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Who Will Be The 'Sailor Of The Year' 2015?

5th December 2015
Afloat Sailors of the month 2015 title= afloat_wmnixon
Class of 2015 – Scroll down to read 17 stand out performances from 2015 Afloat

It’s that time of year again. Deciding on la crème de la crème is never easy. And in a vehicle sport like sailing where so many elements beyond athletic ability and the capacity for quick thinking are involved, it can be surprising and reassuring just how widely the net can be cast. W M Nixon takes a look over the runners and riders, all of whom have already been winners for one glorious month regardless of who becomes the Sailor of the Year 2015 at the Annual ISA Sailing Awards Ceremony in the RCSI on Thursday, February 4th 2016.


Conor Clarke, who cut his sailing teeth on Dublin Bay, was our Sailor of the Month for January after a dream debut at the Key West Regatta with his Melges 24 Embarr. In fact, “dream” is the theme of the story, as they made their debut in the kind of conditions you could only fantasise about in mid-January Dublin, with 18 knots of breeze in an air temperature of 25 degrees and sunshine sparkling on the bluest sea imaginable.

Cheerfully admitting that the Key West event had long been on his bucket list, Clarke had also brought out a dream team of all the talents with 470 Olympic hopefuls Stuart McNay and Dave Hughes as helmsman and tactician, while Maurice Prof O’Connell was there to knock them back into shape, particularly in the one race when things went pear-shaped, when the Prof did it to such good effect that that they went up through the fleet from the crab grass to battling for the lead against the Norwegian crew at the last gybe. They went on to win overall with one race to spare, but they raced that anyway.


Neil Hegarty of Cork was awarded the Irish Cruising Club’s historic premier trophy, the Faulkner Cup, as February drew to a close. A former dinghy sailor who was at the front of the fleet both as crew and helm in boats as diverse as IDRA 14s, Enterprises and 505s, Hegarty went on to campaign keelboats with the J/24 and Impala 28 fleets. He has since graduated with aplomb into long distance voyaging and detailed cruising in exotic locations with his 2003 Dufour 34 Shelduck.

His award-winning 2014 cruise was Transatlantic from Cascais in Portugal via the Canaries to the Caribbean, which was then cruised in detail including Cuba, followed by island and port-hopping along the East Coast USA until eventually the boat was laid up in advance of the hurricane season near the Chesapeake.
In the finest traditions of cruising, he not only kept an informative log, but at its conclusion he made a detailed analysis of all the special equipment which he had found particularly useful during this exemplary voyage.


Fionn Lyden

Fionn Lyden (19) of Baltimore became March’s winner by ushering in the new month with a stellar role in bringing University College Cork’s First Team to overall victory in the decidedly breezy Intervarsity Team Racing Nationals at Schull from February 27th to March 1st.

Of all forms of sailing, this is of course the most group-oriented. But Lyden’s achievement emerged above the efforts of his team mates with his additional acclamation as First Year Sailor of the Year from among the large turnout at the championship. Indeed, everyone – both participants and organisers alike – deserved an award at a series in which the highly-regarded Fastnet Marine Outdoor Education Centre and a large team of volunteers skillfully dealt with deteriorating conditions to get a worthwhile result.


' Sailor of the Year 2014' Anthony O’Leary of Royal Cork YC started his 2015 season in winning style by book-ending April with a runaway overall victory in the RORC Easter Challenge in the Solent from April 3rd to 5th as the new month got under way, and then rounding it out with a convincing win in the Brooks Macdonald Warsash Spring Championship, a twelve race series which concluded on Sunday April 26th.

O’Leary’s new Antix was the unmistakably Munster red state-of-the-art Ker 40 which was formerly Catapult, key member of Ireland’s winning 2014 Commodore’s Cup Team, in which she was also the top individual points scorer. Most of the crew were very new to the boat, but the results speak for themselves, and by the end of the month, the remarkable new Antix with her very dished stern was being sailed as though the crew had been with her for at least a year.

As for their skipper, he showed his versatility by retaining the All Ireland Helmsman’s Championship in October by a convincing margin racing the SailFleet J/80s.

MAY – ROB McCONNELL fools gold scotland

May 2015 was a good month for Dunmore East, with the confirmation that the long-awaited dredging of this pretty fishing/sailing port – a €6 million contract – would swing into action in June, and then from far-off Scotland came the news that one of Waterford Harbour Sailing Club’s most popular and enthusiastic skippers had emerged as overall winner of the Silvers Scottish Series 2015.

