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Irish Olympic Finn Sailor & Race Officer Bill O'Hara Awarded OBE in New Year's Honours List

31st December 2020
Bill O'Hara has been awarded an OBE for his services to sailing Bill O'Hara has been awarded an OBE for his services to sailing

Among those in the New Years Honours List for 2021 is Bangor, County Down man Bill O'Hara who has been awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to Sailing.

A long-time member of Ballyholme and Royal Ulster Yacht Clubs on Belfast Lough, Bill has been a prominent and loyal member of both and still finds time to race regularly as well as performing all his other official duties.

Not many would know that Bill sailed in GP14s as a ten-year-old at Ballyholme Yacht Club, went on to crew for Pat Murphy in an Irish Championship in Lough Swilly in 1974 and later in his own Alastair Duffin built boat in '76 at Mumbles. But probably the groundwork for a career in sailing was at the point when fellow clubmate Bill Whisker persuaded him to sail with him every morning at 7.30 am before school at the end of September to keep his boat handling skills up to scratch before an Irish Helmsmans Championships. He says that the fact that a World Champion felt the need to keep practising left a lasting impression on him.

After his GP14 sailing, he ventured into single handers racing a Laser successfully, and went on to compete in the Finn class in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.

After leaving Heriot-Watt University Bill focussed on both sailing and the family hotel business. His other passion was rugby and he played for Bangor, reaching the final of the Ulster Senior League in the 1982/83 season.

the 1982 Irish Laser Class, with their mentor Ron Huthcieson on right, are (left to right) Simon Brien (later multiple Edinburgh Cup winner and other majors), multiple champion Charlie Taylor (still at it in the Laser Masters), Olympian Bill O'Hara, and Dave Cummins, All-Ireland Helmsmans Champion 1981 and 1982The 1982 Irish Laser Class supremos, with their mentor Ron Huthcieson on right, are (left to right) Simon Brien (later multiple Edinburgh Cup winner and other majors), multiple champion Charlie Taylor (still at it in the Laser Masters), Olympian Bill O'Hara, and Dave Cummins, All-Ireland Helmsmans Champion 1981 and 1982

Bill represented Ireland in the Finn class in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and the '88 games in Seoul. By the time the Seoul Olympics came around he was married with two children and after the games he became more involved in voluntary coaching. He worked with the Irish team at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 and in 2000 became the leader of the Irish Coaching team of volunteers travelling to the Sydney games. By 2001 he was an International Judge.

Another notable opportunity for Bill came when in 2006 on-the-water umpiring was introduced to the sport of sailing and he was right in there at the beginning. By 2007 Bill's career in sailing took on a part-time volunteer/ part-time professional aspect. He has worked for both governing bodies in Ireland – for the Irish Sailing Association Academy and the RYANI Youth Squad.

Bill's career profile on the international front runs through such major events the Volvo Ocean Race in 2008 for which he was Principal Race Officer, via Chief Umpire for the Extreme 40s in 2009 to Chief Umpire for the J class last year.

Illustrating how broad is Bill's experience is the fact that he is one of only three or four people internationally who have the triple accolade of being a Judge, Umpire and Race Officer. He pays tribute to those who have greatly influenced his career. " I would like to mention people in Ireland who have made a big difference to me. Mick Wallace my coach in the Los Angeles and Seoul Olympics; Ron Hutchieson who mentored me on Rules and Ken Ryan, Vice President of the Irish Sailing association who guided me in Judging".

You can read more about Bill's career here

Betty Armstrong

About The Author

Betty Armstrong

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Betty Armstrong is Afloat and Yachting Life's Northern Ireland Correspondent. Betty grew up racing dinghies but now sails a more sedate Dehler 36 around County Down.

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