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Irish Sailors of This, That & The Other Awards

7th February 2014
fergus and kay quinlan's long-standing monthly and annual awards cover every aspect of sailing and its organisation. Our Sailors of the Month for March 2013 were Fergus and Kay Quinlan who voyaged round the world from Kinvara on Galway Bay in three years, sailing the 12m steel cutter Pylades which Fergus built himself.
Irish Sailors of This, That & The Other Awards

#sailoroftheyear – W M Nixon reviews the lineup for the Sailor of the Year 2013 for which voting concludes on February 17th, but only after he has considered some oddities and omissions in the annual circus of local, regional, national and global personal sailing awards. And he makes an important point about the history of Irish sailing awards.

It's a curiosity that in the slew of local, regional, national and international individual sailing awards which have been making it across the finish line as 2013 draws to a close and 2014 washes over us, none seem to have been made to anyone who was sailing in the America's Cup.

Maybe the Cup itself is seen as enough award for anyone. We've said it before, but we'll say it again: The America's Cup is the peak of sailing – alas. Yet this global distribution of gongs to anything and everything except the America's Cup tends to suggest that AC people are seen as functioning in some sort of parallel universe. Or maybe it's a compression chamber. Whatever it is, when a sailor goes into this rarefied zone, he ceases to be seen as a being to whom ordinary matelots can relate in any meaningful way.

The fact that AC crews are de-humanised by being kitted out in black crash helmets and the blackest of black uniforms, and sail on boats to which normal boaty terms scarcely apply (you can't really call it a "she" when it's called a platform in the first place), is all part of the oddity with its alien nature.

And when people are in this extreme world, they have attitudes and speak in ways which are at variance with their approach when they're in another sailing environment. But happily, the good news is that when they emerge from the AC hothouse back into the real world, they soon become as soppy and sentimental as the rest of us.

One of the toughest cookies of all when he's in America's Cup mode is Australia's Iain Murray. It has recently been confirmed that he's moved his focus back home to head up Bob Oatley's Hamilton Island YC America's Cup Challenge, a ferociously demanding role as HIYC are the Challengers of Record for the 35th series.

Thus Murray will have to be up to speed with, and indeed faster than m'learned friends as the legal negotiations get up a head of steam. All that and sailing too. Yet when he's outside the AC bubble, he seems to have attitudes to boats and sailing with which any of us can identify.

One of the joys as 2013 drew to a close was watching the unfolding drama of the Sydney-Hobart Race. There were all sorts of exiting new or totally re-vamped boats, for Australia has been by-passed by the global recession. But the popular money was on Bob Oatley's veteran hundred footer Wild Oats IX, a skinny and much-modified yoke which has had more face-lifts than an ageing Holywood star.

But unlike your Holywood star, the more mods she gets, the more people seem to like the gallant Wild Oats. And among those who frequently sail the big events on her – and whose tactical skill was seen at the start of the Hobart Race in Sydney harbour when Wild Oats carried the much-fancied Perpetual LOYAL (ex Rambler 100) above the crucial break line for the first turning buoy - was Iain Murray. After the race was over and Wild Oats had done the business for line honours yet again, Murray gave his heartfelt thoughts:

"Wild Oats is a bit of an old girl now" he said. "For her to stand up and deliver is special really. This boat and the crew have been around a long time and to keep the boat improving is a nice thing to do.

"I'm sure if you started with a clean sheet of paper now, you wouldn't build this boat, but she's a good all-round boat. She isn't great down-wind or a record breaker or a reaching boat; she is a good all-round boat and coupled with that she has a great, consistent crew that generally gets the most out of her.

"I think everyone in the crew was on their game this year. In the nine (Sydney-Hobart) races this boat has done, this was by far the best".

Read that out in sonorous tones with a lone violin in the background, and there wouldn't be a dry eye in the house. It's about as far from the coldly clinical approach that is essential to the modern America's Cup as it's possible to be, and the word is that Bob Oatley is himself nominated for a sailor's award on the strength of his commitment to the old Wild Oats and the Hobart Race, not for his growing involvement with the America's Cup.

