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RYA Northern Ireland’s new five-year strategy, Navigating the Future, recognises that volunteers are one of the main driving forces behind sailing and boating in Northern Ireland.

Now the organisation has announced a pilot scheme, We’re All In, which aims to reduce the impact of “volunteer burnout” and ensure the long-term sustainability of sailing in NI.

Clubs and centres will be able to apply for a small amount of funding aimed at increasing engagement, either via training of volunteers or holding a volunteer engagement day before the end of April 2024.

In addition to financial support, RYANI says it will work with clubs on a one-to-one basis “as we appreciate that each club is unique”.

Clubs who are part of the scheme will receive direct support from RYA staff about how to reach out to new volunteers most effectively and they will be supported through interactive workshops.

For more details on the pilot scheme, see the RYA website HERE.

Published in RYA Northern Ireland
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This month, RYA Northern Ireland marks 50 years since its formation as the Ulster Branch of the Irish Yachting Association.

And to celebrate all aspects of sailing and boating in the region, a series of commemorative events will be held over the next year, culminating in a special evening in Autumn 2024.

RYANI chief executive Greg Yarnall said: “When we launched the Navigating the Future five-year strategic plan this year, we made a promise to celebrate the people and places in the sport and tell the stories of their accomplishments, dedication and commitment to the sport in Northern Ireland. The 50th-year anniversary gives us the perfect opportunity to do this.”

As part of this initiative, RYANI will be working closely with clubs and individuals around the country, encouraging them to share their stories to build a better understanding of Northern Ireland’s boating history during this period.

For more on this story, see the RYA website HERE.

Published in RYA Northern Ireland
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Two of Northern Ireland’s most committed volunteers were recognised at the RYA Volunteer Awards in London last Friday (10 November).

Richard Robinson of County Antrim Yacht Club received an Outstanding Contribution award, while Jack Kennedy of Strangford Lough Yacht Club received a Young Volunteer award.

The event was attended by The Princess Royal, president of the RYA, and highlighted the amazing work of volunteers from all sections of the United Kingdom.

Commenting on the contribution of volunteers, RYA chief executive Sara Sutcliffe MBE said: “I am blown away by the commitment and dedication shown by our volunteers. I’m immensely grateful for everything you do, which simply put, keeps our sport and communities afloat.”

Jack Kennedy of Strangford Lough Yacht Club received a Young Volunteer award from Princess AnneJack Kennedy of Strangford Lough Yacht Club received a Young Volunteer award from Princess Anne

Richard Robinson supports County Antrim Yacht Club’s Training Centre as a qualified senior instructor, advanced powerboat instructor, safety boat instructor and windsurfing instructor. Over many years as a volunteer, he has taught hundreds of people to sail, led dozens of power and safety boat courses and facilitated thousands of races. Robinson is also the RTC principal for Belfast Lough Sailability.

Jack Kennedy, meanwhile, began volunteering aged 14, helping at Sunday sailing sessions for young children at Strangford Lough Yacht Club where he was also an assistant instructor. He soon progressed to become a senior instructor and powerboat instructor, helping to coordinate other activities including the regional RYA Women on Water festival and Discover Sailing days.

For more background on NI’s winning volunteers, see the RYA website HERE.

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RYA Northern Ireland has officially named its performance squads for the ILCA and Topper classes ahead of the 2023/24 season.

According to RYANI, selection for both squads was based on the performance throughout the year across various events, both international and local — including the RYANI Youth Championships, which took place in September at Ballyholme Yacht Club.

RYANI performance manager Andrew Baker said: “The squads are great way to support committed sailors in their progression and it’s a critical step towards helping them at national level competition.”

For more details, including the full list of both performance squads, see the RYA website HERE.

Published in RYA Northern Ireland
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Peter Gilmore has joined RYA Northern Ireland as its new marketing and communications executive.

The Cardiff University graduate, who was born in Dublin and grew up in NI, has most recently been freelancing as a journalist and a reporter with ITV and Greatest Hits Radio.

And he comes with a sailing pedigree too, having spent time on various RYA performance squads in his teens and also sailed across the Atlantic with his seagoing family.

For more on Gilmore and his appointment, see the RYA website HERE.

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Hear from the RYANI’s performance manager Andrew Baker in the second RYA Connected Online session on Monday 27 November, where the focus will be on the talent and performance pathways for sailing in Northern Ireland.

The evening session will provide an update on selections for the 2023-24 performance squad — one of the pathways that’s helped the likes of current NI Overall Youth Sailing Champion Daniel Palmer to reach great success.

For more details and how to book your place, see the RYA website HERE.

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Applications are now open for RYA Northern Ireland’s Youth Performance Programme.

In addition, the regional body for sailing and boating in Northern Ireland will run selection weekends in the form of open training at East Antrim Boat Club, on the weekend of 7-8 October for Toppers and 14-15 October for the ILCA class.

“Selections are an interesting time,” says RYANI performance manager Andrew Baker. “Established sailors are looking to move to the next step of their pathway and often look to change class.

“But also new sailors from our clubs and classes turn up for their first attempt to be recognised for their efforts and be selected for our programmes.” The RYA website has more details HERE.

