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122-Year-Old Waverley Yacht Class Connects Two Northern Ireland Finalists in the RYA Club of the Year Awards

6th December 2022
A newspaper photograph of Waverley Number 7 Lilias competing in Whitehead on Belfast Lough in August 1929
A newspaper photograph of Waverley Number 7 Lilias (Mr James Mahood)competing in Whitehead on Belfast Lough in August 1929 Credit: courtesy Waverley Class

Northern Ireland's Ballyholme Yacht Club and County Antrim Yacht Club have both been announced as finalists in the RYA Club of the Year 2023.

Although six miles apart on opposite sides of Belfast Lough, the clubs were formed within about twenty years of each other, CAYC emerging with the twentieth century in 1902 and Ballyholme in 1919. But one keelboat class connects the two, the Waverley class, designed by John Wylie and first raced in 1903 at Whitehead, the home of County Antrim YC. By the end of WW1, the class was no longer exclusive to CAYC, and two boats were built at Ballyholme. By 1961 when the class had been reformed as a racing class at BYC, there were Waverleys at most Belfast Lough Clubs. Now the class has moved on again, this time to Strangford Lough Yacht Club at Whiterock.

As Afloat reported earlier, both clubs are passionate about youth sailing.

Ballyholme Yacht Club

In 2018 the Ballyholme club had one Topper racing regularly, and at a recent Topper event, 35 of the competitors were BYC cadets. The club is known both locally and internationally as expert at hosting big events and in the past those have included not only its local regatta but the ISA Youth Championships, ILA Masters, RS 400/200/Feva Nationals, the RYANI Youth Championships and Optimist Ulsters. Many of the youth sailors are in the RYANI Topper and ILCA squads, and among its members are past Olympians such as Bill O’Hara and Matt McGovern. Also, John Driscoll, Chris Boyd, and Conrad Simpson have all represented Ballyholme at Olympic Games in the Finn class, and the club hosted the Finn Gold Cup (World Championship) in 1992. Other club activities are open-water swimming and Stand Up Paddleboarding.

RS Feva racing at Ballyholme Yacht Club Photo:Simon McIlwaineRS Feva racing at Ballyholme Yacht Club Photo:Simon McIlwaine

Commodore Dougie Rennie commented, “It is, of course, a privilege to be nominated again for this award and is a testament to the members of BYC who volunteer to help BYC host all the events and activities that the club puts on for the benefit of all sailors and the wider community”.

County Antrim Yacht Club

County Antrim YC is a relatively small club delivering a varied and successful programme of activities on the water and ashore, planned to benefit club members and the local community, including charities. The club has a strong volunteering culture and encourages members from all backgrounds to access the water, free-of-charge or low-cost dinghy loans and courses are offered. The club’s junior development pathway resulted in 2022 successes at regional and national, and world championship levels. In addition, the club hosts regional and national events, most recently the Flying 15 Northerns. The club provides race management and mark laying/safety boat teams to support events across Northern Ireland, including Irish Sailability and the RYANI Youth Championships. CAYC introduced ‘try sailing’ days and a ‘get to know your club’ day, with targeted communications resulting in significantly increased membership.

Flying Fifteen keelboat racing at WhiterockFlying Fifteen keelboat racing at County Antrim Yacht Club Photo: CYCA

The club believes it can have a cohesive role in its relatively small community and has worked with local stakeholders to host community events coming out of the pandemic. It has bulk-purchased SUPs and kayaks so there are now around 30 and 40, respectively available, enabling non-sailing members to get on the water and reach out to non-members. Due to 2022’s new-member successes, the club is providing additional training and coaching efforts – it also identified a Covid-related age gap in junior sailors and is planning additional confidence-building coaching sessions for the 2023 pre-season.

Commodore Peter Darragh is delighted that his club will be one of 12 clubs shortlisted for RYA Club of the Year. “This is significant given over 1,000 other diverse clubs across the UK are in the running for this accolade. A successful club is built on its members, so we see this as a great recognition of the hard work, expertise, and commitment our volunteers put into operating a very full calendar of sailing and other water-based activities. Support for our members ranges from structured training for those new to sailing to coaching and assisting those experiencing racing success on a world stage. We also play an important role in supporting the wider sailing fraternity in Northern Ireland and love being at the heart of our local community: encouraging young and old to give sailing a go and be safe on the water. We’re a small club with a big impact and are very proud to have this validation of our efforts.”

Betty Armstrong

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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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