The skinny weird thing which is Wild Oats XI. "If you started with a clean sheet of paper now, you wouldn't build this boat, but she's a good all-round boat".

But while the America's Cup may be enough award in itself, in the bigger picture the variety is such that Sailor of the Month and Sailor of the Year awards are helpful in sensing what's going on, and keeping a record of what has been happening. However, you can soon have enough of a good thing, and too much very quickly. So here at we're more than somewhat bemused by this week's announcement by the Irish Sailing Association of its up-coming Sailor of the Year award.

There are times admittedly when the ISA do things that make you think they're on another planet. So if they do something that suggests they're in another country, then maybe it's really no big deal. And perhaps we should gracefully accept that this sudden transformation of their Sailing Achievement Award of a year ago into a full-blown Sailor of the Year award this week is a case of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.

Whatever, out of respect for the 336 Afloat "Sailors of the Month" and 28 Afloat "Sailors of the Year" who have enhanced our sport since we inaugurated these awards back in 1996, we feel that due acknowledgement of their achievements, plus the facts of history, and the current situation in Irish sailing, means that we should at least stake our claim as prior users of the Irish Sailor of the Year title.

Enough said. Voting on the latest annual batch closes at 6.0pm on Monday February 17th. We're delighted with the response there has been right across the board, even if it hasn't been on the scale of the good old days before one-vote-per-voter electronic limitation was imposed, when one determined skipper voted for himself 3,000 times at the mad height of the Celtic Tiger years. We know who he was, and where he lives......

The lineup reflects the diversity of our sport. As recent online arguments about the reinstatement of the Star in the Olympics have emphasised, the majority of us sail in boats with keels, while beyond that there's a very large number of us who seldom if ever race, yet we love our boats and sailing. However, racing creates its own narrative, so inevitably the racing names push their way to the fore afloat and ashore.


In the first week of January 2013, ex-Pat Gordon Maguire celebrated 53 straight weeks of exceptional achievement in Australian sailing. The 63ft Reichel Pugh sloop Loki, aboard which he was sailing master, was confirmed as overall champion in the Australian Blue Water Points Score, which is based on a season-long seven race series with no discard, concluding with the 628-mile Sydney-Hobart.

While defending champion Loki may have had to concede the overall Hobart Race handicap win at the end of December 2012 to line honours winner Wild Oats XI, she was a very solid second to augment her overall victory a year earlier. As for conceding that one win to Wild Oats, it was the only time throughout the 2012-13 season that Loki had done so, and in the second-longest race of the series, the 384-mile Sydney-Gold Coast Race, Loki had been in top form for a convincing overall win.

Gordon Maguire's four years of growing success with a mixed amateur-professional crew aboard Stephen Ainsworth's Loki spoke volumes for his exceptional talents as a helmsman, his inspiring ability as a leader, and his high qualities as a team member. Added to his record as a champion round the world racer and a winner in many other events, this peak of achievement in January 2013 marked the latest chapter in a remarkable success story for Irish sailing.


Simon and Nancy de Pietro of Kinsale Yacht Club were the Sailors of the Month for February after their convincing win in Class 1 in the RORC Caribbean 600 Race. With strong family links to North Cork and Sligo, they fly the burgee of the popular club on the south coast of Ireland for their successful international sailing programme.

Lilla, Class 1 winner in the RORC Caribbbean 600 2013

Although their 76ft Philippe Briand-designed Lilla is a much-loved 20-year-old veteran, the high standard of maintenance which is lavished by this enthusiastic sailing couple on their hard-working charter boat shows itself in the consistency of the boat's racing performance in a competitive programme which is fitted around a regular working life on the Caribbean cruise circuit.

The quiet season in the Caribbean is in the summer, and last year saw Lilla avail of summer's opportunity to come north in June and race in the famous biennial Newport-Bermuda Race, which was first sailed in 2006. With Simon as skipper and Nancy as navigator, they won overall in the cruising division. Lilla clearly likes racing to Bermuda, as she has also won overall in another contest to the "onion patch", the annual race from Marion in Massachusetts.

