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“Sailors of the Year” Robert Dickson & Sean Waddilove Have Shown Special Determination From an Early Age

9th February 2019
In balance. The newly-honoured “Sailors of the Year 2018” Sean Waddilove and Robert Dickson achieving optimal windward performance with their Gold Medal-winning International Olympic 49er In balance. The newly-honoured “Sailors of the Year 2018” Sean Waddilove and Robert Dickson achieving optimal windward performance with their Gold Medal-winning International Olympic 49er

There is no other event quite like the annual Volvo Irish Sailing Awards writes W M Nixon. Ireland is small enough for most of the key people in sailing ashore and afloat to know each other personally. So it becomes for all the world like a very extended family gathering, albeit with upwards of 500 people there last night. Yet at the same time, our island is large enough to produce such a variety of sailing and boat types, with the talents to race and sail them well, that a celebration like this ultimate family party in the RDS has a virtually global scope.

And the contribution made in exceptional performance and other special ways which qualified the 26 contenders for the “Sailor of the Year” title were such that it wouldn’t be accurate to describe the Robert Dickson & Sean Waddilove achievement as the peak of a mountain of national success in sailing.

On the contrary, it would more accurately capture the flavour of it all to assert that their outstanding Gold Medal in the Olympic 49er U23 Worlds in Marseille at the beginning of September was seen as the highest peak in an extensive mountain range of Irish sailing success and special achievement, a very complex mountain range which spreads across an astonishing variety of sailing disciplines.

dickson varadkar waddilove2A Gold Medal deserves recognition at the highest level. Robert Dickson (left) and Sean Waddilove with Leo Varadkar TD during the Taoiseach’s visit to Howth Yacht Club in December

While the Frank Bethwaite-designed Olympic 49er may have been around for two decades now, for most sailors it still looks like something out of a future beyond Star Wars, while others might argue that its origins would more likely be found in Lethal Weapon. Either way, this is no sailing machine for the faint-hearted, and it has taken its injury toll on Irish Olympic wannabes.

Yet the wonder of the annual Irish sailing awards is that last night the Dickson/Waddilove triumph found itself pitched against a lineup which included no less than three other contenders who had been sailing hefty gaff-rigged craft in waterborne endeavours of a totally different type, and somehow it all seemed to make sense in a shared love of the sea and sailing.

Certainly, the solid group of supporters from Dungarvan who were there for Maire Breathnach and her award-winning cruise to northeast Greenland in the impressive 64ft gaff cutter Annabel J were in no doubt that it was right up there among the best, and well worth cheering.

annabel j3The 64ft gaff cutter Annabel J with which Maire Breathnach of Dungarvan cruised to northeast Greenland.

Equally, a very representative group from the Defence Forces was there in strength to give well-earned support for their man Commandant Barry Byrne and his team, with their achievement in multiple class victories with the J/109 Joker 2 in the Volvo Round Ireland Race in July, followed by the successful retention of the Beaufort Cup in Volvo Cork Week.

wicklow prize giving4 2Commandant Barry Byrne (third left back row) with his crew and the reception committee at Wicklow after he’d led the Defence Forces to success in the Volvo Round Ireland Race in July.

And though the youngest sailors have their own categories coming directly from Irish Sailing, some of their achievements were so outstanding that they deserved to be in the open category against all-comers, and thus we had the Optimist victories of Justin Lucas of Cork and Tralee to be individually highlighted, as was the success of Hugh O’Connor of the National YC in Dun Laoghaire in managing to pull second overall out of the biggest Topper fleet ever seen at the largely windless Topper Worlds in China.

justin lucas4Although Justin Lucas’s successes at home and abroad in the Optimists were very much in the junior division, they were so outstanding that he was Sailor of the Month for April in the Open category. Photo: O’Brien
Faced with such a selection of talent and success, the adjudicators had no easy task, for the online poll – in which thousands participated - is just part of the final selection process, albeit a very important part. But in the end, after one of the most exhausting adjudicating sessions of recent years, the white smoke went up for the Dickson/Waddilove team.

Anyone who has been following the story of their lengthy but steadily developing progress – which was originally aimed at the 2024 Olympics – will be well aware of just how keen and dedicated these two young sailors are in their aim of getting to the top in two-man dinghy racing at the highest international level.

mccormack north sails5The role of Ireland’s classic One Design classes was also recognized last night – this is August’s winner Darragh McCormack of Foynes on his way to the well-supported Mermaid National Championship at his home port on the Shannon Estuary
When others of their age might have been literally messing about in boats, Dickson from Howth and Waddilove from Skerries recognised kindred spirits in each other. They saw shared ambitions which could – if properly harnessed – result in an almost monastic dedication to the highest ideals of sailing achievement.

And from a human point of view, the story has everything, as Dickson is a cradle sailor – his grandfather is boat legend Roy Dickson, while his sailing father Ian well appreciates what he has undertaken – while Waddilove by contrast is out of the blue. As a teenager he availed of one of the Try Sailing courses at Skerries, he was almost immediately hooked, and his family have also been as supportive as they can of a mission which has inevitably developed as one long hard road.

checkmate cullen6Dave Cullen with his immaculate Classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV became June’s Sailor of the Month for his overall win in the new Wave Regatta at his home port of Howth, and overall wins in the Dun Laoghaire Regattas. Then in August he went to Belgium and won the Half Ton Classic Worlds
At a key stage of their joint development, they came under the coaching wing of the inspiring “Polish Sailing Svengali”, Tytus Konarzewski, and a daunting six-year programme of continuing development towards the 2024 Olympics was in being. But September’s Gold Medal at Marseille has raised all sorts of new possibilities, and during the winter the pair have been training with other Irish 49ers at Vilamoura in Portugal.