Rob McConnell is well-known at all Ireland’s main sailing centres, as he campaigns his A35 Fool’s Gold with targeted campaigns of skill - coupled with sheer joy in sailing - in any event which can be fitted into a busy schedule. Crewed by friends who may be from all parts of Ireland but undoubtedly have a Dunmore East emphasis, he can be relied on to be always in the frame on the leaderboard, and in line with this approach, The Scottish Series was regarded as unfinished business after Fool’s Gold finished second overall in 2014, and in 20215 they clinched it in style.


When a round Ireland record has stood for nearly 22 years, clearly it is something very special, and the 44 hour time set by Steve Fossett’s 60ft trimaran Lakota in 1993 - a venture engineered by Con Murphy and Cathy MacAleavey who were in Lakota’s crew - had withstood several challenges, including three by top French skipper Sidney Gavignet.

And it was Ireland’s own Damian Foxall – a frequent shipmate of Gavignet – who first got Gavignet hooked on the challenge of the round Ireland record. So it was ironic that a mid-race call to Foxall to beef up one of the crews in the Volvo Ocean Race meant he was unavoidably absent on other business when Gavignet saw the opportunity developing for the MOD 70 Musandam-Oman to knock off the Ireland target at the beginning of May. That month of notably atrocious weather provided one of those rare but perfect record conditions where a deep low pressure area sat plumb over the country on May 4th.

Donegal proved to be obtuse, but Gavignet and his crew were soon making up lost time as they streaked down the Connacht coast in a strong nor’wester, and though they were well shy of taking the originally anticipated ten hours off Lakota’s time when they returned to the finish line at the Kish L/H off Dublin Bay, they’d got down to within shouting distance of 40 hours in rugged sailing.

JUNE – LIAM SHANAHANliam shanahanD2D

The comprehensive overall victory in the 280-mile Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race by Liam Shanahan in his family’s J/109 Ruth was the highlight of a busy month of Irish sailing in June, with Ruth emerging as winner in the last fifty miles of racing after a head-to-head all round the course on three coasts of Ireland with sister-ship Mojito.

When Ruth finally crossed the finish line at the entrance to Dingle Harbour at 1945hrs on the summery evening of Sunday June 14th, she and her crew had been racing at a high level of sustained intensity for forty-seven and three-quarter hours. Their reward was in knowing that on corrected time they’d beaten all four larger boats already in port, while their closest rival Mojito was a clear two miles astern. It was the duel between Ruth and Mojito which set them apart in every sense, and the heightened performance it provided made Liam Shanahan a very worthy Sailor of the Month.


The clear win by Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 was achieved by solid consistency in the classic “good series” style favoured by regular champion sailors. Except that, instead of being a pleasant five day championship regatta staged at some agreeable summer venue, the Volvo Ocean Race was made up of nine legs which took the fleet right round the world, getting them south of both Good Hope and Cape Horn, yet also back north again across the equator.

In such a challenge, a mixture of experience and exceptional sailing talent is at a premium, and Ireland’s Justin Slattery (40) has both in abundance. He was a key crew member aboard Abu Dhabi, which was well placed top of the leaderboard with a scoreline of 1,3,2,2,1 after the first five legs. But with four legs still to be raced, experience became the key ingredient, as the leading boat has to defend her position against a chasing fleet with three close contenders.

But the crew of Abu Dhabi kept their cool, they kept their boat intact too, and they sailed on to win overall by 24 points to the 29 of Team Brunel and the 33 of Dongfeng Race Team, making Justin Slattery the winner of an International Award for June 2015.


George Sisk of Dun Laoghaire was Sailor of the Month (Racing) for July with his Farr 42 WOW already having a glorious season with victory at Kinsale in June two weeks before she was declared Top Boat at the conclusion of the often breezy four-day Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta in July. To achieve this, WOW and her veteran crew (some of them very veteran indeed) had won three of the four demanding offshore races, further demonstrating that this is their preferred area of sailing - four weeks earlier they’d notched up a good Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race in an event in which size benefits meant that the J/109s were ideal for the course and the conditions.

But if needs be, the gallant old codgers on WOW have shown they can cut the mustard in close-fought inshore contests, with the well-tested Farr 42 revelling in the fresh winds.

George Sisk has been making an exceptional contribution to Irish offshore racing since the late 1960s, and he has done it in a fascinating range of boats of several sizes, and many types. Yet through several boat changes, his longtime crewing panel has reflected his personal popularity and an admirable loyalty to old friends and shipmates. He sets an example which any sailing enthusiast could usefully follow, and his own quiet but steady and determined enthusiasm for our sport is inspiring.


