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How Robert Dickson & Sean Waddilove Won The Junior 49er World Championships

19th September 2018
Robert Dickson (left) and Sean Waddilove on their way to World Championship victory in Marseille Robert Dickson (left) and Sean Waddilove on their way to World Championship victory in Marseille Credit: Pierii/49er Class

Robert Dickson won the Junior 49er World Championships in France last month and here he describes how victory in Marseille came through years of preparation with this long-term sailing partner Sean Waddilove (21).

Believe it or not this is our first win in 49er sailing! Unlike the Laser class where many sailors have gone from club level and gradually progressed to World Class, all our 49er racing has been international.

We began sailing when we were very young. I began sailing in Lough Ree with my sister and brother and cousins in my red wooden Oppie. Seán began with a 'Taste of Sailing' course in Skerries Sailing Club and immediately fell in love with being on the water. We started club racing and then started the National circuit where we became good friends and represented Ireland in international events such as Palma and the German Nationals.

I then began to sail in Sutton Dinghy Club and finally moved to Howth Yacht Club.

We both joined SRR in La Rochelle for our Transition Year 2013/14, where we trained in our 420 dinghy with the La Rochelle Team.
We joined the Irish Sailing Olympic Pathway in Optimists and progressed to the 420 and are now finally in the Olympic Class dinghy, the 49er.

Formula One of Dinghy Racing

The 49er is often described as the Formula one of dinghy sailing. It is fast, technical, addictive and we love it!

We have had to strike a balance between training, racing and studying. DCU and DIT support this through their Sports Scholarship Programmes. We depend a lot on wifi in the evenings to catch up on lectures!

Robert Dickson and Sean WaddiloveDickson and Waddilove love sailing the 'Formula One' of dinghies Photo: Pierii/49er Class

Training with the 49er Development Squad and having a 100% committed coach makes training much more effective. 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!

We have had support all along from:

  • Family
  • Sailors
  • Coaches: Tytus Konarzewski, Mark McCabe, Ross Killian, Ger Owens, Thomas Chaix, Graham Grant, Phillippe Boudgourd, John and David White, Scott Flanigan and many more.
  • DCU and DIT
  • Clubs: HYC. SSC, SDC, LRYC, SRR
  • Institute of Sport
  • Sport Ireland
  • Irish Sailing

We were invited early in 2015 to join the recently developed 49er Development Squad and started training in June 2015 with Seán and Tadgh Donnelly and Mark Hassett and Oisín O’Driscoll down in Schull Sailing Centre.

Twelve knots felt like twenty

For the first year sailing 49ers, we didn’t even dream of trying to sail in a regatta. We spent a lot of time upside down trying to learn how to get around a course and learning how to fix everything we broke after being smashed around the boat. The 49er felt so much more powered up than the 420. Twelve knots felt like twenty.

The group became better and better together all learning from each other.

Irish Sailing got us a passionate and dedicated coach Tytus Konarzewski from Poland for the Squad in September 2015. Tytus put in a huge amount of work with us and really helped us a lot in many ways on our path to winning the U23 Worlds.

49er JuniorIreland's Dickson and Waddilove wearing the leaders gold vests in the thick of it in Marseille Photo: Pierii/49er Class

Our Strength and Conditioning was guided by Mark McCabe at SportsMed Ireland. His knowledge and expertise Mark improved our fitness to that of World Class athletes.

Together we all travel to events and training camps. For the last three years, we had some really productive training together pushing ourselves and each other to get better. We learned a huge amount from our coach and teammates. This was the key to success. Over the last two years, we spent a lot of time training in Cadiz and Palma to escape the Irish Winter. Interestingly last year we stayed as long as we could in the stormy freezing Dún Laoghaire harbour right through to December. In comparison, sailing in warm sunny France was much easier!

This season we sailed six regattas Princess Sophia, Medemblik, Kiel, Gydinia, Aarhus and Marseilles.

