The Irish sailing and boating season seems to get longer and more complex with every passing year, yet the vast majority of us would like it all to happen on days of floating summery perfection, with the ideal weight of breeze for the boat type we prefer. But those days of idyllic waterborne sport are sought within the tightening timeframe of modern life which – in 2019 – led to the “Seven Week Scrunch” between late May and mid-July, during which half a dozen major events of wide interest were staged, with some of them barely done and dusted before the next one was shaping up.
Somehow we all survived it, and with boat numbers showing healthy levels in most regattas and other majors, the national enthusiasm for sailing has largely been maintained, despite it being a summer of decidedly volatile weather.
But the weather in Ireland is only part of the story, as our sailors are competing abroad all over the globe in increasing numbers. Thus in making their monthly assessments, the adjudicators in the Sailors of the Month awards have to balance between Corinthian sailors who live more in the moment, and the long-term full-timers who aspire to the Olympics and other major challenges on the professional circuit.
In such complex circumstances, the still-extant traditional structure of Irish sailing is a blessing, as the big summertime successes at home by amateur sailors can be immediately acknowledged and celebrated, while a major professional breakthrough of lasting significance can be highlighted at a time when things are quieter on the domestic front. For although going afloat is seasonal for many, interest in sailing news - and preferably good news for Irish sailors at that – is very much a year-round affair.
And each year develops a unique character. 2019 had a vigorous life of its own, but it was also sailed in the knowledge that the buildup to the 2020 Olympics in Japan is increasing in intensity, while at home, 2020 will bring the Tricentenary of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, the 40th Anniversary staging of the biennial Round Ireland Race, and many other major events including two world championships.
We may look forward to 2020. But for now, we focus on the sailors who have emerged as the crème de la crème from the diversity of 2019, and the Sailor of the Year will be announced at a ceremony in Dun Laoghaire on March 21st 2020.
With his captaining of the successful Gonzaga College team in the inaugural Shanahan Cup raced at the Irish National Sailing School on January 16th, noted junior sailor Jack Fahy became the Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” for January 2019. Competing against eight other top school teams, the Gonzaga squad including Andrew Conan, Henry Higgins, Finn Cleary, Tom Higgins and Con Murphy put in a convincing performance under the race direction of team racing guru Vincent Delany to become the first winners of a cup donated by the 2015 “ Sailor of the Year” Liam Shanahan.
When Pierce Purcell of Galway officially retired from the marine business on the 31st January, it didn’t end his association with boats, the sea and sailing. Almost his entire life has been devoted to helping others get afloat, and with “retirement”, sailing plans have been already mapped out, and there is no doubt that he will be continuing to extend a helping hand to fellow enthusiasts for many years yet.
In 1970 he was a founder (and later Commodore) of Galway Bay Sailing Club. He also established Galway Sailing Centre in 1973 as a training establishment, he ran a boat sales and marine equipment centre where everything was sold with the most useful advice and encouragement, he was awarded the Irish Sailing Association “Volunteer of the Year” accolade in 2009, in 2011 he became a Vice Commodore of the Cruising Association of Ireland, and from 2012 to 2016 he served on the Board of Directors of Irish Sailing.
Cruising and its organisations move at their own serene speed, and when Donal Walsh of Dungarvan received Irish Cruising’s supreme trophy - the Faulkner Cup - in February, it was recognition by his peers of an outstanding achievement made in the summer of 2018. Sailing the Ovni 385 Lady Belle and crewed throughout by Clare Morrissey, with others on board from time to time, Donal Walsh made a seamanlike odyssey of 80 days and 3,450 miles to seven countries in northwest Europe.
The Crosshaven brothers were celebrated for their Bronze Medals at the talent-studded Star Junior Worlds in Florida in the first week of February. The unique attraction of the International Star draws in a substantial fleet of world-class sailors from many disciplines, and the fluctuations in placings can be unnerving. However, with a strong finish the brothers not only kept themselves in the frame, but they moved into the medals to collect the Bronze while they were at it.
It was Cork crews all the way in the intensely-fought final in the two-day Student Keelboat Nationals in the J/80s at Howth in the last weekend of March. But in the end victory was taken by Cork Institute of Technology helmed in style by Harry Durcan. That said, the final margin over University College Cork may only have been one point, yet CIT were not only Irish keelboat champions 2019, but they then became the Irish team in the US Open College Invitationals in California, and took the Bronze in a very high-powered series. Next up for the same team is the European Student Championship in France in March 2020.
