Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

Afloat's Sailors of the Month Reflect Irish Sailing's Year–Round Diversity

28th November 2014
Afloat's Sailors of the Month Reflect Irish Sailing's Year–Round Diversity

#sailorofthemonth – The Afloat "Sailor of the Month" Award has been a central feature of Irish sailing since 1996, and before that we ran various Sailors of the Year awards with several categories. But with the development of the "Sailor of the Month" concept, and its peak of achievement in one single "Sailor of the Year", the intention has been to give expression to the fact that the world of boats and thinking frequently about being afloat is a year-round Irish interest, even if in times past there was a distinctly defined sailing and boating season.



The overall national award will be presented to the person who, in the judges' opinion, achieved the most notable results in, or made the most significant contribution to Irish sailing during 2014.


The boating public gets to nominate their top three through the online poll, gets a vote too and the Sailor of the Year judges decide the final winner.


With modern materials and changed attitudes, there is now genuine year-round boat activity within Ireland, albeit at a much more muted level in winter than in high summer. But as well, the increasing size and awareness of the Irish diaspora, and the way that rapidly improving global communications keep us in frequent and intimate communication with Irish sailors in every corner of the world - whether afloat or ashore - means that for the greater Irish sailing community, it is endless summer.

The worldwide responses we get in the comments sections of confirm that while you may take the Irish sailor out of Ireland, you can never take Ireland out of the Irish sailor. And for us at home, our interest in our sailors abroad stems from a reassuring and inspiring sense of global community.

As for specific boat and sailing interests, for most Irish sailors these are very broad indeed, covering everything from the most challenging offshore racing, voyaging and cruising right through the entire gamut of coastal and club activity and on into the supposedly serene but often surprisingly brisk sailing and boating to be found on our lakes and inland waterways.

And the boat types involved reflect this broad range of interest - they are of all sizes, made in many different materials, and of every type from the utmost state-of-the-art flyer to a heavy yet lovely traditional boat constructed in a way our forefathers would find familiar. This is the complex and complete world afloat that we try to cover in our Sailor of the Month awards. And while the decision as to who is going to be the Sailor of the Year 2014 will not be taken until February 2015, with Christmas upon us it is timely to start re-visiting the many remarkable individual achievements of 2014.

But you'll have to bear with us regarding the totality of the list. The Sailor of the Month for November will not be announced until next week, while in time-honoured tradition, the December awardee will be named on December 15th, as we reckon the Irish Sailing Season 2015 will then begin on December 26th with the start of the Sydney-Hobart Race.

The 70ft Derry/Londonderry's victory in the Clipper Fleet in the Syndey-Hobart Race brought Lough Swilly skipper Sean McCarter January's accolade.


Sean McCarter of Lough Swilly Yacht Club became Sailor of the Month for January after some very successful skippering of the Irish entry Derry/Londonderry/Doire in the current Clipper Round the World Race. With the latest edition's major breakthrough in having the Tony Castro-designed 70ft Clippers included in the classic annual Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race as part of the fleet, and as a class in their own right, the 31-year-old McCarter's skills as a racing skipper, honed from a very early age on Lough Swilly, became evident as he sailed his boat to a clear four hour class victory in the challenging race to Hobart.


Sam Davis of Conly Island in Strangford Lough was the "Sailor of the Month" for February in recognition of his exceptional achievement in receiving an unprecedented threesome of top Irish Cruising Club awards for his great single-handed voyage from Tonga in the midst of the Pacific round Cape Horn, and home to Ireland through the length of the Atlantic. Taken chronologically, his first award in this batch of three was the Rockabill Trophy in celebration of his great skill in bringing his Rival 41 Suvretta through Force 12 winds and successfully finding shelter in the Falkland Islands. It was ironic that he should experience such tough going in this area of ocean, as Suvretta had twice rounded Cape Horn in her three years away from Strangford Lough, and had enjoyed relatively easy conditions both times while doing so.

Sam Davis's Rival 41 Suvretta in Cala Brechnock in the Beagle Channel in the Cape Horn region of South America. Photo: Sam Davis

The Intervarsity Fireflies in early Spring action in Wexford to bring Philip Doran the title for March


Simon Doran of Courtown SC sailed his fourth intervarsities for UCD in Wexford early (vey early!) in the Spring of 2014, and he played a key role in bringing the Dublin College in as the new Irish Champions for 2014. The name Doran was not to disappear from the UCDSC listings, however, as his younger brother Philip was also a member of the winning team, and he took over over the baton of carrying the family name in intervarsity sailing in the year ahead, getting fourth overall in a truly international fleet as captain of the UCD team in the Student yachting Worlds in France in October.