In other news, RYANI’s 20th Annual General Meeting will take place on Saturday 11 November at Carrickfergus Sailing Club. The meeting will be held as part of RYANI Connected 2023. To book your place, and for other details, see the RYA website HERE.

RYANI has also recently appointed three new members to its board.

Gavin Nelson, Owen Waters and Linda MacHugh have recently joined and will help to deliver the aims of the Navigating the Future strategy.

Published in RYA Northern Ireland
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RYA Northern Ireland has been reviewing its governance structures for the delivery of its strategic plan, Navigating the Future.

RYANI chief executive Greg Yarnall says: “The proposed changes are being put forward to help provide greater organisational stability and put us in the best position possible to support members, whilst opening up opportunities to develop and grow the organisation in the future.”

The RYANI board is proposing to change the length of term that a chair holds, as well as a move to charitable status, as previously reported on

RYANI is required to have 75 per cent of affiliated clubs in Northern Ireland vote in favour of the changes, which will be made through its Articles of Association. These will be issued to affiliated clubs in the coming days, Yarnall adds.

For more on this story, see the RYA website HERE.

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RYA Northern Ireland has hailed the success of its junior sailors in the recent Topper Worlds as well as the Irish and British Nationals in the region’s largest junior single-handed class.

In early July, four out of the top five sailors in the Irish Nationals at Ballyholme Yacht Club were from the Northern Ireland fleet — with Cormac Byrne of Strangford Sailing Club in second, Luke Simpson from County Antrim YC in third and Ballyholme YC’s Emily Macafee fifth overall, while in the 4.3 Class, Adam Green of Lough Erne YC placed third.

As previously reported on, CAYC’s Luke Simpson and Tom Driscoll from the Royal North and Ballyholme provided NI’s best performances at the Royal Cork in the Topper Worlds later in July.

After a long week at the Worlds, only five NI sailors made the trip to Plas Heli Sailing Club in North Wales for the British Nationals last week but again put in a fantastic effort.

Cormac Byrne hit out with an incredible first day posting a 2, 1, 2 to lead overall, only to then suffer a Black flag in race two and have the scores amended. A tough blow but these things happen in championship racing.

Lighter winds played a part in the qualifying rounds as likely candidates struggled and some even missed the cut for the gold fleet. Consistency would prove invaluable and Like managed the event very well to make the podium in third overall.

With more wind on the last day, others managed to find form, posting several top three results, but after a tough start to the week had to settle for places just outside of the top ten: Tom 12th, Emily 15th and Cormac in 20th.

“Congratulations to our sailors on a great competition season. And hats off to the parents and coaches who supported them and drove them around the country and further afield to realise their goals,” RYANI said.

Published in Topper

For the first time ever, Northern Ireland had two sailors competing in the Junior U23 World Championship for Olympic 49er and 49erFX at Travemünder Woche in Germany late last month.

With competitive racing and up and down the leaderboard, over 100 teams descended on the city of Lübeck show their skills and compare their progress to their peers as they transition from youth to senior racing.

The NI sailors were each in different pairings with sailors from Tralee and Dublin.

Erin McIlwaine from Newcastle Yacht Club launched her 49erFX campaign last spring with Ellie Cunnane of Tralee Bay SC, as previously reported on, and has been training both abroad and in Dublin throughout the summer.

Despite entering two previous events this year, the Junior Worlds were their first real test as previous events were either cancelled or so windy half the fleet didn’t compete.

Ellen Barbour from County Antrim Yacht Club is fresh into the class after transitioning from the ILCA 6 this summer and teamed up with Elysia O’Leary of Dublin’s Royal St George YC.

Elysia has been sailing the boat for a while now but was on the lookout for a crew to campaign with. Ellen, a competitive ILCA sailor in her own right, was also looking for new options in the sport and together they created the ideal pairing.

Both teams had a steep learning curve to put all their training into practice among a large fleet of very talented sailors from across the globe. Erin and Ellie ultimately came up short of the Gold fleet, despite posting to back-to-back race wins and showing signs of great future potential.

Ellen has had just two months’ experience using a trapeze and sailing with a new partner, and this was very much a training exercise rather than a results-based event. The goal was to take part and asses the big areas the team need to work on and learn more about how the top teams get the boats around the course.

Erin McIlwaine says: “Overall, it was a very enjoyable event, racing in some mixed and tricky conditions. Unfortunately, we made some weak decisions at the start of the week that ultimately left us just outside the Gold fleet.

“Winning two out of three races in the final series confirmed that we were sailing well and can now focus our efforts on the Senior World Championships in The Hague.”

Ellen Barbour added: “Having never trapezed before and only being in the boat for two months, we went in knowing mistakes would be made and it would be a great learning experience.

“We had a few good race results which we are happy with and we have come away with a clear idea of what we need to work on in the coming month.”

Measuring success for girls in sailing is also a topic that was discussed in a recent webinar hosted by RYANI to discuss its research on understanding the experience of women and girls in the sport.

Kate Broderick, RYANI pathways officer, provided her own experiences of sailing which have been shared on the RYA website HERE.

Published in RYA Northern Ireland
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