For the start of 2013, Lilla's charter programme was put on hold for a while as she geared up for the new sunshine classic, the RORC Caribbean 600. Although she has relatively shallow draft in order to maximize her cruising choices, she is raced so skillfully that the expected limitations on her windward performance simply don't seem to materialize.


Fergus and Kay Quinlan's three year voyage around the world in their own-built 12m steel cutter Pylades was an inspiration to Ireland's sailing community. And it received international acclamation from the premier global voyaging organisation, the Ocean Cruising Club, which gave the County Clare couple – who sail from Kinvara on Galway Bay – the special OCC Award for those "who have done most to foster and encourage ocean cruising in small craft and the practice of seamanship and navigation in all branches".

Living the dream. Fergus & Kay Quinlan's Pylades resting in Fiji. Photo: Fergus Quinlan

The magical cruise of the Pylades had already been awarded the Irish Cruising Club's senior trophy, the Faulkner Cup (which dates from 1931), for an unprecedented three years in a row. And for the many in Ireland who had been following the cruise, it came as no surprise that the experienced adjudicators in the Ocean Cr C also found the cruise of the Quinlans to be both an informative entertainment, and a realistic encouragement to those who would hope to do something similar.

The O'Learys of Crosshaven have taken the Sailor of the Month title several times over the years with the remarkable achievements of father Anthony, and sons Peter and Nicholas. But the Spring of 2013 clearly demonstrated that there's a new O'Leary on the stage - younger brother Robert, who played a key role in Irish university sailing through March and April.

Previously in the baby brother position as the successful skipper of the family's "cruiserfied" 1720 Antix Beg, young O'Leary made the scene in that hotbed of college development, the University of Limerick. This admired institution's success does more to change public perceptions of the sometimes troubled Shannonside city than a whole raft of government inner city initiatives. But even so, when UL came into being in 1989, it would have aroused incredulity to suggest that, by 2013, it would be the clear pace-setter in the highly competitive and long established world of Irish college sailing.

Robert O'Leary after winning the College J/80 Selection Series. Photo: W M Nixon

Yet such is the case. And what a pace they've been setting. Despite the coldest Irish spring in years, it was the Limerick college sailors who kicked the new season into action by hosting the three day Intervarsity Team Racing National Opens over the St Patrick's weekend in March. Run in Kerry in conjunction with the hospitable Tralee Bay SC, and sailed in Fireflies, the series attracted 26 teams. The logistical demands were such that Robert O'Leary stayed ashore as overall event manager, but UL was on a roll and they won the main title too, captained by Ross Murray.

Then in April O'Leary was very much afloat, skippering the UL crew in the Student Yachting Worlds Irish selection trials raced over three successive Saturdays in April in the ISA SailFleet J/80s, currently based in Howth. The format was demanding, as it involved getting your crew on site three times over a two week period, and then coping with very different conditions on three separate occasions. Yet UL won it in style .


Annalise Murphy (23) of Dun Laoghaire was runaway winner of the "Sailor of the Month" title for May 2013 after her unprecedented tally of two Gold Medals in the month's top international events in Europe.

The venues could have not been more different. The Murphy run of success started at Lake Garda in Italy, racing among the mountains in the Italian Olympic Week 2013, a challenging event in which the Irish helm emerged supreme with just 2 points to the 5 points of next-in-line Tuula Tenkanen of Finland, and Tina Mihelic of Croatia.

Annalise Murphy's race winning form from Weymouth continued in 2013

The competition became even more intense two weeks later in the wide open spaces at Medemblik in The Netherlands for the Delta Lloyd Regatta. The Dutch weather was still giving a fair impression of winter, and the fleet included Olympic Gold Medallist Lijia Xu of China, and Silver Medallist Marit Bouwemester of the host nation.

Ireland's sailor went into the final medal race in third place, two points behind Alison Young (GBR) and Bouwemester. But in a complete reversal of the form shown in the final race of the Olympics in August 2012, it was Murphy who came confidently powering through to win by more than a minute and take the Gold, while China's star Olympic performer had to be content with sixth overall.


