The Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” awards were established twenty-one years ago in 1996. But as the adjudicators have always been allowed an element of flexibility, sometimes there have been more than one award in a particular month, so any talk of a total of 252 awardees over the past two decades and more is way short of the mark. W M Nixon takes us on quick tour of 2017’s extra-special sailors.
The dark depths of winter in early 2017 were much brightened by the excitement of the finish of the Vendee Globe Race. Alex Thomson’s very respectable second with Hugo Boss reminded us that not only was his shore chief Stewart Hosford a peripatetic Corkman, but Alex himself spent several years as a child in Crosshaven, more than enough to qualify for this double success.
Cruising being the most leisurely and individualistic form of sailing, its honours are difficult to evaluate, and are dispensed at leisure. But in February the Irish Cruising Club revealed that Vancouver Island-based Daragh Nagle had won their historic Faulkner Cup (it dates back to 1931) for an exemplary Pacific islands cruise with his 37ft sloop, and we felt his achievement deserved to be more widely known.
Ian Moore is one of the world’s top ten racing navigators. And though he is based in Cowes, the fact that he comes from Carrickfergus means he figures regularly in the “Sailor of the Month” awards. His achievement in February 2017 was calling the shots to such perfection aboard the American Maxi 72 Bella Mente in the RORC Caribbean 600 that she won overall in what was very much a navigator/tactician’s contest.
You might think that in Ireland, the weekend of March 10th-11th is a bit early in the year to expect good sailing with sunshine. But the Irish Universities Sailing Association found both in the unusual but hospitable setting of Clifden in Connemara, where Clifden Boat Club gallantly hosted 160 student sailors in a hard-fought team contest. Trinity College Dublin – captained by Richard Roberts – won out from University College Cork. Ironically, Richard is himself from Cork……
It was the biggest Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Nationals yet seen, and the 2017 Championship at Ballyholme on Befast Lough – 190 boats, 208 sailors – lived up to expectations in a variety of sailing conditions in late April. The Laser Radials inevitably became the Battle of the Titans, and Ewan McMahon of Howth – Silver Medallist at the Laser Radial Worlds in Dublin Bay in 2016 - beat off challenges from every direction to take the top title.
Tom Dolan from County Meath has ploughed a sometimes very lonely furrow to make his way in top level Mini-Transat offshore racing in France. In one of the most demanding and competitive fleets in the world, getting into the top ten is a real achievement, while a podium place is stellar. But in April’s 300-mile opening event of the season in the Bay of Biscay, Tom was on form to take the Bronze.
Saskia Tidey of Dun Laoghaire’s enthusiasm for racing the 49erFX to Olympic level is such that after she’d exhausted every possibility of finding a sailing partner towards Tokyo 2020 within Ireland, she had to cast the net towards Britain, and found herself teaming up with Scottish sailor Charlotte Dobson. Dobson is from Helensburgh, which is as near as you can get to a Scottish equivalent to Dun Laoghaire, and their new partnership was immediately fruitful, as they took the Bronze at the World Cup series at Hyeres in April after just four months of training together.
Anyone who races against the J/109 Storm, campaigned by Pat Kelly and his close-knit family from Rush Sailing Club, quickly realises that they are up against something special in sailing. The tidal anchorage at Rush means that Storm is a welcome resident of Howth Marina, but Rush Sailing Club was where the party was held when she won her class in the Scottish Series 2017, and in October she went on to win the Irish J/109 Nationals.
When the fleet racing in June’s Single-Handed East-West Transatlantic race was struck by a ferocious storm, so much media attention went to sailors who had to be rescued that attention was diverted away from Conor Fogerty of Howth. He had been sailing his Sunfast 36000 Bam! with such skill and determination that he had sailed beyond the worst of the weather, but his victory was no joyride, and he thoroughly deserved his win and the prestigious Gipsy Moth Trophy.
The J/109 Joker 2 is the very embodiment of the well-managed racing yacht, and owner John Maybury of Dun Laoghaire is attentive to both detail and the big picture in getting the best from boat and crew. His hugely impressive third win in a row in the ICRA Nationals – this time at Crosshaven – bears eloquent testimony to the successful Maybury way of doing things.
The success of the Royal Cork’s DinghyFest at the end of June and the beginning of July came after months of meticulous planning. This behind-the-scenes work was so well done that when lead organiser Nin O’Leary was invited to spearhead the single-day Round the Island campaign of the JPK 10.80 Yes! in England, somehow he managed to fit it in while DinghyFest was on, and won overall against a fleet of more than 1,500 boats.