Robert Dickson  and Sean Waddilove Perfect balance - Dickson and Waddilove powering to victory Photo: Pierii/49er Class

We had a poor start to the season at the Europeans in Gydnia. We were happy with our ISAF Worlds performance in Aarhus. We made a few critical mistakes which added a lot of points to our score but overall we were happy to finish in the Silver Fleet and gained a lot of experience.

When it came to the Junior World Championships in Marseille, France we felt in good shape and knew we had a chance to medal because we had seen all of the U23 guys throughout the season and knew what we were up against.

Food poisoning

In the training days before the regatta, I had food poisoning and couldn’t sail for three days so we only had two days on the water before the start of the regatta. We had a range of conditions from extremely light all the way to extremely windy. We started off with consistent top five results apart from one capsize on Day three of racing. We went into the final series in fifth having not yet won a race.

On day four the race committee got one race in where we finished 2nd before the mistral wind kicked in and started blowing over 25 knots. We were sent to the harbour to wait until the evening when the wind died down a bit. We got our first race win after a port tack start off the committee end and scrambled a 7th after a bad start in the last race of the day.

That was enough to make us overnight leaders with one more discard to come. On the final day of racing, we waited on the shore for a few hours because the wind was too unstable. When the wind did come in we were met with the mistral again. The launching signal was displayed and we headed out. They sent us out to the course close to the shore with time for two races in maximum conditions. In race one we were in a good top five position when I made a mistake with a tack and broke a tiller extension. We threw on the spare tiller extension from the boom and finished in ninth.

We were still leading the regatta by 3 points which we didn’t know at the time. We never think about points. We need a clear mind to carry out our jobs on the water. In the final race, we played it extremely safe on the start and tacked out right after a committee boat start towards the cliffs.

We were lifted on port until we got close to the cliffs when we could tack and cross the fleet. This is something we had learned about in previous days on this course. We defended the position and in the end extended a decent lead.

dickson waddilove prizesRobert Dickson and Sean Waddilove take to the podium after an epic week Photo: Pierii/49er Class

The regatta wasn’t decided on the last day. It was all about consistency in our results throughout the week of racing as well as years and years of preparation. We had mostly top fives and only one result outside of the top ten in the regatta.

IMG 0140

Robert Dickson

About The Author

Robert Dickson

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Dubin sailor Robert Dickson is a member of the Irish 49er Development Squad and winning helmsman of the 2018 Junior 49er World Championships

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Irish Olympic Sailing Team

Ireland has a proud representation in sailing at the Olympics dating back to 1948. Today there is a modern governing structure surrounding the selection of sailors the Olympic Regatta

Irish Olympic Sailing FAQs

Ireland’s representation in sailing at the Olympics dates back to 1948, when a team consisting of Jimmy Mooney (Firefly), Alf Delany and Hugh Allen (Swallow) competed in that year’s Summer Games in London (sailing off Torquay). Except for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Ireland has sent at least one sailor to every Summer Games since then.

