Although it was no surprise when Annalise Murphy was enthusiastically acclaimed as the Volvo Sailor of the Year 2016 last night in Dublin, the ceremonies around her “coronation” were a reminder that our boat sports and amateur sailors are great in their diversity writes W M Nixon.
Taken at the gallop, Irish sailing in 2016 was all about the Olympics, the Round Ireland race, and the Laser Radial Worlds in Dublin Bay. Yet while those who were our top achievers in these majors were duly honoured in the RDS Concert Hall in front of a capacity crowd, the eclectic nature of the many other achievements, harvested from a year-long assessment of notable success at home and abroad, spoke volumes of how difficult it can be for outsiders to grasp what it’s all about.
The lists speak for themselves, and the fierce joy in the Foynes Yacht Club contingent at being hailed as the ISA Training Centre of the Year was both a delight to behold, and a reminder of just how much enthusiastic volunteerism is at the core of our sport.
Yet equally, when within minutes you see on the same stage the hugely successful powerboat skipper John Ryan who took his mighty machine round Ireland in just over twelve hours in a shrewdly chosen calm period in May, and then his place is taken by the July cruising winners Paraic O’Malriada and his wife Myra Reid, who took a leisurely six years to cruise round the world from Kinsale in their 54ft ketch, then you’re reminded that there are as many different approaches to going to sea a there are people who set foot in a boat – and that’s before you begin to try and explain how many different types of boat sports there are.
That said, it was a timely occasion to remind the world in general and the powers that be that it was only in boat sports that Ireland won any Olympic medals at all. But then you still come up against the general public perception that boats and all to do with them are at least odd, and very probably have a touch of the luxurious and the elite about them too.
Thus it was fascinating to see the response when the Special Award for July went to Commandant Barry Byrne and his Defence Forces team who became the first winners of the Beaufort Cup when it became one of the central features of Cork Week.
Originally introduced for competition between teams with direct military connections, it was rapidly expanded to include any national agencies with maritime connections such as the search and rescue services. And Commandant Byrne and his team in their full uniforms made such an impression that by the night’s end, noted sailors such as Paddy Boyd and Brian Mathews, who are both former members of the merchant marine, were talking about putting together a team to represent themselves and their former shipmates, which would surely be in the accessible spirit of the Beaufort Cup.
Thus although Colin Morehead of the Royal Cork YC very deservedly received a President’s Award for the sterling work he has done in implementing the ISA’s Try Sailing initiative, it could well be that an unexpected by-product of the Beaufort Cup is a much greater change in the public perception of sailing than is achieved by really hard work through the club structure to persuade people to give sailing a go.
For after all, as the team members in each Beaufort Cup crew are drawn from all ranks, there’s something which strikes an unexpected chord in realising that, in a sailing boat, it could well be a junior who is instructing a senior. Certainly the thought that this might be going on as the 32–strong Beaufort Cup fleet slugged their way down to the Fastnet Rock in their overnight race was something which gave the event a truly democratic appeal.
Such thoughts and many others crowded through in an exceptionally packed schedule, and we’ll need to let the memories settle and get the photos properly in order before giving the final analysis of the Volvo Sailing Awards for 2016. But at least I got the answer to two questions which I’d been pondering. The first was the response from Brian O’Sullivan of Tralee Bay when I asked if the sunny photo which appeared on Afloat.ie of Optimist sailing in his winter course really was taken in the depths of December. The answer is yes, and there was no use of Photoshop to enhance it either.
The second was of Myra Reid as to whether or not she and Paraic really had celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary in the final year of their global circumnavigation cruise. The answer again was yes. Further to that, they’d the Golden Wedding Anniversary just six months ago. And on top of that again, Paraic Malriada only took up sailing as a retirement project at the age of sixty when he stopped fulltime work as an ace in brewer engineering. Then he and the wife go off and sail round the world…….. I tell you, we had some really fantastic people at the RDS last night.