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Displaying items by tag: Mark Lyttle

2018 Laser Grand Master World Champion and 1996 Olympian Mark Lyttle reflects on a lifetime sailing against his old rival and great friend Bill O'Hara, who was awarded an OBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours List 2021.

I first recall Bill at the 1978 Pimm's Irish Lasers Nationals at Lough Ree Yacht Club (actually sailed from Hodson Bay and yes, they did sponsor the Irish Laser class) but it wasn't on the race course. As a 15-year-old sailing what we now call a Standard rig as that's all there was, I was nowhere near the front of the fleet especially as a hurricane passed through during the regatta. But I do remember Bill was the centre of social activities ashore as a young university student.

Over the next couple of seasons, Bill emerged as one of the top Lasers sailors along with Gordon Maguire (turned professional skipper), Dave Cummins (twice all Ireland champion) and Colin Galavan. Following a fifth place in the light air Kinsale Nationals (1979) and the curtailed (with another gale) Dun Laoghaire Nationals (1981), Bill took the Irish titles in Ballyholme (1981 where I recall driving to the event in a Renault 5 with three Lasers) and Galway Bay (1982 with Australian and NZL visitors following us home after our extensive continental European tours).

But I remember the 1982 season as my first Laser Europeans, in Athens, where I stayed with Bill and Simon Brien (Dragon Edinburgh Cup winner from Royal North of Ireland YC) and was supported and encouraged all the way by Bill – a true mentor figure.

Bill sailed a brilliant regatta, coming second overall behind the even more brilliant Peter Vilby, a result that has never been beaten by an Irish Laser (Standard) sailor. Consistent with many other Laser sailors across the world in that era, Bill had to realise his Olympic dreams away from Lasers, in his case in the single-hander Finn class.

Some of the 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 1982Some of the 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

I recall stories of him campaigning the Finn with Terry Nielsen (1982 Laser World Champion and eventual Bronze Medal winner) in 1983 in North America in the build-up to the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

Like many Olympic campaigners he returned for the Laser Worlds in Gulfport, Mississippi in October 1983 along with Frank Glynn, Con Murphy (better known now as Annalise's dad), John Simms and me. Most of us Irish stayed with nuns in a convent nearby but that is not what we most remember of the regatta. It was a no discard 14 race series in which Bill was doing brilliantly until a protest by the Jury for his boom allegedly hitting a NZL boat on his outside at the gybe mark. Both were disqualified and Bill ended the regatta knowing he would have been World Champion but for that.

It is often said that Juries stopped protesting boat on boat incidents because of that.

Bill went on to race at the Olympics and recorded a 4th, 10th, 9th and 8th in the first four of seven races and finished 13th overall in a very competitive fleet with sailing legends Russell Coutts and John Bertrand winning Gold and Silver. But Bill affirmed his status as role model and great supporter of Irish dinghy sailing by returning from the glories of the Olympics to race in the Irish Laser Nationals at the end of that summer.

These days Bill O'Hara is an international race judge and race officerThese days Bill O'Hara is an international race judge and race officer

Of course, he was the man we all strived to beat at that event and subsequent seasons in the Laser (he didn't win that one but did win the Irish title three times in the nineties). I remember many great battles around the race course with Bill often ahead at the windward mark with his superior upwind speed and me trying to overtake him by the leeward mark with my superior downwind speed. Bill continued to combine his Laser and Finn sailing through the 1988 Games in Seoul, where he was joined by Peter Kennedy, the 1986 Irish Laser Champion, as David Wilkin's Flying Dutchman crew.

Afloat's 1983 Laser World's reportAfloat's 1983 Laser World's report from Gulfport, Mississippi

Many of us were envious of that given the limited opportunities to access Olympic sailing in those days but that changed with the introduction of the Laser in the 1996 Olympics. Although Bill started off as a competitor in the search for the single Irish place in Atlanta, he still provided advice and encouragement to me all the way. That is the thing about Bill, a fearsome competitor afloat but a true friend ashore. Nothing supports that more than in the 1994 Irish Laser Nationals when going into the deciding last race where I had a slender lead over Gary McCarthy, I had broken my tiller extension and Bill offered me his with the words "this title needs to be earned not won by default" - sorry Gary. Bill went to the 1996 Games as a coach and provided me with vital advice and encouragement throughout the Games.

Although our interaction has been more social than on the race course in recent years, I look back and say he has been a true motivator and influencer on my sailing journey but more importantly a true friend, which like many friendships based on so many years of shared experiences and the ups and downs of competition, will remain despite the passing of time. Bill is a man who knows loyalty and integrity and I am proud to be his friend. Well done, Bill on your OBE.

Published in Laser

Ireland's 2018 Laser Grand Master World Champion Mark Lyttle reveals the depth of his ambitions in the solo Laser class when he interviewed for a UK Laser Class podcast recently. 

One of the most fascinating statistics in the hour-long chat with Ben Flower of the UK Laser class is that in 1996, Laser sailing had the most nations competing of any sport at the Atlanta Olympics. 

As long time Afloat readers will know, Savannah is where the Laser made its Olympic debut and where Lyttle was a race winner, a result that led him to the inaugural Afloat Sailor of the Year award

It's not the only blast from the past contained in the podcast either where Lyttle gives plenty of anecdotes about the 2018 Worlds on Dublin Bay and his homecoming win. A really nice progression in his sailing career from Olympics into masters.

The London based sailor gives some great description of laser campaigning in the 80s; no coaches, just a bunch of lads taking their Lasers off to Europe for the Summer.

There's an interesting account of how old long races have given way to shorter races and how this puts huge emphasis on the run and downwind technique, since the run can be straight after the first beat and so fleet stays so compressed compared to old big triangles when the run was at the end (I assume they did triangle, sausage or triangle, triangle, sausage)

Significantly, as a former chairman of the UK Optimist class, and the architect of the modern Irish Olympic programme, Lyttle speaks about his experiences with youth burnout in sailing.

Listen in to the podcast below:

Published in Laser
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Mark Lyttle, Olympic Sailor at Atlanta in 1996 when he won a race in the Laser’s first outing in its very effective career as an Olympic boat in addition to its myriad other duties worldwide, has continued his love affair with great little boat by winning the World Title in the Grand Masters Division (ages 55-65) in the Laser Masters Worlds in September at Dun Laoghaire, a magnificent event which attracted 302 entries. Lyttle’s win was particularly popular – in a long sailing career, he has put even more back into sport than he has taken from it.

Published in Sailor of the Month
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At A Glance – Laser Dinghy Specifications

Designer Bruce Kirby & Ian Bruce

Year 1969

Crew 1
Draft 0.787 m (2 ft 7.0 in)
Hull weight 58.97 kg (130.0 lb)
LOA 4.2 m (13 ft 9 in)
LWL 3.81 m (12 ft 6 in)
Beam 1.39 m (4 ft 7 in)
Mainsail area 7.06 m2 (76.0 sq ft)

Racing D-PN 91.1 RYA PN 1088 PHRF 217

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