  • 1948 – London (Torquay) — Firefly: Jimmy Mooney; Swallow: Alf Delany, Hugh Allen
  • 1952 – Helsinki — Finn: Alf Delany * 1956 – Melbourne — Finn: J Somers Payne
  • 1960 – Rome — Flying Dutchman: Johnny Hooper, Peter Gray; Dragon: Jimmy Mooney, David Ryder, Robin Benson; Finn: J Somers Payne
  • 1964 – Tokyo — Dragon: Eddie Kelliher, Harry Maguire, Rob Dalton; Finn: Johnny Hooper 
  • 1972 – Munich (Kiel) — Tempest: David Wilkins, Sean Whitaker; Dragon: Robin Hennessy, Harry Byrne, Owen Delany; Finn: Kevin McLaverty; Flying Dutchman: Harold Cudmore, Richard O’Shea
  • 1976 – Montreal (Kingston) — 470: Robert Dix, Peter Dix; Flying Dutchman: Barry O’Neill, Jamie Wilkinson; Tempest: David Wilkins, Derek Jago
  • 1980 – Moscow (Tallinn) — Flying Dutchman: David Wilkins, Jamie Wilkinson (Silver medalists) * 1984 – Los Angeles — Finn: Bill O’Hara
  • 1988 – Seoul (Pusan) — Finn: Bill O’Hara; Flying Dutchman: David Wilkins, Peter Kennedy; 470 (Women): Cathy MacAleavy, Aisling Byrne
  • 1992 – Barcelona — Europe: Denise Lyttle; Flying Dutchman: David Wilkins, Peter Kennedy; Star: Mark Mansfield, Tom McWilliam
  • 1996 – Atlanta (Savannah) — Laser: Mark Lyttle; Europe: Aisling Bowman (Byrne); Finn: John Driscoll; Star: Mark Mansfield, David Burrows; 470 (Women): Denise Lyttle, Louise Cole; Soling: Marshall King, Dan O’Grady, Garrett Connolly
  • 2000 – Sydney — Europe: Maria Coleman; Finn: David Burrows; Star: Mark Mansfield, David O'Brien
  • 2004 – Athens — Europe: Maria Coleman; Finn: David Burrows; Star: Mark Mansfield, Killian Collins; 49er: Tom Fitzpatrick, Fraser Brown; 470: Gerald Owens, Ross Killian; Laser: Rory Fitzpatrick
  • 2008 – Beijing (Qingdao) — Star: Peter O’Leary, Stephen Milne; Finn: Tim Goodbody; Laser Radial: Ciara Peelo; 470: Gerald Owens, Phil Lawton
  • 2012 – London (Weymouth) — Star: Peter O’Leary, David Burrows; 49er: Ryan Seaton, Matt McGovern; Laser Radial: Annalise Murphy; Laser: James Espey; 470: Gerald Owens, Scott Flanigan
  • 2016 – Rio — Laser Radial (Women): Annalise Murphy (Silver medalist); 49er: Ryan Seaton, Matt McGovern; 49erFX: Andrea Brewster, Saskia Tidey; Laser: Finn Lynch; Paralympic Sonar: John Twomey, Ian Costello & Austin O’Carroll

Ireland has won two Olympics medals in sailing events, both silver: David Wilkins, Jamie Wilkinson in the Flying Dutchman at Moscow 1980, and Annalise Murphy in the Laser Radial at Rio 2016.

The current team, as of December 2020, consists of Laser sailors Finn Lynch, Liam Glynn and Ewan McMahon, 49er pairs Ryan Seaton and Seafra Guilfoyle, and Sean Waddilove and Robert Dickson, as well as Laser Radial sailors Annalise Murphy and Aoife Hopkins.

Irish Sailing is the National Governing Body for sailing in Ireland.

Irish Sailing’s Performance division is responsible for selecting and nurturing Olympic contenders as part of its Performance Pathway.

The Performance Pathway is Irish Sailing’s Olympic talent pipeline. The Performance Pathway counts over 70 sailors from 11 years up in its programme.The Performance Pathway is made up of Junior, Youth, Academy, Development and Olympic squads. It provides young, talented and ambitious Irish sailors with opportunities to move up through the ranks from an early age. With up to 100 young athletes training with the Irish Sailing Performance Pathway, every aspect of their performance is planned and closely monitored while strong relationships are simultaneously built with the sailors and their families

Rory Fitzpatrick is the head coach of Irish Sailing Performance. He is a graduate of University College Dublin and was an Athens 2004 Olympian in the Laser class.

The Performance Director of Irish Sailing is James O’Callaghan. Since 2006 James has been responsible for the development and delivery of athlete-focused, coach-led, performance-measured programmes across the Irish Sailing Performance Pathway. A Business & Economics graduate of Trinity College Dublin, he is a Level 3 Qualified Coach and Level 2 Coach Tutor. He has coached at five Olympic Games and numerous European and World Championship events across multiple Olympic classes. He is also a member of the Irish Sailing Foundation board.

