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Bill O'Hara awarded OBE in New Year's Honours

by Emma Blee 7 Jan 2021 01:14 PST
Bill O'Hara OBE © Ingrid Abery /

Olympic sailor, international race official and former RYA Northern Ireland Youth Performance Manager, Bill O'Hara, has been awarded an OBE in the New Year's Honours list.

Bill, who is a member of Ballyholme Yacht Club and Royal Ulster Yacht Club, was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to sailing.

The Bangor man has many proud achievements including competing in the Finn class in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. He has attended eight Olympic Games in total, a competitor at two, a coach at two, on the International Jury at two and a rules advisor at two.

In 2001 Bill became an International Judge and he took on the role of Youth Performance Manager for RYA Northern Ireland and the Irish Sailing Association.

He has also been at the centre of major sailing events such as the Volvo Ocean Race as Co-Chairman of the Jury in 2005/6 race and Principal Race Officer for the last four races. Bill has been been Chief Umpire at many of the professional circuits including the Extreme 40s, MOD 70s, 52SuperSeries, GC32s, M32s and the J Class.

He is one of only five people internationally who are a World Sailing Judge, Umpire and Race Officer.


The OBE came as a very welcome shock, Bill says: "It was really emotional, I knew I was being considered but I never once expected it. When I received the email I read it about 10 times thinking it was a prank. I do put a lot of work into what I do and my family have had to make sacrifices over the years so it is nice to get recognised for it."

Reflecting on his sailing journey, Bill says it could have taken a completely different route if it hadn't been for his friend and former RYA Northern Ireland Board member, Curly Morris.

He explains: "I had done well with racing lasers in 1982 and Curly Morris, who sat on the ISA Olympic Steering Group, was aware that I had been asked to put together a proposal to race in the Finn Class at the 1984 Olympics. I put one together and submitted it but it got rejected.

"I put aside my sailing ambitions at that time but was asked to reconsider and submit another proposal but I wasn't overly bothered, I didn't know a lot about Finn at that stage anyway.

"Curly was a doctor and a while later he was treating one of my cousins. He happened to mention to my cousin's parents about the proposal and eventually it got back to my dad. When he heard about it he really encouraged me to give it another go and offered me some support and that's where it all started. Things could have turned out very differently if they hadn't taken that course."

Fond memories

Bill has fond memories of his time as Youth Performance Manager for RYA Northern Ireland and the Irish Sailing Association: "When I started at RYA Northern Ireland, it was Harold Boyle who took me on.

"The role was Youth Performance Manager and at that stage they had never had one before. It was a joint post between RYA and the Irish Sailing Association, I spent 13 days in the Republic of Ireland and seven days in Northern Ireland.

"It was brilliant. I had been working in the hotel trade previously but knew I wanted to do more sailing work professionally," he adds. "One of the highlights for me during that role was in 2005 at the Radial Youth Worlds in Brazil, there were six sailors from GBR and three sailors from IRL and RYA NI had two sailors in each team, which was fantastic.

"We had Ryan Seaton and Kyle McMillan in the Ireland team, and John Beattie and Rory Murphy in the British team. I was delighted as our goal was, and still is, to prepare our sailors to be good enough to be selected to the national squads of their choosing."

Looking to the future

Like many, it has been a strange year for Bill. He is used to globe-trotting for work rather than being at home but is looking forward to the future.

He says: "Usually I'm travelling for work and away 280 days a year and it is difficult for me to contribute at home but it's something I'm very keen to do in future. Unfortunately, now when I do have the time at home and where I could be giving talks locally, it's not possible with the Covid restrictions.

"I can't wait to get back to umpiring, I really love it. Following the competitors in a rib I need to know what is happening next to do my job and that keeps you thinking ahead and planning tactics."

He adds: "I'm also very fortunate to be on the long list to attend the next Olympics as Rules Adviser for the Ireland and New Zealand sailing teams. I'm looking forward to that happening as soon as everything is safe."

RYA Northern Ireland's Chief Operating Officer Richard Honeyford, congratulated Bill on his OBE, commenting: "I don't think there are many in the Northern Irish boating community that don't know of Bill and what he has contributed to sailing over the years. He has always been passionate about racing and has played such a big part in the development of performance in the province.

"Bill has encouraged a great deal of people to take up the performance route and instigated the system that has been in place for over 20 years. He is a highly respected and approachable person who has done so much for sailing in Northern Ireland and beyond."

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