JULY (SPECIAL AWARD)
The magic idea of a 2000 kilometres-plus Round Ireland and Rockall Powerboat Record came from Frank Kowalski of SafeHaven Marine. With his specialized team, he designs and builds some of the world’s most remarkable boats in an efficient production unit in Youghal. They excelled themselves in creating the arrow-like 17m (53ft 6ins Thunder Child, and in July 2017 this wonderful machine took them round Ireland and Rockall in 34 hours, an average of 32 knots.
JULY (OLYMPIC CLASSES)
From being a top junior sailor, Aoife Hopkins of Howth is maturing into a seasoned campaigner with Olympic prospects. She showed her capacity to deal confidently with a very wide variety of conditions by taking overall victory in the European Women’s U21 Laser Radial Championship at Douarnenez in Brittany in July, racing in very open waters in winds and weather which changed on a daily basis.
AUGUST (SPECIAL AWARD)
In the 29er Worlds at Los Angeles, Johnny Durcan of Cork became trapped under his capsized boat. The complex 29er can become a cat’s cradle when capsized, and the Irish sailor was trapped and drowning. In the hectic rush of the race, just two other sailors were observant enough to notice that this was no ordinary capsize. Simon Hoffman of Australia and Santiago Alegre of Spain abandoned their own boats to swim and then dive to help their Irish friend. They saved his life.
AUGUST (OLYMPIC CLASSES)
The Olympic Finn single-hander is a demanding beast of a boat, and currently only two Irish sailors are facing the challenge of travelling in search of Finn competition. Fionn Lyden of Baltimore is the newest recruit, and in August in Hungary he took Bronze in the 2017 U23 Finn Worlds on Lake Balaton in Hungary. Then in October he became the 2017 All Ireland Champion Helm, racing GP 14s on Lough Owel at Mullingar.
Being Commodore of the Royal Ocean Racing Club is a fulltime job in itself, but current incumbent Michael Boyd of the Royal Irish YC believes in leading by example in active offshore racing, and he not only skippered the First 44.7 Lisa to an excellent overall placing and best Irish in the Rolex Fastnet Race, but by season’s end Lisa was both RORC Champion and “Boat of the Year”.
Michael Boyd speaks for offshore racers everywhere after the conclusion of the Rolex Fastnet race 2017:
The Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association annual championship went to the wire at the final race in September. New champions J/109 Mojito (Vicky Cox & Peter Dunlop) are Welsh-based, but look on the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire as their home from home. They also raced the stormy Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race to second overall, and in the record-breaking Fastnet Race, were ninth overall in the 312-strong fleet at the rock itself.
SEPTEMBER (JUNIOR AWARD)
The record-breaking 2017 RORC Rolex Fastnet Race had so many entries and trophies that it took time before some prizes found their rightful home, but in September it was announced that the Irish National Sailing School’s winner of Class 3B, the J/109 Jedi skippered by Kenneth Rumball, was also outright winner of the Roger Justice Trophy for the top sailing school entry. Youngest member of Jedi’s crew was 17-year old Lorcan Tighe of Dun Laoghaire, already a Round Ireland Race veteran at age 16 in 2016.
SEPTEMBER (INSHORE AWARD)
Michael O’Connor of Royal St George YC convincingly became Afloat.ie Sailor of the Month (Inshore) for September with two championship wins – the Corinthian Division overall win in the SB 20 Worlds on the Solent early in the month and then, in an intense three day series of multiple sailing conditions at Howth from Friday 15 to Sunday 17 September, he and shipmates Davy Taylor and Ed Cook took the Irish title.
A Volvo Ocean Race without Damian Foxall involved would be very unusual, and for 2017’s start from Alicante on October 22nd, the multi-talented Kerry sailor was in a key role aboard Vestas 11th Hour Racing. As the first 1450 miles stage to Lisbon round Porto Santo off Madeira progressed, Vestas steadily lengthened away, and even a localised calm approaching the finish failed to deprive Foxall of another win.
OCTOBER (JUNIOR AWARD)
For Irish junior sailing, Schull in West Cork is one of the main focal points, and the Fastnet Marine & Outdoor Education Centre’s special TR 3.6 dinghies have made an enormous contribution to sailing development. At the beginning of October, Schull and the TR 3.6s provided the ideal setup for a sometimes breezy All-Ireland Junior Championship, and Michael O’Suillebhain of Kinsale, crewed by Michael Carroll, is the new title-holder.
The November “Sailors of the Month” are:
and the December winners are:
The Afloat.ie Sailor of the Month Awards and the Afloat.ie Irish Sailor of the Year Award will be presented at the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards in the new year