Annalise Murphy is by far and away the biggest Irish sailing star. Her fourth in London 2012 when she came so agonisingly close to a bronze medal followed by her superb silver medal performance four years later at Rio won the hearts of Ireland. Murphy is aiming to go one better in Tokyo 2021. 

Under head coach Rory Fitzpatrick, the coaching staff consists of Laser Radial Academy coach Sean Evans, Olympic Laser coach Vasilij Zbogar and 49er team coach Matt McGovern.

The Irish Government provides funding to Irish Sailing. These funds are exclusively for the benefit of the Performance Pathway. However, this falls short of the amount required to fund the Performance Pathway in order to allow Ireland compete at the highest level. As a result the Performance Pathway programme currently receives around €850,000 per annum from Sport Ireland and €150,000 from sponsorship. A further €2 million per annum is needed to have a major impact at the highest level. The Irish Sailing Foundation was established to bridge the financial gap through securing philanthropic donations, corporate giving and sponsorship.

The vision of the Irish Sailing Foundation is to generate the required financial resources for Ireland to scale-up and execute its world-class sailing programme. Irish Sailing works tirelessly to promote sailing in Ireland and abroad and has been successful in securing funding of 1 million euro from Sport Ireland. However, to compete on a par with other nations, a further €2 million is required annually to realise the ambitions of our talented sailors. For this reason, the Irish Sailing Foundation was formed to seek philanthropic donations. Led by a Board of Directors and Head of Development Kathryn Grace, the foundation lads a campaign to bridge the financial gap to provide the Performance Pathway with the funds necessary to increase coaching hours, upgrade equipment and provide world class sport science support to a greater number of high-potential Irish sailors.

The Senior and Academy teams of the Performance Pathway are supported with the provision of a coach, vehicle, coach boat and boats. Even with this level of subsidy there is still a large financial burden on individual families due to travel costs, entry fees and accommodation. There are often compromises made on the amount of days a coach can be hired for and on many occasions it is necessary to opt out of major competitions outside Europe due to cost. Money raised by the Irish Sailing Foundation will go towards increased quality coaching time, world-class equipment, and subsiding entry fees and travel-related costs. It also goes towards broadening the base of talented sailors that can consider campaigning by removing financial hurdles, and the Performance HQ in Dublin to increase efficiency and reduce logistical issues.

The ethos of the Performance Pathway is progression. At each stage international performance benchmarks are utilised to ensure the sailors are meeting expectations set. The size of a sailor will generally dictate which boat they sail. The classes selected on the pathway have been identified as the best feeder classes for progression. Currently the Irish Sailing Performance Pathway consists of the following groups: * Pathway (U15) Optimist and Topper * Youth Academy (U19) Laser 4.7, Laser Radial and 420 * Development Academy (U23) Laser, Laser Radial, 49er, 49erFX * Team IRL (direct-funded athletes) Laser, Laser Radial, 49er, 49erFX

The Irish Sailing performance director produces a detailed annual budget for the programme which is presented to Sport Ireland, Irish Sailing and the Foundation for detailed discussion and analysis of the programme, where each item of expenditure is reviewed and approved. Each year, the performance director drafts a Performance Plan and Budget designed to meet the objectives of Irish Performance Sailing based on an annual review of the Pathway Programmes from Junior to Olympic level. The plan is then presented to the Olympic Steering Group (OSG) where it is independently assessed and the budget is agreed. The OSG closely monitors the delivery of the plan ensuring it meets the agreed strategy, is within budget and in line with operational plans. The performance director communicates on an ongoing basis with the OSG throughout the year, reporting formally on a quarterly basis.