Brian O'Sullivan of Tralee Bay was the "Sailor of the Month" for June following his clear overall win by more than an hour and forty minutes in the biennial 280-mile Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race between June 7th and 10th.

It was an outstanding month for Irish sailing achievements at home and abroad. But there was something specially heartening in these difficult times about a skipper from one of our most westerly clubs buying up a 33-year-old cruiser-racer, and showing that with a keen crew, and the right conditions, you can still take on Ireland's best and win.

Brian O'Sullivan's Amazing Grace had a stellar Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race. Photo: Michael Chester

As anyone who followed the ongoing D2D story and subsequent reports on will be aware, the Oyster 37 Amazing Grace has played an important role in Irish sailing at ports such as Crosshaven, Kinsale and Fenit. Completed by Jim Fagan from a bare hull in a Cork farmyard (though to a standard that belies the tag of "home made"), this classic Holman and Pye design was only bought by Brian O'Sullivan from a fellow member of Tralee Bay SC as recently as the Spring of 2013.

But he knew he was getting a good boat with a decent set of sails. The challenge was to fulfill Amazing Grace's potential with a keen crew who could build up their enthusiasm for the big race from Dun Laoghaire, with Tralee providing a small but keen flotilla in the high quality 22-boat fleet. And when conditions fell their way through the race, they were keyed up to finish in the small hours of Monday morning, right in line for a great Kerry victory.

The crewing team on Amazing Grace were Finbarr O'Connell, Fergus Kelliher, Pearse Boyland, Tim Kelliher, Cian O'Donnell, Brendan Culloty and Michael McCormack, while the essential shoreside support and encouragement was provided by Frances Clifford. But ultimately, any successful team needs a capable leader, and aboard Amazing Grace they had that in Brian O'Sullivan, Sailor of the Month for June 2013.


Ballyholme YC teenage helm Liam Glynn was the "Sailor of the Month" for July after his comprehensive victory in a fleet of 102 boats at the Topper International Worlds at Loctudy in France in an intense week of racing at the Brittany venue from July 22nd to 26th.

Glynn arrived at the championship on top form with Silver already notched at the ISA Youth Nationals earlier in the season. But he showed his quality in depth by turning in an even better performance in France, despite very different conditions. The ISA Championship had been raced on the tide-free freshwater location of Lough Derg, but the Worlds were sailed in notably tidal salt water with often flukey breezes, and a sometimes lumpy sea state which was not always warranted by the wind strength.

Yet despite the huge fleet, the young Belfast Lough sailor put in the sort of consistent performance which is the ideal of any top skipper, senior or junior. His first four races were all top three placings, including two straight wins, which meant that as the series progressed he was building towards a comfortable cushion of 13 points over the next boat as the final day's racing arrived.

As it turned out, his work was done. The final day of racing was lost to calm, and Ireland had a new World Champion.


From time to time, we honour sailors from other countries who have achieved outstanding success in Irish waters. But never has our International Award been for anything so extraordinary as French kitesurfer Bruno Sroka's 240 nautical miles voyage on Friday July 19th from L'Aber Wrach in northwest Brittany to Cork Harbour.

In a period of mostly light winds, Sroka was favoured by a beam reach 16 knot nor'easter which he carried with him almost all the way across the mouth of the English Channel, past the Isles of Scilly, and on across the Celtic Sea to a rapturous welcome in to Cork, the feat completed within his aimed time scale of 17 hours, the exact time being 16 hours and 37 minutes, an average of 14.45 knots.

The wind was fading as he neared the Irish coast, but there was just enough bite left in it to bring him to Roche's Point at sunset. A professional kitesurfer, he had already conquered the English Channel, and with his longterm ambition of being the first to get to Ireland from France fulfilled, he is now thinking in terms of the ultimate goal – New York to Brest in 2015.


The summer of 2013 was the season in which world sailing came to Ireland. In addition to two World Championships, events such as the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta and the Sovereigns Cup at Kinsale brought many sailing visitors to our shores. Then too, being a Rolex Fastnet Race year, 2013 saw a fleet of record-breaking size rounding our most famous rock, an event in which a dozen Irish boats took part.

