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NI Skiff Girls Compete in Their First International Event at 49erFX U23 Worlds

5th August 2023
Erin McIlwaine and Ellie Cunnane
Erin McIlwaine and Ellie Cunnane put their skills to the test at Travemünder Woche in the 49erFX Junior Worlds

For the first time ever, Northern Ireland had two sailors competing in the Junior U23 World Championship for Olympic 49er and 49erFX at Travemünder Woche in Germany late last month.

With competitive racing and up and down the leaderboard, over 100 teams descended on the city of Lübeck show their skills and compare their progress to their peers as they transition from youth to senior racing.

The NI sailors were each in different pairings with sailors from Tralee and Dublin.

Erin McIlwaine from Newcastle Yacht Club launched her 49erFX campaign last spring with Ellie Cunnane of Tralee Bay SC, as previously reported on, and has been training both abroad and in Dublin throughout the summer.

Despite entering two previous events this year, the Junior Worlds were their first real test as previous events were either cancelled or so windy half the fleet didn’t compete.

Ellen Barbour from County Antrim Yacht Club is fresh into the class after transitioning from the ILCA 6 this summer and teamed up with Elysia O’Leary of Dublin’s Royal St George YC.

Elysia has been sailing the boat for a while now but was on the lookout for a crew to campaign with. Ellen, a competitive ILCA sailor in her own right, was also looking for new options in the sport and together they created the ideal pairing.

Both teams had a steep learning curve to put all their training into practice among a large fleet of very talented sailors from across the globe. Erin and Ellie ultimately came up short of the Gold fleet, despite posting to back-to-back race wins and showing signs of great future potential.

Ellen has had just two months’ experience using a trapeze and sailing with a new partner, and this was very much a training exercise rather than a results-based event. The goal was to take part and asses the big areas the team need to work on and learn more about how the top teams get the boats around the course.

Erin McIlwaine says: “Overall, it was a very enjoyable event, racing in some mixed and tricky conditions. Unfortunately, we made some weak decisions at the start of the week that ultimately left us just outside the Gold fleet.

“Winning two out of three races in the final series confirmed that we were sailing well and can now focus our efforts on the Senior World Championships in The Hague.”

Ellen Barbour added: “Having never trapezed before and only being in the boat for two months, we went in knowing mistakes would be made and it would be a great learning experience.

“We had a few good race results which we are happy with and we have come away with a clear idea of what we need to work on in the coming month.”

Measuring success for girls in sailing is also a topic that was discussed in a recent webinar hosted by RYANI to discuss its research on understanding the experience of women and girls in the sport.

Kate Broderick, RYANI pathways officer, provided her own experiences of sailing which have been shared on the RYA website HERE. Team

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About the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) Northern Ireland 

  • The RYA is the national body for dinghy, yacht and motor cruising, all forms of sail racing, RIBs and sports boats, windsurfing and personal watercraft and a leading representative for inland waterways cruising.
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