Their meteoric rise from 33rd to 11th in the ISAF Global Rankings for the 49er Olympic Class gave international recognition to the April achievement of Belfast Lough's Ryan Seaton (24) and Matt McGovern (26). They brought home the Silver Medal from the ISAF World Championship in Hyeres on France's Mediterranean coast, and although it was a high-achieving month for Irish sailing generally at home and abroad, it made them clear winners of the Sailors of the Month title for April.

Ryan Seaton & Matt McGovern took the silver in the 49er

Dickie Gomes's 1912-built 36ft Ainmara from Strangford Lough showing the kind of performance which saw her retain the Leinster Trophy in Dublin Bay. Photo: Carol Laird


Dickie Gomes of Strangford Lough, who was Round Ireland Open Record Holder from 1986 to 1993, and was also the Round Ireland Race winner in 1988, was the "Sailor of the Month" for May 2014, following his successful defence of the Leinster Trophy for veteran and classic boats in Dublin Bay. It was on the final day of May that the Gomes-owned, skippered and self-maintained 102-year-old 36ft yawl Ainmara swept across the sunlit waters of the bay to take line honours, and win the title on corrected time for the second year running, after a close-fought battle with Old Gaffers Association International President Sean Walsh's cutter Tir na nOg.


Top Cork skipper Anthony O'Leary's success in achieving the overall title in the British Open IRC Championship made him the runaway winner of's "Sailor of the Month" title for June.
O'Leary's dedication in campaigning his veteran Ker 39 Antix is a by-word for enthusiasm in Irish and international sailing. Allied to his long-proven skill in getting that vital extra ounce of performance from boat and crew, the result was a prodigious record of success throughout 2014, culminating in a comprehensive victory for Ireland in the Commodore's Cup at the end of July. Then for O'Leary personally it got even better, as he went on to win both the Helmsmans Championship and the 1720 Nationals in September, while in November his beloved Antix was declared the RORC "Yacht of the Year"

Quokka, chartered by Michael Boyd and Niall Dowling, was a consistent contributor to the three-boat Irish team's winning points total in the Brewin Dolphin Commodore's Cup 2014. Photo: Rick Tomlinson


It was a busy and successful sailing season for Irish crews at home and abroad, but one team achievement stood above all others in setting the tone for the year. Ireland's runaway victory in the international and multi-faceted Brewin Dolphin Commodore's Cup series from July 20th to 26th raised the mood of the nation in a very encouraging way. And while many were involved, there is no doubt that one man, the Team Captain Anthony O'Leary of Cork, was head and shoulders above all others in making the primary contribution.


The Royal Cork Yacht Club's Cup of Success was running over in July, as the Commodore's Cup victory followed on to a Silver Medal at the ISAF Worlds for 18-year-old Seafra Guilfoyle of Crosshaven, who became the "Sailor of the Month".
Racing in the boys Laser Radials at the Youth Worlds at Tavira on the Algarve in Portugal from July 14th to 20th, by the last day Guilfoyle was certain of a medal, with the final race to decide which one. As it happened, he came tantalisingly close to Gold, but the Silver amounted to a personal best

Seafra Guilfoye in Silver Medal style

On their way - Lula Belle streaks eastward up the English Channel in the early stages of the Round Britain and Ireland Race. Photo: Rick Tomlinson


Liam Coyne of Dun Laoghaire and Brian Flahive of Wicklow were the "Sailors of the Month" for August 2014, following their stunning and comprehensive success in the 1,802 mile RORC SevenStar Round Britain & Ireland Race. In it, with the standard First 36.7 Lula Belle, they topped the Two-Handed Division, won two of the RORC classes against opposition which included fully-crewed boats, and finished sixth overall in a fleet in which the results were otherwise dominated by much bigger boats with a large professional element in their crews. In fact, some of the crews were wholly professional. But the two Irish amateurs not only did the race out of their own time and resources, but they had to be their own shore management and technical support team as well.