When the Ogden brothers (Nathaniel (23) and Fergus (16) sailed their 18ft Drascombe Lugger Lughnasa in to their home port of Baltimore to berth at the new in-harbour pontoon in the evening sunshine of Wednesday July 29th, a casual observer might well have thought that this was just another characterful Drascombe concluding a couple of hours of sailing in weather which had, albeit briefly, been much better than that experienced for most of July.

But Lughnasa was successfully completing an eight weeks voyage of clockwise circumnavigation of Ireland. Sailed as a fund-raiser for the RNLI, the voyage would have been quite something for a Drascombe Lugger in a reasonably normal summer. In the exceptionally bad weather of 2015, it was an extraordinary achievement.

On every coastline of Ireland, the brothers had to contend with adverse conditions at some stage, and often for long periods. Even when they finally reached the home stages of the final passages along the coast of West Cork, 2015’s weather demons hadn’t finished with them, as one of the roughest passages of the entire cruise involved getting round the Old Head of Kinsale from Kinsale itself, and battling on westward towards Baltimore and home.


The Rolex Fastnet Race offers an ideal “living lesson” for the increasing number of offshore sailing schools in Europe, providing as it does clear stipulations of the basic requirements for those hoping to take part. This means that a beginner to sailing in May of a Fastnet Race year can aspire to take part in the historic race in August if he or she has stayed with an offshore sailing school’s gruelling course of training and participation in distance races in the build–up to the start of the 608-mile marathon off Cowes.

Nevertheless when you get your Irish offshore sailing school boat down to the Solent, the Fastnet start will bring with it the realisation that not only are you up against the crème de la crème of international offshore racing, but there are many other offshore sailing schools also taking part, and some of them are sailing seriously modern heavy metal.

So when, with only an hour or so to go to the prize-giving of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2015 in Plymouth on the evening of Friday August 21st, it emerged that the recently-finished Class 4 Jeanneau Sunfast 37 Desert Star of the Dun Laoghaire-based Irish Offshore Sailing was winner of the Roger Justice Trophy for the best-placed sailing school boat in the entire fleet which included 33 sailing school boats, and was additionally second overall of all the Irish entries, it was the stuff of dreams.

Desert Star’s crew were Louise Gray, David McDonnell, Rupert Barry, David Garforth, Symeon Charalabides and Sam Lamont, while the first mate was Kristian Aderman and the skipper/chief instructor was Ronan O Siochru of Irish Offshore Sailing.Ronan O Siochru, our Sailor of the Month (Offshore) for August.

For someone who was once a schoolboy who had to hitchike from the family home in Bishopstown in Cork down to Kinsale to pursue his dream of sailing, it was a great achievement.


2015 was very much the year for the GP14 dinghy at the top levels of the popularity polls in Irish dinghy sailing. And it has also been the year in which Greystones Sailing Club have been flexing their muscles both as a hotbed of dinghy racing, and as a popular addition to the list of centres for keelboat activity with the new marina bedding in.

These positive themes united in the Greystones GP 14 crew of Shane McCarthy and Andy Thompson. Their sailing year started well with wins in the season’s early regional events, they had their skills further sharpened in the large GP14 fleet racing at the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta in July, and then their campaigning really started to sing with the British GP 14 Nationals at Brixham in Devon in the first week of August.

Although only a small contingent of Irish boats travelled to this big championship, McCarthy & Thompson led the charge to such good effect that they had the title won outright without having to sail the final race.

AUGUST – INTERNATIONAL – DAVE CULLENcheckmate half ton champion

Dave Cullen of Howth is well-known in sailing circles as an affable bloke whose amiable appearance disguises a very keen determination to win. And in Irish business life, his management style at Euro Car Parks is so highly regarded that the company regularly features in the frame in those annual competitions for “best place to work in Ireland”.

Both these aspects of the Cullen way of life came together when he and his team took his Classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV to the Worlds at Nieuwpoort in Belgium from 17th to 21st August. For sure he had some of the best sailors in Ireland in his crew. But then such people wouldn’t join any crew unless they were certain that their skipper was in Belgium on serious racing business, and not just in pursuit of fun.

It says everything about the Cullen style that not only did his carefully assembled campaign win the championship with a race to spare, but he personally was one of the most popular owner-skippers in the entire fleet, a friend to all and more than ready to give practical assistance to the opposition if required.