The events which were staged from Irish ports involved an enormous amount of voluntary effort from our own communities, large and small. And skilled effort at that. Well-meaning willing helpers can be a mixed blessing. But when experienced administrators build up their chosen team of specialists as the allotted time of each major event approaches, the effective administrative machinery - virtually guaranteed when Ireland is hosting a big event - slips smoothly into place.

After such a summer of so much success in event management, there are many volunteers whose efforts deserve to be highlighted. So in making John Twomey of Kinsale the "Sailor of the Month" for August, we hope that other organisers will realise that we are applauding their efforts too.

But amongst the elite of organisers, John is the crème de la crème.
An active participant himself to Olympic level, his election in November 2012 as President of the International Association For Disabled Sailing was a well-earned indication of the high regard in which he is held in global sailing. And in bringing the Worlds to his home port and ensuring that it was a success which was popular with the general public too, John Twomey played a unique role, deserving of national recognition and celebration.


The adjudicators in the "Sailor of the Month" award for September were in the happy position of having a proliferation of major achievements to choose from, and they have the bonus of being able to draw on the "Previous Award" clause.

Like everyone else, we agreed that Annalise Murphy's comprehensive sweeping of the board at the Laser Europeans & Worlds at her home club of the National in Dun Laoghaire had been in a league of its own. But we'd already been on the case with the Murphy performance in 2013, as she was SoM in May after taking two gold medals in major European regattas.

Following a sensational debut in 2012, Finn Lynch consolidated his position as a rising star in 2013.

So with the award for Sailor of the Year 2013 now up for consideration, that May success is rated as a double win. But thanks to this bit of prestidigitation, we still had September's gong to give out, and that went to young Finn Lynch of County Carlow. He also counts the National YC as his home club, even if he did start his sailing at the lakeside club of Blessington up in the Wicklow hills.

When Lynch won the Silver at 2012's ISAF Youth Worlds in Dublin Bay, it was the maturity of the 16-year-old's approach which drew the most favourable comment. And in September 2013, at the ripe old age of 17, he was even more emphatically Irish sailing's Captain Cool. He took Gold in the U21 division, Silver in the Europeans, and Bronze in the Worlds. A phenomenal achievement, and a worthy September Sailor of the Month.


The French sailing scene is noted for its continuing national and international programme of encouraging young sailors in their early twenties into the top level of offshore competition. But even by the demanding Gallic standards of youthful participation against hardened veterans in events like the Figaro Solo, Corkman David Kenefick stood out as youngest of them all. He was just 21 when he qualified to become a Figaro 'rookie' mentored by Marcus Hutchinson, and though he turned 22 during June as the 2013 programme accelerated through a demanding season, he continued as the youngest in a schedule which saw him complete almost 7,000 offshore miles, nearly all of them single-handed.

David Kenefick took a mighty leap in the dark with his Figaro involvement, but showed he had the right stuff

As the busy season drew on he also began to acquire a useful smattering of French. And though there were some some big races whose results were eminently forgettable, in October's 1600 mile three stage Generali Solo, the Mediterranean's equivalent of the Figaro Solo itself, he was very much in contention to move towards the coveted "Rookie of the Year" slot.

The Generali Solo reached a climax after its three offshore stages, with three inshore races in perfect yet sometimes quite demanding conditions of 15 to 22 knots of wind. Kenefick's tally of 13,10, and 9th much improved his position on the leaderboard, and he moved into a commanding 12th overall. With the next rookie back in 16th slot, his place was secure, and becoming Figaro Solo Rookie of the Year 2013 made David Kenefick the Sailor of the Month for October 2013.


For many decades, the Straits of Hormuz were one of those potential flashpoints which could have ignited World War III. In an oil-rich region of extreme political and religious turbulence, this narrow channel connecting the The Gulf with the oceans of the world has been just about the last place you would have thought of routing an offshore race.

