#SailorOfTheYear - Robert Dickson and Seán Waddilove have been named Afloat Irish Sailors of the Year for 2018 in recognition of their gold medal victory in the 49er U23 Junior World Championships, amid another landmark 12 months for inspiring performances in Irish sailing.
September’s Olympic Sailors of the Month were presented with their prize by Minister of State Mary Mitchell-O’Connor at the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards gala in Dublin’s RDS Concert Hall this evening (Friday 8 February).
Robert Dickson (21) of Howth and Seán Waddilove (20) of Skerries rose to the challenge in Marseille last August and September as they battled a strong international field — and a Mistral at full strength — to score their first world gold, and their first major win.
It was down to the wire at the climax of the final race on Saturday 1 September as the Dublin duo led a chasing pack in the fleet of 52 boats.
However, their placing was no surprise to anyone following the former 420 pair’s performance during their week on the Cote D’Azur, with seven results out of their first nine races in the top five — and all that after starting out on only two days of training, with Robert levelled by a bout of food poisoning.
Going into the final day as leaders no doubt piled on the pressure, which must have doubled when gear failure in their 10th race saw them slip down the finish order.
But according to Robert, the pair played it cool. “We were still leading the regatta by three points which we didn’t know at the time,” he told Afloat.ie. “We never think about points. We need a clear mind to carry out our jobs on the water.”
What a job it was, too — and a testament to their skill and steely nerve that after that humbling stumble, they recovered to win the final and claim Ireland’s first ever major victory of their age group in the skiff class.
It was also vindication of more than year of extraordinarily hard work put in by both young men, after injury felled Seán in early 2017 and almost scuppered their campaign for the 2020 Olympics.
Far from it, the signs now look exceedingly bright for a stellar performance in Tokyo next year.
According to the International 49er Class — whose president Marcus Spillane must be delighted at his home nation’s achievements — the academy set-up in Ireland has been key to this country’s boost in competitiveness in the skiff.
Despite the departure of Saskia Tidey to Team GB slowing down Irish 49erFX ambitions, on the men’s side the squad has grown since the split of Rio challengers Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern, the former forging a new partnership with Seafra Guilfoyle for Tokyo 2020 (McGovern retired last year and is now high performance manager with RYA NI).
And indeed, Robert and Seán are an integral part of this growth.
Recounting for Afloat.ie his and Seán’s path to the title, Robert explains that for both it began well before any world-class ambitions.
Each got into sailing as a child at club level, Robert sailing an Optimist alongside family in Lough Ree while Sean got his start via a taster course in Skerries.
As their talent shone through and competitions became a matter of course, the two would meet and become friends on the national circuit, forming a bond as their success soon took them abroad.
And after joining Irish Sailing’s Olympic Pathway in the Oppy class, it made perfect sense that they would team up to progress to the 420 class — in which they started training in their Transition Year — and then two years later to the 49er, often regarded as the ‘Formula 1’ of dinghy racing.
“Training with the 49er Development Squad and having a 100% committed coach makes training much more effective,” says Robert. “You can train solo but it’s not as effective as having a group of boats around you, pushing each other on and off the water to strive to be the best. This medal was certainly a team effort!”
That team, past and present, includes former 49er Development Team coach Tytus Konarzewski, Thomas Chaix, Ross Killian, ex-Olympic duo Ger Owens and Scott Flanigan, Graeme Grant, Philippe Boudgourd, John and David White, and sports physio Mark McCabe at SportsMed Ireland.
And that’s not to mention Robert and Sean’s families and fellow sailors, supportive clubs and sporting bodies — and their colleges that allow them to work classes and assignments around their full-on training schedule.
To confirm a suggestion proffered by the 49er class, the investment made in creating Olympic contenders like Laser Radial silver medallist (and 2016 Sailor of the Year) Annalise Murphy has indeed — in the success of Robert Dickson and Seán Waddilove — been leveraged in bringing the next generation of youth and junior talent into the top levels of their age categories.
WM Nixon will have a profile of the 2018’s Afloat Sailors of the Year as well as the many worthy nominees in his Sailing on Saturday column, available later tonight right here on Afloat.ie.
Robert and Seán topped another incredible field of nominees for 2018, among them faces recognised from 2017’s shortlist and years previous, as well as a fellow Olympic contender.
Liam Glynn was a Sailor of the Month in July for his bronze at the U21 Laser Worlds, while Peter and Rob O’Leary were stars in the Star class. Wins at home and abroad put Justin Lucas on our radar, as was Irish Topper number one Hugh O’Connor, and Firefly duo Atlee Kohn and Jonathan O’Shaugnnessy. Brendan Lyden captained UCC1 to victory at the University Sailing Association Team Championship.
Last year’s Sailor of the Year Conor Fogerty made the list again for his runaway victory in Class 3 at the RORC Caribbean 600 mere days after collecting his Afloat gong.
Tom Dolan topped the rookies in his first Figaro Minitransat, while Barry Byrne skippered the Irish Defence Forces to the top of the corinthian ranks (and second overall) in the Volvo Round Ireland Race, besides a successful defence of the Beaufort Cup at Cork Week.
The inspirational Enda O’Coineen was no April fool as he completed his delayed circumnavigation for his own personal Vendée Globe milestone.
Classic boating was ably represented by Ilen restorer Gary MacMahon, Dave Cullen’s Wave Regatta champion Checkmate XV and Mermaid fan Darragh McCormick, while Darryl Hughes found a fruitful partnership with his vintage ketch Maybird.