On Saturday 27th September, Hal Bleakley quietly retired from a lifetime of service to yacht racing, standing down after his final day as Race Officer for Dublin Bay Sailing Club in the last race of the summer programme in the Club's 130th year of playing a key role in the bay. Hal Bleakley personifies all that is best in DBSC, and indeed in Irish sailing and the maritime community generally. He got steadily on with the job with hours, days and weeks of often voluntary effort, and it was usually done quietly in the background, for that was Hal's way. In his working life, he was a leading figure in technical management and general administration in Ireland's aviation industry from 1959 to 2000, and he brought the high standards of his profession to his many interests afloat.

Hal Bleakley's calm and competent presence contributes greatly to the smooth running of Irish sailing. Photo: David Branigan


Barry Hurley, who learnt his sailing on Cork Harbour out of Cobh, is best known as a star of the short-handed offshore racing scene. But in recent years he has been carving a formidable reputation as a team co-ordinator on board fully-crewed boats, and October 2014's 606-mile Middle Sea Race out of Malta against a record fleet of more than 120 boats was an outstanding achievement for him. In a central role aboard Josef Schultheis's Xp44 XpAct, Hurley and his shipmates took first in class on IRC and ORC, and second overall in both IRC and ORC. It was his tenth Rolex Middle Sea Race, and it was aboard a boat which as always was immaculately presented, while the gathering of crew from far and wide for XpAct resulted in ten very experienced sailors from five different countries, with four of them from Ireland, coming together in Malta a week before the start to finalise an outstanding challenge.



Successes in the first two races of the current Volvo Ocean global contest placed Justin Slattery in an unassailable position as our Sailor of the Month for November. Completely absorbed in his fifth world race which is itself a record for an Irish sailor (and he won in 2005-06 with ABN Amro), Slattery has had the satisfaction of seeing his Abu Dhabi team justify his feeling that on the previous circuit three years ago, they were hampered by a slow boat. With the current race of 2014-2015 in a fleet of Farr-designed one–design Volvo 65s although Abu Dhabi - skippered by Ian Walker - was not necessarily always in the lead on the first leg from Alicante to Cape Town, she was ahead when it mattered at the finish. And with the entire fleet of one–designs racing within the same closely defined area of water for theCape Town inshore event, she showed the quality and depth of her style with another win. In the thick of it all, Justin Slattery was in his usual key roles in a multi-functional position - he can be bowman, trimmer or helmsman. Born in Cork with a boyhood in Wexford, Justin Slattery (40) is one of many Irish sailors who took his first proper steps afloat with Eddie English on Cork Harbour, and his early experiences still stand well to him.


Sutton Dinghy Club on the north shore of Dublin Bay has been a pace-setter in the revival of Irish dinghy racing and club activity generally during 2014. Commodore Andy Johnston led his members through an outstanding season in which they were once again making an impact at national and international level, while the club's training programme and sailing school under the direction of Hugh Gill was highly effective in bringing newcomers to the sport, and building up a strong esprit de corps among its dedicated team of young instructors. In addition to success in open dinghy events at all levels, SDC succeeded in regaining the historic Book Trophy for team racing from Royal Cork Yacht Club. The trophy dates back to 1944, but for the past sixteen years the sailors of Crosshaven had kept it firmly in their grasp. 2014 also marked the 75th Anniversary of the foundation of the club at its homely base beside Sutton Creek, so the concluding highlight of the year was a 75th Anniversary Gala Dinner in mid-November in the club's home-from-home, the popular Marine Hotel at Sutton Cross. A remarkable total of 204 well-wishers and people who have distinguished sailing connections with Sutton DC from way back attended. It was Ciara O'Tiarnaigh and her Organising Committee who looked after the nuts and bolts of this star-studded event, but throughout a long and very special season, it was Andy Johnston who led the way and held the ultimate responsibility. Nevertheless, in making him our Sailor of the Month for December 2014, we are saluting the spirit of Sutton Dinghy Club, and the resilience of all Irish dinghy sailing.

Help us decide...

As in previous years, Afloat magazine is asking the public to help decide who should be crowned Ireland's Sailor of the Year for 2014. 


The overall national award will be presented to the person who, in the judges' opinion, achieved the most notable results in, or made the most significant contribution to Irish sailing during 2014.

The boating public gets to nominate their top three through the online poll, gets a vote too and the Sailor of the Year judges decide the final winner.

The awards are administered and judged by Afloat magazine.

The 2014 Sailor of the Year will be named early in March at a joint presentation by Afloat and the Irish Sailing Association (ISA).

The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Thanks for your interest!

Published in W M Nixon
WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

Email The Author

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.

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven't put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open. is Ireland's only full-time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

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