Due to the specialised nature of Performance Sport, Irish Sailing established an expert sub-committee which is referred to as the Olympic Steering Group (OSG). The OSG is chaired by Patrick Coveney and its objective is centred around winning Olympic medals so it oversees the delivery of the Irish Sailing’s Performance plan.

At Junior level (U15) sailors learn not only to be a sailor but also an athlete. They develop the discipline required to keep a training log while undertaking fitness programmes, attending coaching sessions and travelling to competitions. During the winter Regional Squads take place and then in spring the National Squads are selected for Summer Competitions. As sailors move into Youth level (U19) there is an exhaustive selection matrix used when considering a sailor for entry into the Performance Academy. Completion of club training programmes, attendance at the performance seminars, physical suitability and also progress at Junior and Youth competitions are assessed and reviewed. Once invited in to the Performance Academy, sailors are given a six-month trial before a final decision is made on their selection. Sailors in the Academy are very closely monitored and engage in a very well planned out sailing, training and competition programme. There are also defined international benchmarks which these sailors are required to meet by a certain age. Biannual reviews are conducted transparently with the sailors so they know exactly where they are performing well and they are made aware of where they may need to improve before the next review.

©Afloat 2020

Tokyo 2021 Olympic Sailing

Olympic Sailing features a variety of craft, from dinghies and keelboats to windsurfing boards. The programme at Tokyo 2020 will include two events for both men and women, three for men only, two for women only and one for mixed crews:

Event Programme

RS:X - Windsurfer (Men/Women)
Laser - One Person Dinghy (Men)
Laser Radial - One Person Dinghy (Women)
Finn - One Person Dinghy (Heavyweight) (Men)
470 - Two Person Dinghy (Men/Women)
49er - Skiff (Men)
49er FX - Skiff (Women)
Nacra 17 Foiling - Mixed Multihull

The mixed Nacra 17 Foiling - Mixed Multihull and women-only 49er FX - Skiff, events were first staged at Rio 2016.

Each event consists of a series of races. Points in each race are awarded according to position: the winner gets one point, the second-placed finisher scores two, and so on. The final race is called the medal race, for which points are doubled. Following the medal race, the individual or crew with the fewest total points is declared the winner.

During races, boats navigate a course shaped like an enormous triangle, heading for the finish line after they contend with the wind from all three directions. They must pass marker buoys a certain number of times and in a predetermined order.

Sailing competitions at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are scheduled to take place from 27 July to 6 August at the Enoshima Yacht Harbour. 

Venues: Enoshima Yacht Harbor

No. of events: 10

Dates: 27 July – 6 August

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Dates

Following a one year postponement, sailing competitions at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are scheduled to take place from 23 July 2021 and run until the 8 August at the Enoshima Yacht Harbour. 

Venue: Enoshima Yacht Harbour

No. of events: 10

Dates: 23 July – 8 August 2021

Tokyo 2020 Irish Olympic Sailing Team


Age 31. From Rathfarnham, Dublin.

Club: National Yacht Club

Full-time sailor

Silver medallist at the 2016 Olympic Games, Rio (Laser Radial class). Competed in the Volvo Ocean Race 2017/2018. Represented Ireland at the London 2012 Olympics. Laser Radial European Champion in 2013.

ROBERT DICKSON, 49er (sails with Seán Waddilove)

Winner, U23 49er World Championships, September 2018, and 2018 Volvo/Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year

DOB: 6 March 1998, from Sutton, Co. Dublin. Age 23

Club: Howth Yacht Club

Currently studying: Sports Science and Health in DCU with a Sports Scholarship.

SEÁN WADDILOVE, 49er (sails with Robert Dickson)

Winner, U23 49er World Championships, September 2018, and recently awarded 2018 Volvo Afloat/Irish Sailor of the Year

DOB: 19 June 1997. From Skerries, Dublin

Age 24

Club: Skerries Sailing Club and Howth Yacht Club

Currently studying International Business and Languages and awarded sports scholarship at TU (Technology University)

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