They were briefly home for Christmas and a spot of R&R, but for athletes training intensely at this level, R&R isn’t quite what the rest of us might think - somehow they found time on Christmas Day itself for “a short 10km training run”.

wow turkey shoot7The Awards also gave proper recognition to those whose voluntary work keeps Irish sailing up and running. This is veteran owner-skipper George Sisk’s Farr 42 WOW revelling in the racing in November in the annual Dublin Bay SC Turkey Shoot Series, which provides seven Sunday mornings of superb racing in the long lead-in to Christmas. Turkey Shoot organizer Fintan Cairns was a December “Sailor of the Month” in recognition of his inspiration and organisation of this popular series. Photo: O’Brien
Since then they’ve been on a busy routine with guidance from Ross Killian, Mark McCabe and Irish Sailing’s James O’Callaghan and Rory Fitzpatrick in Vilamoura with the two other Irish 49ers of the Donnelly brothers Tadgh and Sean of the National YC, and Ryan Seaton and Seafra Guilfoyle of Ballyholme and Royal Cork respectively.

Their return to Ireland to collect the award will be only the briefest, although they did find time on Thursday to make their number in Howth YC and belatedly collect the Silver Fox Trophy for HYC’s top achievers in 2018. But although the next major staging post in their programme is the Princess Sofia Regatta 2019 at Palma from 30th March to 6th April, there’s a lesser-known 49er Championship called the Portugal Grand Prix coming up next week from February 14th to 17th at Vilamoura, and it seems to be rising in stature by the minute.

dickson waddilove silhouette8Silhouette of success to come? The Dickson/Waddilove team making the best of ideal sailing conditions. Next Thursday, they return to competition with the four-day Vilamoura Grand Prix series in Portugal.

At it, Dickson and Waddilove had planned mainly to work on improving their starting techniques. But after hastening back to Portugal after collecting their award last night, they may well find they’re getting more attention than expected. This morning, however, the rest of us can simply reflect on the wonder that is Irish sailing today.

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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Ireland's Sailor of the Year Awards

Created in 1996, the Afloat Sailor of the Year Awards represent all that is praiseworthy, innovative and groundbreaking in the Irish sailing scene.

Since it began 25 years ago, the awards have recognised over 500 monthly award winners in the pages of Ireland's sailing magazine Afloat, and these have been made to both amateur and professional sailors. The first-ever Sailor of the Year was dinghy sailor Mark Lyttle, a race winner at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

And since then it's gone on to read like a who's who of Irish sailing.

The national award is specially designed to salute the achievements of Ireland's sailing's elite. After two decades the awards has developed into a premier awards ceremony for water sports.

The overall national award will be announced each January to the person who, in the judges' opinion, achieved the most notable results in, or made the most significant contribution to, Irish sailing in the previous year.

A review of the first 25 years of the Irish Sailor the Year Awards is here

Irish Sailor of the Year Award FAQs

The Irish Sailor of the Year Awards is a scheme designed by Afloat magazine to represent all that is praiseworthy, innovative and groundbreaking in the Irish sailing scene..

The Irish Sailor of the Year Awards began in 1996.

The awards are administered by Afloat, Ireland's boating magazine.

  • 1996 Mark Lyttle
  • 1997 Tom Roche
  • 1998 Tom Fitzpatrick & David McHugh
  • 1999 Mark Mansfield
  • 2000 David Burrows
  • 2001 Maria Coleman
  • 2002 Eric Lisson
  • 2003 Noel Butler & Stephen Campion
  • 2004 Eamonn Crosbie
  • 2005 Paddy Barry & Jarlath Cunnane
  • 2006 Justin Slattery
  • 2007 Ger O'Rourke
  • 2008 Damian Foxall
  • 2009 Mark Mills
  • 2010 Anthony O'Leary
  • 2011 George Kenefick
  • 2012 Annalise Murphy
  • 2013 David Kenefick
  • 2014 Anthony O'Leary
  • 2015 Liam Shanahan
  • 2016 Annalise Murphy
  • 2017 Conor Fogerty
  • 2018 Robert Dickson & Sean Waddilove
  • 2019 Paul O'Higgins

Yes. The boating public and maritime community can have their say to help guide judges in deciding who should be crowned Ireland's Sailor of the Year by using an Afloat online poll). The judges welcome the traditional huge level of public interest in helping them make their decision but firmly retain their right to make the ultimate decision for the final choice while taking voting trends into account. By voting for your favourite nominee, you are creating additional awareness of their nomination and highlighting their success.

Anthony O'Leary of Crosshaven and Annalise Murphy of Dun Laoghaire are the only contenders to be "Sailors of the Year" twice – himself in 2010 and 2014, and herself in 2012 and 2016.

In its 25 year history, there have been wins for 15, offshore or IRC achievements, nine dinghy and one designs accomplishments and one for adventure sailing.

Annually, generally in January or February of the following year.

In 2003 Her Royal Highness Princess Anne presented the Awards.

©Afloat 2020