosshaven in August 2017, when the baton of Class Honorary Secretary was handed over to Annamarie Fegan of Cork, who is now RCYC Rear Admiral, and one of the busy triumvirate organising the "pop-up" 270-mile Dublin Bay-Fastnet Rock-Cork Harbour Race on August 22nd:
Colin Leonard wrote:
Ron started his journey to greatness within Irish and International Laser sailing when he was a founder member of the Laser fleet in Ballyholme Yacht Club. Travelling to the 1978 Europeans, he brought home not the victor's trophy, but the far more significant prize of having the 1979 Euros hosted at Ballyholme. This major event, at a venue now synonymous with producing fast Laser sailors, gave young Irish sailors such as Bill O'Hara, Trevor Millar and many others their first exposure to international and professional sailing, and set them on their way to Olympic sailing and coaching achievements.
In 1983, Ron was appointed an International Juror and quickly involved himself in juries of European and World Championship level events, in the Laser and many other classes. In an international career spanning more than twenty years, he has chaired juries at top level Laser events and also gained experience as a race officer. This culminated in his selection as Finish Boat Race Officer for the London 2012 Olympics for both Laser fleets.
Despite a busy International schedule, Ron brought all these experiences to the committee of the Irish Laser Association, and the evidence of his dedication to fairness and attention to detail is obvious in the high standard of racing offered at Irish Laser events - time and time again, year on year. It is unheard of for a venue to be lacking in some regard, as Ron has made us all become accustomed to every detail having been considered.
Ron is the epitome of sailing organisation by sailors for sailors, and has dedicated his time, his energy and his own sailing for the benefit of others. Ron has throughout all this demonstrated immense integrity and fairness.
He has had a key role in setting sailors on track for at least five Olympics, while being the founder of SailCoach, the mentor of many of the managers and coaching team at Sailing Ireland, and the guide for countless professional sailors in every aspect of the sport as they move into their personal trajectories of achievement.
If you have sailed a dinghy in a race in Ireland, it is likely that you have felt the effect of Ron's work in Laser sailing, and sailing in general. He is a legend of the Irish Laser class, and it was my honour to be able to thank him for his efforts on behalf of the class and to see him nominated and confirmed a Life Member of the class by the new committee.
Colin Leonard's comments very effectively outline the successful way in which Ron Hutchieson managed to run parallel national and international involvements in sailing administration to the mutual benefit of each area of interest.
A distinguished longtime colleague in sailing administration, David Lovegrove - the President of Irish Sailing from 2013-2016 - gives further insight into Ron Hutchieson's unique contribution to our sport:
With Ron's decision to call it a day and step down as the Chair of Irish Sailing's Racing Rules Committee and Appeals Board, Irish Sailing is relinquishing its direct links with one of its most loyal and committed servants.
While I have been involved in the administration of sailing in Ireland for over forty years, Ron was already an established and greatly respected authority when I was learning the ropes. I can well remember being Race Officer for a number of Laser Nationals and before the event would receive "the Ron Missive".
This basically was a set of documents, which not only included the Sailing Instructions in double PDF format, to ensure no changes could be made to them, but also very detailed instructions on how to run the regatta. Not only was that daunting, what was worse was the post-race interrogation as to why you had done certain things that were not in accordance with the "instructions". It was a bit like being back in school and facing the headmaster for having committed some transgression!
Ron always had the "Ah! But …" response up his sleeve. Whenever one engaged with Ron in a discourse on some aspect of the interpretation of a RRS and had come up with what appeared to be a winning argument, Ron would come up with his "Ah, but…..", which would be followed by "you have not considered Rule XYZ, (which of course one hadn't), and which would completely destroy one's argument. Or another typical Ron response would be…" have you considered appeal case number XX?", which yet again would never have entered one's head.
He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Rules of Racing and their interpretations, and was always willing to share his knowledge and to help when required. All you had to do was to ask and his response would be detailed and considered. Certainly, once you had an opinion from Ron, you could proceed knowing that you were on safe ground. Having said that, Ron was never one to push himself forward into the limelight. He was always happy to work quietly in the background and do what was asked of him.
Recently, Irish Sailing undertook a process to develop a new Terms of Reference for the Racing Rules Committee and Appeals Board. Ron's inputs to these new Terms were most helpful, and a number of his suggestions have been incorporated into the working procedures recently adopted by the Board of Irish Sailing.
