As we begin to contemplate a 24th year for the Afloat.ie/Irish Sailing “Sailors of the Month” assessments in 2019, it’s time and more for a look back to the people and the achievements which defined our top performers in and around boats during 2018 writes W M Nixon.
Once again, it is the sheer variety of the people, the boats, the successes, and the watery places in which it all happened that give us our abiding impression of the complex Irish sailing and boating scene. In fact, were it not for the structure which the Sailor or Sailors of the Month assessments provide – admittedly it’s a sometimes very flexible structure, but it’s a structure nevertheless – then we would not be fully aware of the mind-boggling diversity of the group of very special people of all ages who will gather in the RDS in Dublin on Friday, February 8th 2019.
There, their achievements will be applauded by enthusiasts from all over Ireland and abroad, and they, in turn, will be able to join in the applause to honour the new Volvo Sailor of the Year at what is an extraordinary and very Irish celebration of our sport of all kinds, and in boats of every type.
In the depths of winter, traditional boat enthusiasts worldwide were thinking of Oldcourt in West Cork, where the traditional Conor O’Brien-inspired Irish ketch Ilen, having completed her basic restoration, had to be moved in difficult and cramped conditions to her refit berth. The job was successfully done, and though many people have been involved, the man who fulfilled the dream of bringing the retired Ilen home from the Falklands for restoration is Gary MacMahon of Limerick, who has kept the flame of hope for Ilen alive for twenty years.
Less than a fortnight after he’d been declared the Afloat.ie/Irish Sailing/Volvo Sailor of the Year 2017 in Dublin, Conor Fogerty of Howth was back on the podium in Antigua, having been declared runaway winner of Class 3 in the RORC Caribbean 600 2018. Fogerty had experienced exceptionally heavy weather when he achieved his outstanding solo success of 2017 in winning the Gipsy Month Trophy in the OSTAR with his Sunfast 3600 Bam!. Yet far from being sunlit therapy to counteract memories of that experience, the 2018 sailing of the RORC Caribbean 600 was the toughest yet in all its ten years, but Conor Fogerty won again.
The award during February of the Irish Cruising Club’s premier trophy - the Faulkner Cup - to Maire Breathnach of Dungarvan was another highlight in a remarkable cruising career. The trophy was for the voyage she made with her husband Andrew Wilkes in their 64ft gaff cutter Annabel J to northeast Greenland. Maire first came to notice with a mostly single-handed round Ireland cruise with a Hurley 22, and since teaming up with Andrew Wilkes, she has circumnavigated both South America including Cape Horn, and North America via the Northwest Passage.
The International Star Class is both historic and completely up-to-the-minute, and competition in it is razor-sharp. In getting a clear series win in their debut majors – the Walker Cup - in this very special class in early February in Miami against sailors like Paul Cayard and Eric Doyle, Crosshaven brothers Peter and Rob O’Leary made their mark. They were sailing a new boat that they were still tuning, yet they gave a text-book demonstration of how to put a championship together, making them our February “Sailors of the Month (Inshore)”.
“Inspirational” is the word that has leapt out of every set of reports and comments about Enda O’Coineen’s achievement in getting the IMOCA 60 Souffle du Nord/Team Ireland to Les Sables-d’Olonne on Sunday. Although his lone voyage from New Zealand to France may have started on January 27th and finished on April 1st, it was during the final stages in March that he overcame the Atlantic at its most challenging to bring his ship home to a port which truly appreciates his courage and tenacity, making him a very worthy “Sailor of the Month”.
The annual Irish University Sailing Association Team Championship is the first major event to signal the new season, and 2018’s - at Kilrush on the weekend of March 9th to 11th – was vintage stuff. There were 28 teams and 194 sailors taking part in a 188 race series in an event jointly organised by University College Cork and National University of Ireland Galway. The final in a perfect team-racing breeze saw University College Cork 1 winning from the Scottish national team, with UCD 1 placing third. As Captain of victors UCC, Brendan Lyden of Baltimore gets the award.
A stellar international performance in the Magic Marine Easter Regatta in The Netherlands, and an overall victory in the Irish Sailing Youth Pathway Nationals in Dublin Bay in the Optimist, made Justin Lucas of Tralee Bay SC and Royal Cork YC our “Sailor of the Month” for April. At 14 years “Optimist age”, he is probably the youngest sailor ever to be on his own on the monthly podium. But with a good second in a ferociously competitive fleet in Dutch waters, and then maintaining his lead in the final day’s incredibly flukey conditions in Dublin Bay, young Lucas is in a class of his own.
Pat Kelly and his family and friends from Rush in the heart of Fingal certainly enjoy their sailing. But they work hard to ensure that their all-conquering J/109 Storm is in peak condition as the new programme starts, and they got the 2018 season off to a flying start with a victorious tour of Scotland. Storm won overall at the Kip Regatta, and then retained the title of Overall Champions in the annual Scottish Series on Loch Fyne, and in August she was to win the Welsh title too.
Ireland’s Tom Dolan found he was in a different world entirely when he moved up from racing a Minitransat to competing in the legendary Figaro Class. Here, the competition is so hot that being first rookie in any race is regarded as a huge achievement. Yet Tom has done that on his first Figaro Transatlantic, and by being the top rookie ahead of - among many others - Minitransat winner Erwan le Draoulec, makes Tom Dolan the Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month (International)” for May.
Howth’s Dave Cullen recorded a stellar series of performances with his classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV. He emerged as clear overall champion in Howth’s successful Wave Regatta at the beginning of the month, and then went on to record outright class wins in both the National and Royal Irish Yacht Club Regattas. A skilled helmsman himself, Cullen is noted for his ability to provide
impressive standards in boat management programmes, and top level personnel resources to match them, resulting in success
continuing with overall victory in the Half Ton Classics in Belgium in August.
