Charlie O’Malley from Donaghadee Sailing Club has spent the last six months getting on the water as much as he can in his Topper awarded by the John Merricks Sailing Trust (JMST) and RYA OnBoard partnership.
Since its launch in 2013, the partnership has supported youth sailors who display enthusiasm, drive, talent and commitment to the sport but may not ordinarily have had the opportunity or financial backing to achieve their goals.
In its six years, 76 boats and boards have been donated across the UK — with 10 of these awarded in Northern Ireland, and some remarkable success stories.
Charlie first got into sailing when he joined his friends to take part in Bright Night Sailing — an initiative where young people learn the basic skills of sailing while meeting new friends along the way.
He says that winning the boat meant a lot to him: “I was speechless for the first time ever! I was so excited, I was jumping up and down in joy. Especially when I saw the delivery truck coming down the street towards me.
“When I started racing I borrowed a club Topper. It was pretty basic but it got me started and I was coming last every time.
“When I got my own boat from JMST and RYA OnBoard, I had it out for the first day and I did very well. That made me feel very grateful and made me more confident in the water.”
Charlie hasn’t wasted a moment since he was awarded the boat, he says. “I sail five times a week — sometimes six — with my boat at different clubs. I sail mostly at Donaghadee but I also enjoy trying different waters at different clubs.
He says that he enjoys the social side of sailing and meeting new people but he also enjoys competing.
“I had achieved a lot since I got the boat. I won a series in Donaghadee Sailing Club and won the [Centenary] Regatta in Ballyholme Yacht Club. I also did my first three-day event in my boat at the Nationals.
“Sailing gives me something to do in my spare time that I really enjoy and something that I can carry on throughout my life.”
After meeting one of his sailing heroes at the RYANI Annual Awards earlier this year, Charlie says he is inspired to follow in his footsteps.
“My inspiration would be Ian Walker because he started in a Topper and slowly worked his way up to Olympic level, meeting new people and sailing with friends. I want to do the exact same thing when I grow up.”
Charlie has got big plans before he gives the boat back next year and hopes to continue on his winning streak.
“Before I give back the Topper I would like to have competed in the worlds and get a few more trophies elsewhere,” he says.
RYANI’s high performance manager Matt McGovern said: “I have met Charlie several times since the JMST awards, at several different sailing clubs, and I have been extremely impressed with his attitude and keenness to get out on the water.
“Getting enthusiastic young sailors access to boats and helping give them time on the water is what this award is all about.
“I can think of no better example than that of Charlie. I will not be surprised if we see him rising through the ranks of the RYANI Performance Programme over the coming years.”
Applications for this year’s John Merricks Sailing Trust are now open and further information can be found HERE.