Peter Kennedy fought hard to claim his All-Ireland title, Molly Breathnach cruised her way to a spot on the list, Fintan Cairns showed true leadership vision with the DBSC Turkey Shoot, and Donal O’Sullivan bowed out from his role at the same club after decades of unparalleled contributions.
And Gregor McGuckin got a nod in September for his selfless actions during the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe Race, racing to the aid of the injured Abilash Tomy with his own storm-worn yacht under jury rig.
In the night’s other prizes, Irish Sailing president Jack Roy presented the Senior Instructor Award to Southern Region winner Ellen O’Regan of Schull and the Fastnet Marine & Outdoor Education Centre for her exceptional instructor management abilities and skills.
Bray Sailing Club took one of the night’s two new categories as the Inclusion Award was presented by Gina Griffin to senior instructor Jack Hannon for his work on the Watersports Inclusion Games. The club was also named Training Centre of the Year for 2018 (presented by Cllr Ossian Smyth).
Howth Yacht Club and the Royal Cork Yacht Club shared the inaugural Sustainability Award, presented by Irish Sailing’s new sustainability ambassador Damian Foxall.
And Youth Sailor of the Year, presented by Irish Sports Council chief executive John Treacy, is the National Yacht Club’s Nell Staunton, one of the standouts of Ireland’s Laser Radial youth squad and eighth-place finisher in last summer’s Youth Sailing Worlds in Texas.
Nell Staunton wins the Volvo Irish Sailing Youth Sailor for 2018.— Irish Sailing (@Irish_Sailing) February 8, 2019
# volvorishsailingawards pic.twitter.com/nrDiLtuolQ
Hosted once more by master of ceremonies Fiona Bolger, the night as always welcomed guests from Irish club and high performance sailing — youth and veteran, professional and corinthian.
Among the 500 people in attendance at the RDS Main Hall were Volvo Car Ireland MD David Thomas and PR and events executive Emma O’Carroll; from RYA NI, chair Jackie Patton (also of the Atlantic Youth Trust) and chief executive Richard Honeyford; and UK Sailmakers’ Barry Hayes.
Representing the Olympic Federation of Ireland were CEO Peter Sherrard, secretary Sarah O’Shea and Colm Barrington, first vice president and former chairman of Irish Sailing’s Olympic Steering Group.
From the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport were assistant secretary Deirdre O’Keeffe and Peter Horgan, principal officer of sports policy and the National Sports Campus, while Fianna Fáil spokesperson for sport Robert Troy also joined the evening.
From Dun Laoghaire’s waterfront were harbourmaster Simon Coate; National Yacht Club Commodore Ronan Beirne with Vice Commodore Martin McCarthy and club archivist Frank Burgess; Royal Irish YC Commodore Joseph Costello; Royal St George Vice Commodore Peter Bowring; and DMYC Commodore Frank Guilfoyle
Representing the rest of Co Dublin were Dublin Bay Sailing Club’s new honorary secretary Chris Moore; Howth YC’s Vice Commodore Emmet Dalton with the club’s Rear Commodores Paddy J Judge and Ian Malcolm, race officer Richella Carroll and communications officer Brian Turvey; and Malahide YC Commodore Matt Ryan and Rear Commodore Ciaran O’Reilly.
Also in attendance were Bray Sailing Club’s outgoing Commodore Darina Porter, incumbent Boris Fennema, treasurer Torren Gale, and Jack Hannon; Skerries Sailing Club Commodore Kathryn Collins with Vice Commodore Liam O’Callaghan; and Dublin Port Company assistant harbour master Tristan Walsh.
Cork’s flag was flown by Kinsale Yacht Club Commodore David O’Sullivan and Vice Commodore Michael Walsh, along with Baltimore Sailing Club Commodore Niall O’Neill, and Royal Cork’s Admiral Pat Farnan, general manager Gavin Deane and sustainability chair Aoife Deane.
RTÉ broadcaster Fergal Keane; Volvo Ocean Race photographer Brian Carlin; Sailing Into Wellness founder Colin Healy, World Sailing delegates Con Murphy and Paddy Boyd; Nobby Reilly, formerly of ICRA; and former ICRA Commodore Simon McGibney were also in attendance.
Guests were also given a special up-close look at some of the boat models sailed by Ireland’s next generation of high achievers in sailing at home and abroad.
Ian O’Meara of Viking Marine and Pierce Purcell Jr and Nicky Bendon of CH Marine represented the dinghy scene presenting Lasers and a Topper respectively, while Kenny Rumball of the Irish National Sailing & Powerboat School brought along a training Optimist and RS Quest — and Gerry Salmon, Joss Walsh and Martin Salmon of yacht broker MGM Boats showed a scale model of the new Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300 that wowed the Paris Boat Show in December.
Hosted by Irish Sailing with Afloat magazine, the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards aim to highlight the breadth of sailing across the country.
Afloat’s Sailor of the Year awards have been running since 1996, recognising over 500 Irish sailors in that time. The awards “were originally formulated to bring a bigger profile to sailing achievements that do not get their fair share of the media coverage,” says editor David O’Brien. “Now these achievements are reaching a wider audience than ever before.”
Afloat.ie neared 1.3 million visitors in 2018 — an audience the publication is eager to share with Ireland’s sailing community.
“Afloat.ie wants to work with every club and every class in the country,” says O’Brien. “Please get in touch.”
Update Saturday 9 February: This article was corrected to show that Bray Sailing Club won Training Centre of the Year and not Lough Swilly Yacht club as previously indicated.