SEPTEMBER – DAVID GORMAN & CHRIS DOORLYgorman doorly All ireland

Dave Gorman and Chris Doorly of the National Yacht Club were our “Sailors of the Month” for September on the basis of a great half hour or so of sailing in Dublin Bay on the morning of Sunday 13th September.

Anyone who read Chris Doorly’s riveting account on of the penultimate race of the Mitsubishi Motors Flying Fifteen Championship, and has raced a sailing boat at any level – whether local, regional, national or international – will have identified totally with this dedicated duo as they sailed their hearts out. And they did it all just to secure a third place, in order to put themselves in the happy position of knowing they were champions without having to sail the last race.

It would be quite something in a club race or a major regatta series. But this was the big one, the Irish Championship with visiting superstar Steve Goacher – three times World Champion – expected to sweep the board. And even if he was off form – which he wasn’t - the class in Dun Laoghaire is now in such vibrant condition, and growing, that the lively home fleet was putting up half a dozen crews who were in there with more than a shout.

But Chris and Dave did it. And being proper sportsmen, they still sailed the last race anyway, but the fact that they were able to discard the fourth place it provided shows the kind of form they’d been in throughout the championship.

It cannot be said too often that winning a series is more a matter of solid consistency than occasional flashes of total brilliance. In the end, though, it can all come down to something so mundane as securing a third place at just the right time. But as Dave and Chris had been lying sixth until they realized the need to up their game, and saw a way of doing so, what they achieved is something we can all identify with.


Malahide father-and-son crew of Dermot (63) and Paddy (31) Cronin were tops in October after their clearcut win by almost two hours in the IRC Double-Handed Division in the 606-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race.

Sailing their keenly-campaigned First 40.7 Encore, Team Cronin tackled conditions and the opposition as though they were a fully-crewed boat. And though overall it proved to be a race which suited boats around the 50ft mark, the 40ft Encore was very much in contention in her open Class 6 against racers sailed by numerous experienced crews, placing sixth overall out of 18 boats.

This pattern of being a third of the way from the front was continued in the total fleet of 102 contenders, as they placed 37th in an impressive turnout which included all the best offshore racers in the Mediterranean, and such noted international stars as George David’s Rambler 88 (due in Ireland next June in the Round Ireland Race 2016) and the Maxi 72 Momo, which dominated the big boats in the Fastnet Race.

It says everything about the skill and dedication with which Dermot and Paddy raced that we find ourselves easily making comparisons with their showing against the fully-crewed boats, whereas the real story is that they won the Double-Handed Division with plenty of time in hand.

NOVEMBER – TIM GOODBODYgoodbody family

Veteran Royal Irish YC sailor Tim Goodbody became the “Sailor of the Month” for November for his enormous contribution to Irish and international sailing over many decades, both as an active participants, as a race organiser, and as an administrator of leading sailing organisations.

By locating the award in November 2015, we highlighted the fact that at the Dublin Bay SC Annual Prize-Giving on November 15th in the Royal St George YC, three generations of the Goodbody family received major awards. Tim Goodbody’s own Sigma 33 White Mischief not only won overall in the season-long series in Dublin Bay, but also took second overall (by just two points) in Class 3 IRC at the Sovereigns/ICRA Nats at Kinsale.

The timing of the Nats at the end of June could just be fitted into Tim Goodbody’s busy schedule, for as Chairman of the Organising Committee for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2015 from July 9th to 12th, he was out of personal boat-racing for the next two weeks as the structures of the biggest sailing event in Ireland in many years swung successful into place, with the noted light-but-effective Goodbody management style keeping this very complex event moving smoothly forward to a happy conclusion.
The depth of Tim Goodbody’s commitment to every aspect of sailing is unrivalled. He has campaigned successfully to international level in the Dragon, the J/24 and the Sigma 33, and as well he was lead helm on Irish Independent, the Dubois 40 which was the backbone of Ireland’s 1987 Admirals Cup team - our most successful AC squad ever, they placed fourth out of thirteen teams, while Irish Independent won the Fastnet Race overall.

Ashore, Tim Goodbody has served as Commodore of the Royal Irish YC, the Royal Alfred YC, and Dublin Bay SC, and for the latter organisation he was the mastermind behind the rationalisation of the courses which enables an enormous fleet to race mostly in the southern half of Dublin Bay clear of the shipping lanes. His benefit to our sport is incalculable, but perhaps his greatest single contribution is the example he sets is in his own smoothly organised, quietly enthusiastic, very successful and highly enjoyable sailing.


The December 2015 “Sailor of the Month” is HERE

Published in W M Nixon
WM Nixon

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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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