Ron will be best remembered for his administration of the Racing Rules Committee and Appeals Board, over which he has reigned supreme for as long as I can remember. Some say that he used a black art to determine the outcome of appeals, but this was not the case. He used a panel of learned women and men who, under his guidance, deliberated long and hard to come up with the difficult decisions.
Some years ago when he suffered a health scare, people thought that he would give up his administration roles, but no, as soon as he was fit and well again, he was back at the helm.
Ron's heart is bigger than the man himself and he has totally devoted his spare time to assisting others in the sport that he loves so much. He is a one-of-a-kind, and Irish Sailing will be a lot poorer for his decision to retire. Certainly, no one in this day and age will be willing to give as much time to sailing as Ron did. Ron, thank you - we all owe you a great debt of gratitude for what you have done so that we can all enjoy our racing.
While Ron Hutchieson was a private man with a significant behind-the-scenes sailing life which saw him being made ISA "Volunteer of the Year" in 2010, in professional life he ran several specialist businesses. He and his wife Doris celebrated their Golden Jubilee last year, and are in their own restrained way something of a power couple, as Doris became a leading figure in education in Northern Ireland through her role as headmistress of Coleraine High School.
As a result of this, they made their home during her working years in nearby Ballymoney and became active figures in the larger local community. So much so, in fact, that in 1999 Doris was appointed the High Sheriff of County Londonderry, which was a matter of both considerable pride and quiet amusement to her husband, who commented: "My wife's the Sheriff, so maybe you better call me Deputy Dawg".
The former High Sheriff and the ISA "Volunteer of the Year" 2010 (and holder of many other accolades) now live in the pretty fishing village of Groomsport just a couple of miles eastward of Ballyholme Bay, where Ron Hutchieson was instrumental in starting the Laser Class in 1974 - all of 46 years ago. While Ron may have stood down from his demanding direct roles in sailing, there's no doubt the thoughts of the Guru of Groomsport will be regularly consulted. And we can be quite sure that the term "active retirement" acquires a completely new meaning when applied to Mr and Mrs Hutchieson.
As former Irish Sailing President David Lovegrove of Howth has told us, Ron Hutchieson is undoubutedy one-of-a-kind, and current Irish Sailing President David O'Brien of Crosshaven concludes this portrait of a remarkable man and great servant of sailing with some of his own thoughts on Ron:
My introduction to Ron was many years ago as an inexperienced Race Officer in Royal Cork YC, and it is fair to say - and probably no surprise to anyone - that he made a lasting impression then, and at many subsequent events. But it was at the annual Laser Class Munsters, held for many successive years at Easter in Baltimore, Co. Cork, that we really got to know each other well.
I cannot recall how many years I have been Race Officer for this event, but in the early years I and my team looked upon "Uncle Ron" with awe and trepidation, reluctant to question or challenge his definite viewpoint, irrespective of one's own opinion. However, as the years progressed, and I got to know Ron better, his vast and superior knowledge of all aspects of the racing rules, and race management procedures, was obvious, and willingly shared.
Ron managed the entries, registration, and results for the event for many years, and in later times after he stopped going afloat as jury, would be found throughout the event in his acquired domain on the upper level of the clubhouse, inputting entries initially, then race results as soon as we could get them ashore.
He was - perhaps with good reason - sceptical about our efforts either to input results on the water - or send them to him electronically as races progressed. Generally, those efforts resulted in delayed publishing of results, which was not appreciated…..
A stickler for correct protocol, I often felt sorry for the young inexperienced Laser sailor who would approach Ron with a query at the most inappropriate time, as he was inputting the results, only to have the "Do Not Disturb" sign pointed out without comment. And if he or she persisted, there'd be a swift and polite yet definitely firm rebuke to read the said sign.
There was always a formal procedure to be followed if a competitor wished to query a result, but once the form was properly completed, that competitor was absolutely guaranteed a review, even if it meant Ron being late for dinner – indeed, so punctilious was he in following and completing the prescribed procedures that it wasn't unknown for Ron to miss his evening
In every way Ron's service and dedication to Irish Sailing generally - and the Laser Class especially - over many years is unrivalled and very deeply appreciated by so many sailors. Although he steps down as chair of the Racing Rules Committee, I hope that this knowledge and experience will be available to the sport for many years to come.
Thank you Ron!