Fifteen-year-old James Dwyer Matthews, who registers as both Kinsale and Crosshaven, was to reach his 2019 peak in August when he won the Irish Open Optimist Nationals at Howth from a fleet of 185 boats from eleven nations. But he had already put down a formidable award-winning marker in March by carrying off the overall win in the British Spring Opens with its fleet of 155 in Lymington to inspire a formidable 28-strong Irish campaign, making him a clear winner of the Afloat.ie Sailor of the Month Junior Title. The August success in Ireland was the icing on the cake.
Lucy McCutcheon, Commodore and Team Sailing Captain of University College Dublin SC, became the Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month (Team Racing) for March after her squad’s victory in very close racing in the Irish Universities Team Championship staged at Lough Key off the Upper Shannon March 9th & 10th.
The organisers for 2019 at this unusual but very attractive venue were Dublin University SC. But in a nail-biting final with UCD, they were bested by their longtime rivals, and while it was very much a team success, we follow established precedent in awarding the SoM accolade to the UCD Captain, her team being Jack Higgins, Patrick Cahill, Daniel Raymond, Alanna Lyttle and Katie Cassidy.
Jamie McMahon (Howth YC), put in a convincing performance at the Irish Youth Sailing Championships at Royal Cork YC in the final weekend of April to emerge as Laser Radial overall champion, seeing off some determined challenges from a fleet of 27 from all over the country in a championship contested in decidedly unsettled weather patterns to make him one of two Junior Sailors of the Month from the same family for April.
Eve McMahon was to achieve her personal best for 2019 in July by winning the Gold in the Under 17 Division in the Laser Youth Worlds in Canada. But she was already among the title holders from the Irish Junior Championship at Crosshaven in April, when the then 15-year-old was very much in improvement mode as the series progressed, notching three fourth places to finish at fifth overall. This made her winner of the girls’ division by five clear points, and thus well entitled to bring the McMahons a second Junior Sailor of the Month accolade for April.
Dedicated Olympic solo sailor Finn Lynch (National YC) was “Sailor of the Month” for April on the strength of his closely-focused campaign towards qualifying for the 2020 Olympics. In three major international regattas during the first part of the year he always concluded with an overall placing within the top ten, and in the most recent event at Genoa he was overall leader at one stage, and a slight turn of fortune would have seen him in the medals. His solid performance has moved him up to 15th in the world rankings.
Andrew Craig of Dun Laoghaire’s very clearcut overall win with his J/109 Chimaera in the Scottish Series, incorporating the Scottish IRC Championship 2019, was a superb demonstration of boat and logistics management, personnel selection, and good old-fashioned sailing skills at the sometimes very flukey venue off Tarbert on Loch Fyne.
It can take a crew of nine with complementary abilities to race a J/109 flat out. Yet the varied group brought together to race Chimaera were warm in their praise of Craig’s talent in assembling a team who were personally compatible, with matching skill sets to make Chimaera a successful and happy ship.
Defending the title with the same boat in the biennial 270-mile Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race is a real challenge at a time when the cruiser-racer fleet is expanding with some very hot new designs. But Paul O’Higgins (Royal Irish YC), with his well-tested JPK 1080 Rockabill VI, was up for it by becoming the first skipper to win two in a row in a race which demonstrated the need to be able to maintain top performance right to the end. He then augmented his 2019 honours by winning his class at the ICRA Nationals in June, Calves Week in August and clinching the ISORA title in September.
The Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race is now such a significant event that inevitably it attracts the involvement of professional and semi-professional talent. But so many boats sail determinedly within the Corinthian ideal that in effect they created an extra Division within the race. No boat better typified this than the National YC of Dun Laoghaire’s Shanahan family with their J/109 Ruth, where they deferred to one of the youngest on board - 19-year-old Tom Shanahan - as skipper. He called the shots very well indeed, with Ruth taking over the lead in the J/109s at the Fastnet, and handling the tricky beat from there to the finish so well that they placed a close fourth overall in the total fleet, and clear Corinthian winners.
