Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine 'Sailor of the Month' Awards Make Sense of Our Complex Sport

11th November 2017
At Ballyholme on Belfast Lough in April, the biggest-ever Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Nationals saw Ewan McMahon of Howth emerging supreme in the elite fleet in the Laser Radial, making him April’s Junior Sailor of the Month At Ballyholme on Belfast Lough in April, the biggest-ever Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Nationals saw Ewan McMahon of Howth emerging supreme in the elite fleet in the Laser Radial, making him April’s Junior Sailor of the Month

The “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.

coveney thomson hosford2The Cork team – Minister Simon Coveney TD with Alex Thomson and Stewart Hosford

FEBRUARY (Cruising)


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.

daragh nagle3Cathy & Daragh Nagle on their Mooody 376 Chantey V in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico during their award-winning Pacific Islands cruise.



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.

rorc caribbean4A typical Ian Moore tactical master-stroke. In the RORC Caribbean 600, the start is usually to windward off the cliffs on the southeast coast of Antigua. The best start is obtained by being right in on the cliffs on starboard tack as the gun goes, and then being able to call for water and tack into a commanding position on top of the fleet. Here, the Maxi 72 Bella Mente navigated by Ian Moore has done it to perfection, and now has her rival, the Maxi 72 Proteus, neatly tucked away. Photo Rolex



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……

richard roberts5The magic of Connemara. Even in March, Clifden Boat Club was able to provide sparkling conditions for the Irish Universities Championship 2017

richard roberts6Traditional celebration for winners Trinity College Dublin – captain Richard Roberts on left.


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.

isa youth nationals7With 190 boats and 200 sailors, the Youth Nationals in April were the biggest ever, and while Ewan McMahon (photo at top of this blog) was the supreme star, every class had its contests, and this is Rob Keal from Cork battling in the Toppers


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.

tom dolan8Tom Dolan in flying form in his Pogo 3 IRL 910. In April he took Bronze in one of the first major races of the Mini-Transat season. He currently lies third in the final Transoceanic stage of the Mini-Transat 2017



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.  

tidey and dobsonSaskia Tidey of Dun Laoghaire and Charlotte Dobson of Helensburgh won the 49erFX Bronze 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.

j109 storm9The Kelly family’s J/109 Storm in a typically race-winning position



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.

conor fogerty howth10Conor Fogerty spills the beans to his clubmates back home in Howth soon after his win in the Singe-Handed Transatlantic Race



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.

j109 joker11“A very well-managed racing boat” – John Maybury’s Joker 2 (RIYC) is one of the most consistently successful boats in Ireland



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.

yes rir12The JPK 10.80 Yes! with Nin OLeary on board, on her way to wining the Round the Island race 2017 from a huge fleet



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.

thunder child13Designed in Ireland and built in Ireland, the Frank Kowalski-mastermined Thunder Child has set a formidable Round Ireland & Rockall Record



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.

aoife hopkins new14Aoife Hopkins on her way to Gold in the open waters off Douarnenez



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.

hoffman durcan15After they’d rescued their mate Johnny Durcan during the 29er Worlds in California, Simon Hoffman (above) and Santiago Alegre (below) went to see how their friend was doing as he recovered in hospital

durcan alegre16



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.

fionn lyden17Fionn Lyden was on his own when he won Bronze in the Finn U23 Worlds in August, but in October he needed the crewing help of Liam Manning (right) to win the All-Ireland Championship 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.

j109 mojito18Mojito (Vicky Cox & Peter Dunlop) ISORA Champion 2017, limbering up before the start of the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race 2017, in which she placed second overall



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.

lorcan tighe19The Youngest Old Salt in Town – at 17, schoolboy Lorcan Tighe of Dun Laoghaire is already a veteran of both the Round Ireland Race and the Fastnet Race



Michael O’Connor of Royal St George YC convincingly became 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.

SB20 YachtMichael O’Connor, Davy Taylor and Ed Cook (right) on their way to winning the SB20 Corinthian World Title in the Solent in September



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.

vestas racing20When the going is good, in a Volvo OD 65 the going is wet, wet, wet…..Vestas 11th Hour Racing in action



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.

junior all ireland22The All Ireland Juniors 2017 under way at Schull, training and competition Mecca for youth sailing

junior champs23On top of the podium – 2017 Junior Champion Michael O’Suillebhain with the salver, and his crew Michael Carroll sharing the top place with him at Schull

The November “Sailors of the Month” are: 

Paul O’Higgins is “Sailor of the Month (Offshore)” for November

Liam Manning is November’s “Sailor of the Month (Inshore)

and the December winners are: 

Conall Morrison is December Sailor of the Month for Seamanship

Finn Lynch is 'Sailor of the Month (Olympic)' for December

Jim Cooney & Gordon Maguire are International Awards Winners for December

The Sailor of the Month Awards and the Irish Sailor of the Year Award will be presented at the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards in the new year

Published in W M Nixon
WM Nixon

About The Author

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