Olympian, America's Cup and Dragon Class sailor Lawrie Smith has been named the YJA Yachtsman of the Year for 2023

Lawrie Smith has won the 2023 YJA Yachtsman of the Year award.

The British sailor is an accomplished Olympian, America’s Cup skipper and a UK National Champion in multiple classes.

In 2023 however, he had an exceptional run of success, winning the 75th Edinburgh Cup and the Yanmar Dragon Gold Cup.

Lawrie Smith is presently competing overseas, and so Andrew Moss, Chairman of the British Dragon Class Association received the famous trophy on his behalf.

“Lawrie’s skill in being able to sail a Dragon fast, together with the technical capability of the boat, he just has this magical ability to combine these together which led to him winning both of these incredibly challenging events, so well done to him and for this fantastic recognition,” said Moss.

Other nominees included Charlie Cumbley in the Ok Dinghy class, Ellie Aldridge in Formula Kite, and IQ Foil windsurfing star Emma Wilson.

Lawrie Smith won bronze in the Soling Class at the 1992 Summer olympics with Robert Cruickshank and Ossie Stewart. He has also competed in the Star, Ethcells – winning the 2018 Open Etchells European Championship – 470 and Fireball classes before his success in the Dragon Class.

He raced in four editions of the Whitbread Round the World Race – in 1985-86 aboard Drum; in 1989-90 as skipper of Rothmans; in 1993-94 as skipper of Foruna and then Intrum Justitia, after Foruna dismasted within 24 hours of the start, and in the 1997-98 edition as skipper of Silk Cut.

Lawrie Smtih is the only Whitbread skipper to have skippered two boats in the same edition of a Whitbread Race and to be “sold” in a football-style transfer. In 1997-98 he was originally due to skipper EF Language but was sold to Silk Cut for $1 million to lead a British team.

He has also raced in two America’s Cup challenges, most notably as co-skipper of Peter de Savary’s Victory 83, which failed to beat Australia II to become the official challenger for the America’s Cup 1983.

Lawrie Smith is the first male winner of the award since Alex Thomson in 2017, and joins the likes of Sir Ben Ainslie, Pip Hare, Tracy Edwards and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.

The YJA Young Sailor of the Year 2023 was also announced; it is awarded to those Under 19 at the end of year who, as voted for by the YJA Members, performed outstandingly.

This year there was a tie, with two rising stars in British sailing, Jess Powell and Ben Greenhalgh announced as winners.

Thirteen-year-old Jess is the 2023 Topper National Champion and made a successful transition to the ILCA-4 class last year, dominating with six straight wins at an Autumn qualifier.

2023 National Topper Champion, Jess Powell with her parents, Credit: YJA

2023 National Topper Champion, Jess Powell, Credit: YJA

Ben Greenhalgh became a double world champion in 2023, winning the RS Tera World Championships, and also the RS Feva Worlds. Both sailors showed their ability to transition between fleets whilst continuing to excel in the results tables.

Surprised at their joint award, Jess said, ’It’s an amazing feeling and such an honour to win the award. I love being on the water. It’s the freedom, I really enjoy that part. Thank you so much to the YJA and everyone that voted for me’’.

And 15-year-old Ben commented “I progressed from the RS Tera to the RS Feva and now I want something a bit faster with good competition, so my next focus is the 29er worlds. I am really thankful to have won this award and pleased to be joint YJA Young Sailor of the Year, and I want to thank all in the Yachting Journalist’s Association for voting for me’’.

Double world champion in 2023. Ben Greenhalgh won the RS Tera World Championships, and also the RS Feva Worlds. Credit: YJA

Double world champion in 2023. Ben Greenhalgh won the RS Tera World Championships, and also the RS Feva Worlds. Credit: YJA

Previous winners of the YJA Young Sailor of the Year include Dame Ellen McArthur, Hannah Mills OBE, and Sir Ben Ainslie

Commenting on the awards, the Chairman of the Yachting Journalists’ Association, Cliff Webb said: “Huge congratulations to Lawrie, it’s wonderful that he’s been recognised by YJA members in this way after the remarkable career he’s had in the sport. And to have joint winners of the YJA Young Sailor award is fabulous, which we hope will inspire them to go on to achieve more success in their careers’’.

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The 2023 YJA awards winners were revealed at BoatLife at the NEC in Birmingham.

Henri Lloyd were the supporting sponsor of the 2023 YJA awards, and Graham Allen, CEO, Henri-Lloyd said, “Henri-Lloyd congratulates all the winners and it’s great to see Laurie Smith, winner of the Henri-Lloyd Outstanding Seamanship Awards in the Whitbread 89-90 race and someone who will always have a special place in the brand’s heritage, still showing incredible talent. Henri-Lloyd has over 60 years of experience keeping sailors safe, warm and comfortable, so we understand the importance of maintaining outstanding performance over many years!”.

Lawrie Smith also won a £500 Henri-Lloyd voucher, while Jess Powell and Ben Greenhalgh won £300 Henri-Lloyd vouchers.

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