Yet there are few things more strongly symbolic of peace than a please boat sailing about her business, even if the business is the cut-throat matter of winning an offshore race. In fact, pleasure boating in all its forms is the essence of peaceful pursuits, something well-recognised by those who promoted the building of the Shannon-Erne Waterways right through the middle of a border area which was suffering grievously throughout Ireland's "Troubles" from 1969 to 1998.

And in offshore racing, these days we think it perfectly normal that Harry Donegan of Cork with his cutter Gull should have been one of the seven entrants in the inaugural Fastnet Race in 1925. Yet that first Fastnet Race was not only staged just three years after the Irish Free State had been established, but its course took the contenders right into the territorial waters of the Rebel County's most rebellious region of West Cork. The presence of the Gull in the race was a powerful gesture of peace and reconciliation.

Adrian Lee's Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners sails sweetly and swiftly on her way to winning line honours, the course record, and first overall in the Dubai-Muscat Race

The 360 mile race from Dubai to Muscat in Oman may take place between two states which are receptive to western concepts, but with Iran looming close to the north and Saudi Arabia a huge presence to the south, it's a bizarre enough setting for something so western as modern offshore racing. Yet is has been staged annually for 22 years now, but it is only relatively recently, as the first green shoots of a greater peacefulness spread over the Gulf area, that it has been allowed to achieve the kind of publicity it deserves.

So from being a fleet of local Dubai-based boats which just nipped round the corner to Muscat, it has begun to attract high profile entries to race a course which re-traces part of the ancient spice voyaging routes. But though the local Dubai-based inshore racing sports dhows can reach remarkable speeds, for the demands of a 360 miles offshore in the first weekend of November 2013 it was a tried and tested classic modern offshore racer, the canting-keel Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners, which did the business to take a new course record of 2 days 53 minutes and 40 seconds and the overall win, adding them to her overall victory (as Chieftain) in the 2007 Fastnet Race, and her overall win in the inaugural 2009 RORC Caribbean 600 race.

Skipper Adrian Lee hit a happy moment, as his club, the Royal St George YC in Dun Laoghaire, was at precisely the same time celebrating its 175th anniversary by honouring the 597 members who had won major sailing prizes down the years. The Lee victory brought the total up to 598 before the weekend was over. Lee Overlay Partner's crew for the RORC Dubai-Muscat Race 2013 were James Hemingway, Ilya Lee Paveliev, Scott Wilson, Emmet Kerin, James Gunn, Tim Corney, Neil Harrison, Ruairi Herraghty, Robert Witte and Daniel McKeown, and their skipper Adrian Lee very deservedly became the "sailor of the Month" for November.


With a cut-off date at midnight on Christmas Eve, the lineup for's "Sailor of the Month" title for December provided only three weeks of performance time, but it allowed the adjudicators to spread their net across the entire year's sailing.

And throughout 2013, one sailor was in close contention for the "Sailor of the Month" award more times than anyone else, yet always missed the top title by a hairsbreadth. But when his year-long performance was considered in its entirety, Ireland's resident Kiwi skipper Ben Duncan was in a league of his own. He became Sailor of the Month for December as the sleigh bells started to jingle.

Finishing his season in style. Ben Duncan on his way to winning the All Ireland in a SailFleet J/80. Photo: Aidan Tarbett.

Duncan is best known for his scientific and extremely thorough approach to campaigning his SB20 at home and abroad. He has raised the sailing of these very special boats to a new level. And in October, after a season of success at home and abroad, he was on top of his form to win the concluding championship on Lough Derg.

But the Duncan success path in 2013 didn't end there. The end of October brought a highly specialised challenge to many top helms and Race Officer Neil Murphy. The All Ireland Championship at Howth in the SailFleet J/80s, scheduled as a two day event, had to be put through in just one day's very crisply organised racing as one big storm cleared to the eastward, and another roared in from the west.

To add to the unnerving situation, a weather front with gale force gusts came streaking through at mid-event, requiring everyone to return to the harbour. Yet despite the interruptions, the programme was completed with excellent racing, with sunshine for a bonus. And despite sailing in a boat other than his beloved SB20, Ben Duncan put in the performance of a lifetime for a runaway win to round out a great year.

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WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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