July 2018 will go down in Irish sailing history as one of the busiest months ever experienced, including as it did the Volvo Round Ireland Race and Volvo Cork Week. In this hectic period, Commandant Barry Byrne of the Defence Forces was arguably the most active sailor on our seas, as he skippered the Irish Defence Forces on the J/109 Joker 2 to victory in the Corinthian Division in the Round Ireland Race in which he was also second overall, and in Volvo Cork Week he not only played a key role in organizing the highlight event - the Beaufort Cup series for services crews - but he successfully defended it, again skippering Joker 2.
The achievement of Niall Dowling of the Royal Irish YC in taking both Line Honours and the Overall Win in Wicklow’s Volvo Round Ireland Race 2018 with the Ker 43 Baraka GP is put into its proper perspective when we remember that at the halfway stage, Baraka was way down the rankings despite a tactically brilliant performance. Until then, conditions had been completely stacked against her, such that off the coast of Mayo, she was in lowly 24th overall. But then things started to turn in her favour, and with more brilliant tactics and sailing, they took the fullest possible advantage of every helpful slant to achieve success.
Liam Glynn of Ballyholme is July’s “Sailor of the Month” (Olympics) after taking the Bronze Medal in the U21 World Championship in Poland. Glynn was Topper World Champion in France aged 13 in 2013, now at 19 he has demonstrated the success of his transfer to Lasers with this very competent third place in difficult sailing conditions, racing against a fleet of 133 boats from 40 nations.
Ross Kearney took the Silver Medal in 117-boat fleet for GP 14 Worlds in England at beginning of August, and then became new Irish GP 14 National Champion at Sligo (crewed by his wife Jane) later in same month. Ross was formerly a professional sailor as a sailmaker, but he escaped the marine industry grind at least two years ago, and is enjoying his reinstated Corinthian standing and the pure pleasure of sailing for its own sake.
Talented all-round sailor Darragh McCormack of Foynes (he’s a noted J/24 sailor) still has the classic 1932-vintage 17ft Mermaids as his first love, and in a thrilling National Championship at Foynes from August 1st to 5th with a fleet drawn from all the Irish centres, he won, sailing a boat he built himself, crewed by his brother Mark and Johnny Dillon in a nail-biting finish to give Foynes its first Mermaid National Title.
Young Hugh O’Connor (15) of Dun Laoghaire is currently No 1 in the International Topper Class in Ireland, and he fulfilled his role at the August 2018 Topper Worlds in China by placing second overall in a fleet of 260 boats in a difficult event plagued by extreme humidity, light winds and unfinished races.
Mark Lyttle, our Olympic Sailor at Atlanta in 1996 when he won a race in the Laser’s first outing in its very effective career as an Olympic boat in addition to its myriad other duties worldwide, has continued his love affair with great little boat by winning the World Title in the Grand Masters Division (ages 55-65) in the Laser Masters Worlds in September at Dun Laoghaire, a magnificent event which attracted 302 entries. Lyttle’s win was particularly popular – in a long sailing career, he has put even more back into sport than he has taken from it.
SEPTEMBER (Special Award)
Being dismasted during a shattering 360 degree roll in the tumultuous Southern Indian Ocean in the roughest part of the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe Race would have created an extreme survival situation for most sailors. But after it happened to Gregor McGuckin with his vintage Bowman 36 ketch Hanley Energy Endurance, he soon heard that, 90 miles away, rival skipper Abilash Tomy was in an even worse situation, dismasted and incapacitated by injury. McGuckin immediately set about clearing his vessel and erecting a jury rig, as at that time he appeared to be the only vessel near enough to bring help in time to Tomy. He had got to within 30 miles of the crippled boat when help arrived earlier than expected through an Antarctic Fisheries Patrol vessel, but Gregor McGuckin’s selfless heroism is deserving of the highest praise.
The Olympic 49er skiff is one of sailing’s greatest challenges, but Robert Dickson (21) of Howth and Sean Waddilove (20) of Skerries have determinedly battled their way up the class’s international performance ladder. Their total dedication was rewarded in September at the Class’s Under 23 Worlds at Marseille. There, the Mediterranean provided a wide variety of conditions, yet they suited Dickson & Waddilove every which way, and they came home with the Gold Medal, their first major win.
The classic 12ft Firefly dinghy may have been the single-handed boat in the1948 Olympics when the Gold Medallist was Danish legend Paul Elvstrom. But as an enduring class in Ireland, they’re ideal for team racing and junior championships requiring a “neutral” boat. And despite the Elvstrom precedent, having a good crew is vital. So although Royal Cork’s Atlee Kohl (16) is the new All-Ireland Junior Champion after an intensely-fought cracker of a series at Dun Laoghaire in September’s final weekend, his 14-year-old crew Jonathan O’Shaughnessy also deserves to be up there in the spotlight.
Peter Kennedy of Strangford Lough became “Sailor of the Month” for October after his victory in the breezy and hard-fought 71st Annual All-Ireland Championship, sailed in SB20s (of which he’s National Champion) on Lough Ree. Once the top contenders had reached the final stages, his closest competitors had got to grips with the SB20, and two in particular – 2016 All Ireland title holder Alex Barry (Royal Cork YC) of the RS 400s, and GP 14 star Rob Kearney (Royal North of Ireland YC), were to give him a real challenge before he was finally able to hold the historic silver salver aloft.
November and December 2018 award winners will be linked here
The Afloat.ie and Irish Sailing Sailor of the Month Awards and the Irish Sailor of the Year Award will be presented at the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards on February 8th 2019.