National “Outstanding Contribution” RYA Award for Solway Yacht Club’s Willie Patterson

Willie Patterson of Dumfries, one of the Solway Yacht Club’s leading members was presented with the RYA’s national “Outstanding Contribution” Award by the Princess Royal in a glittering ceremony in London last weekend.

Founder of the hugely successful inter-schools “Five Castles Regatta” and previously an accomplished GP14 sailor, he moved from dinghies to larger yachts, joining the Solway Yacht Club around 15 years ago. He quickly became both a leading racing helm and highly active Committee member, particularly taking on the vital role of Cadet Officer and inspiring a generation of young sailors.

The London event opened with the formalities of the RYA’s Annual General Meeting, expertly chaired by the Princess.  Among the questions asked from the floor, one referred to problems encountered by yachtsmen posed orcas off the Iberian peninsula. Skilfully passed from the chair to someone with specialist knowledge, the answer was given. A few minutes later, in an informal speech, the Princess recounted a visit to the Falkland Islands where local long-line fishermen were having a problem with orcas plucking fish off the hooks before the fisherman could land them. They decided to try scaring the orcas off by playing loud rock music; not very successfully as the orcas seemed to take the music to be their dinner gong! The actual award ceremony followed with Willie honoured to be recognised by his most important award.

By 2012, the Solway Yacht Club’s Cadet Week entries had been dwindling, RYA training had ended, leaving only racing. Willie re-energised Committee becoming one of the key drivers, his charisma so appealing to the young. He engaged with the existing cadets, parents and others, reversing the decline. Over the next 3 years RYA Training was reintroduced, multiple off-the-water events organised, spreading enthusiasm far and wide, all contributing to increasing attendances. He then introduced the “Kepis Blancs” group, an interim improvers stage between the trainees and the racers. This overcame the persistent problem of cadets doing training one year, little in between, then returning to the same training the year later, limiting their progress and blocking new trainees. Next, he lent is much loved yacht, Hunca Munca to the “Hunca Hunnies” an all-female cadet crew including one exceptional young skipper, for the Kippford Regatta. They won, presented him a “Hunca Hero” shirt, creating an electrifying effect on the younger cadets!

Devised by another member, a senior professional in Social Services, the SYC introduced its SYC Sailing Scholarship programme. It awarded suitable young people from disadvantaged backgrounds a fully funded opportunity to learn to sail, build their confidence and self-esteem. Willie is instrumental in the team that continues its delivery, recognised as a hugely valuable contribution to those where mainstream education may have had limited success.

At the 2016 Flying Fifteen Scottish Championships, Willie recruited teams of Cadets into the “Shore Fforce”. The tidal estuary requires very efficient launching and recovery to ensure races start promptly. With another cadet-lookout further out of the estuary, on the fleets return trailers were prearranged in order and to the crews’ astonishment, boats were whisked up the slipway and returned to their berths. The “Shore Fforce” is now a regular Cadet fixture, repeated at recent Challenger regattas, of even greater valuable to the disabled sailor.

Willie continued to develop the Cadet Week format, introducing further improvements; the Blue Caps (coached racers), the Red Caps (beginners) while the racers became the Black Caps. By 2019 with 60+, Cadet Week included beach parties and continuous fun, it reached the Club’s current capacity. Willie passed the Cadet Officer mantle to a younger Committee member for the 2018 season but continues as mentor and, with increased capacity, its growing success.

He then volunteered to fill the Social Secretary position. Already one half of “Poppa and Dom” our volunteer chef duo, he has revitalised Club social life. Willie was a major part in the Club achieving the 2018 RYA Scotland “Club of the Year” award, reflecting the wonderful team effort. One person, the “Man of the Match” was Willie!

With successive 2020 / 21 Covid 19 lockdowns, Willie has been one of the team instrumental in keeping the Club’s online activities vibrant. He enthusiastically joined the SYC team who successfully “exhibited” at the RYA 2021 Virtual Dinghy Show, the only Scottish club present, delivering a high number of membership enquiries and new members. Despite continuing Covid restrictions, the Club successfully delivered the 2021 Cadet Week, Willie again playing a vital part, both in supporting the Cadet Officer as well as in the race management team.

As one of very few Scots present at the awards, Willie was delighted to find he and his wife Susan weren’t the only ones present from Dumfries. Another was Pat Halliday who Willie had known from a previous meeting. She was accompanying her sister Gerry Campbell who was receiving an RYA award for work with the disabled with “Able2sail”.

The Club and all its members warmly congratulate Willie on this hugely deserved award.

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