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RYA Northern Ireland honours sailing stars at annual awards

by Emma Blee 20 Jan 19:04 GMT 17 January 2020

Dedicated volunteers from across Northern Ireland have been recognised at RYANI's Annual Awards ceremony on Friday in Belfast.

The awards, which celebrate the successes and people involved across recreational and competitive boating, took place at Riddel Hall in Stranmillis.

This year the prestigious awards were sponsored by Garden Rooms NI, Carrick Marine and White Noise. Around 100 people attended the awards, which are a key event in the sailing calendar each year.

Speaking about the awards, RYANI's Chair Jackie Patton recognised the vital importance of volunteers, shining a light on the impact of those who had been nominated.

She said: "Volunteers are the bedrock of our sport and without them it simply would not be viable. They give up their evenings, weekends and spare time to make sure that sailing and boating thrives in Northern Ireland and at RYANI we could not be more proud of their achievements."

She also talked about the success of Northern Ireland sailors throughout 2019. "We have had a thrilling year of sailing and boating - our sailors really give it their all throughout the year and their hard work is paying off," she added.

Michael Ferguson, from Ballyholme Yacht Club, was guest speaker and gave an inspirational talk on the night. He discussed his extensive experience of sailing including competing in four Fastnet races, two Round Britain and Ireland races on International Monohull Open Class Association (IMOCA), and skippering two IMOCA delivery transatlantics.

Across the awards categories, there were many inspirational stories of the volunteers who keep the sport alive and those who achieved major success in 2019.

Instructor of the Year was awarded to Kate Pounder from Ballyholme Yacht Club. Kate has been instrumental in maintaining club representation at the highest level in sailing and was Chief Sailing Instructor for the Club's 2019 centenary season. Going well beyond the call of duty, Kate's infectious enthusiasm inspired many people at the club to go the extra mile also.

Club Race Coach of the Year award went to Jess Winton from Ballyholme Yacht Club. Jess recently gained her Race Coach qualification and has been a shining light for the club, taking the topper training. She also helps to run the junior icebreaker and coaching topper race sessions every Friday from May to September - giving up lots of her spare time to ensure it is a success.

Young Powerboater of the Year was awarded to Josh Reddy from Ballyholme Yacht Club and Sam Corbett from Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club.

Josh is one of the most active members of the club's rescue team. Always willing to lend a hand, Josh played a vital role to the mark laying team for the Irish Laser Championships, which was key to providing a successful event. He is also an assistant sailing instructor and helps to deliver summer sailing courses. Every Friday night during the Summer, Josh is at the club helping up to 100 children to get out on the water and experience sailing.

Sam started regularly sailing with his club in 2012, completing RYA sailing levels over the next few years. However, it is safety boats that is his key interest. Sam has provided rescue cover on Sundays and has completed his RYA Mark-Layer training. He acted as mark-layer helm at the Irish National Topper Championships in July and again during the five days of the RS400 UK and Irish National Championships in August.

Volunteer of the Year went to Lindsay McCarty-Nolan from Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club. A member since childhood, Lindsay has built up a strong House Committee and has been transformative in her leadership and enthusiasm. As a result the club has a vibrant social programme throughout the year and a solid social media following, interesting magazine and weekly newsletter. She is actively involved in promoting sailing for younger members and is the Club's RYA Green Blue coordinator, overseeing initiatives like the installation of a water fountain and sales of reusable water bottles.

Young Volunteer of the Year was awarded to James Corbett and Amy Armstrong from County Antrim Yacht Club. Junior Captains at their club, the pair have committed their spare time to volunteering, despite undertaking school work and exams. They lead the club's Junior Committee through many activities and events and supported the Junior Regatta which attracted at least six other clubs.

Young Sailor of the Year was awarded to Ethan McCormac from Cushendall Sailing and Boating Club. He is currently top of the ranking in the Irish Topper Class and has had a very successful season including 1st and 2nd overall at the Irish Nationals, 1st male and 2nd overall at the RYANI Youth Championships and 2nd Junior and 9th overall at the World Championships in Medemblik. In the Autumn, Ethan moved to the Laser 4.7 Class and is part of RYANI's 2020 Youth Performance Programme, with ambitions to compete in the 4.7 worlds in Arco, Italy.

Club of the Year Award

This year the Club of the Year Award went to Strangford Lough Yacht Club. Over the last year the club has worked hard to bring about positive change and as a result the club has secured greater membership and has improved accessibility for the local community. Celebrating its 85th anniversary, the club's Push the Boat Out and Women on Water initiatives have been hugely successful.

The club also hosted a series of sailing events, attracting competitors from across the UK and Ireland. This includes the Flying Fifteen British Nationals, the RS200 Eurocup and the RS400 Northerns. The club was also selected to host both the RYA Youth Championships and also the recent inaugural Women on Water Festival in Northern Ireland.

Special Awards were also announced at the event. Presidents Cup Winners, the Ulster Team, were awarded the Chairman's Award - the Patton Cup. Initiated by Paralympian John Twomey, the Irish interprovincial regatta is the highlight of the Sailability calendar. It is the first time that a team from ulster have won the accolade.

Colin de Fleury a member of County Antrim Yacht Club and Belfast Lough Sailability, also received a Lifetime Commitment award. A cornerstone of several clubs over the years, Colin runs training programmes and helps out when he can, even running racing for an RYA team event. He works tirelessly to make sailing accessible and enjoyable for all.

The Women on Water group also received Special Award for Outstanding Project. The group were recognised for running the inaugural WOW Festival at Strangford Lough Yacht Club in September, which was the first of its kind. The group has already started planning the next event in 2020.

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