In some of the more compact cruiser-racers, the owner-skipper’s preferred role is as crew boss, and this is the approach of HYC Honorary Sailing Secretary Caroline Gore-Grimes on her family’s well-tested X 302 DUX. It’s an arrangement which worked a treat at the Frank Keane ICRA Nats from June 7th to 9th at the Royal St George YC in Dun Laoghaire. IRC Division 3 mustered a fleet of 23 boats, including many with impressive racing records. But DUX - having started cannily with a couple of useful thirds - then logged a scoreline of 1,1,1,1,2 to give her IRC 3 by a very clear margin, and make her ICRA Overall Champion as well.
The Greystones-based Grand Soleil 44 Eleuthera (Frank Whelan) is a byword for enthusiasm, both for the dedication of her amateur crew in preparing the boat for the season, and in the way her owner/skipper and his top lieutenants lead them to success. This reached a new height at the end of June in the Sovereign’s Cup Regatta at Kinsale where Eleuthera achieved a clean sweep of five wins in Class 0 to emerge as the popular winner of the overall trophy, the Sovereign’s Cup itself.
Very few sailors can ever have experienced anything comparable to the elation of discovering that their racing pride-and-joy has been declared “Boat of the Week” from within the 498-boat fleet at Ireland’s biggest regatta. But this is what happened to David Gorman and Chris Doorly of the National Yacht Club when their clear overall victory in the large Flying Fifteen Class was declared the event’s peak of achievement at the marathon prize-giving at the conclusion of Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2019, making them unrivalled for the accolade of Afloat.ie “Sailors of the Month” for July.
When the J/24 Headcase snatched the overall win in the final races of the J/24 Nationals 2019 on Lough Erne, inevitably it was a team effort with the boat carrying the usual complement of five. But as we have to narrow it down, the title goes to helmsman Cillian Dickson of Lough Ree and Howth. Yet it has to be said that he drives for a formidable and truly all-Ireland squad. Four of Headcase’s crew own her together – they are Cillian Dickson (LRYC & HYC), Sam O’Byrne, (HYC), and Louis Mulloy and Marcus Ryan, both of Mayo SC, while the fifth hand is invariably Ryan Glynn of Ballyholme YC on Belfast Lough.
The 2019 Irish GP 14 Nationals at Skerries in breezy August weather defied its title by having a truly international turnout, but then it was seen as a dress rehearsal for next year’s GP 14 Worlds at the same venue. The competition was ferocious, with the lineup reading like a Who’s Who of top GP 14 sailors. However, former Irish champion Shane McCarthy of Greystones Sailing Club teamed up with his old crewmate Damien Bracken, and they pulled the overall win out of the fire of red-hot racing to make them worthy winners of our dinghy title for August 2019.
Chris Bateman of Cork has been cutting a swathe through the dinghy sailing scene in Ireland at both junior and open level in a number of classes for some time now, and as he turned 18 on September 23rd, his 2019 national title in the RS 200s provided a final opportunity to put his stamp on the All-Ireland Junior Championship. But as it was to be raced in the relatively small TR 3.6s in Schull, his size meant that - to be competitive – he had to find a pint-sized crew, and the hand of destiny fell on his youngest brother, 9-year-old Olin. The pair of them raced a truly masterful championship. But it’s not easy being the little guy crewing for the hyper-talented big guy, so we reckon that September’s Junior Sailor of the Month award should be shared between Chris and Olin.
The long story of the re-birth of the 1926-built 56ft Conor O’Brien trading ketch Ilen of Limerick was acquiring an almost wraith-like aspect until in 2019 – the restoration job completed – she undertook the very tangible 5000 miles Salmons Wake voyage to Greenland for inter-cultural exchange, research into salmon migration, and data-acquisition on climate change. Project Director Gary Mac Mahon – whose unflinching faith has kept this extraordinary concept moving ahead – was skipper for the outward passage from Ireland, whiled seasoned voyager Paddy Barry – who was aboard throughout the time away from Ireland – brought Ilen home safely across the restless North Atlantic in September in unsettled early Autumn conditions.
RCYC’s Anthony O’Leary’s Bronze Medal in the 20-team New York YC International Invitational at Newport, RI in September was an astonishing achievement when we remember that many of the other top-level Corinthian crews had been practising in the new Mark Mills-designed Melges IC 37s throughout the summer. Yet O’Leary and his Crosshaven squad stepped aboard as strangers to the boat with only a few days to go to the start of a very intense series. However, his legendary speed abilities with the Cork 1720 Sportsboats under asymmetrics proved to be a great strength, and by the time the series concluded he was steadily climbing the ranks with high-level performance across the board, with the Royal Cork YC’s third overall snatched from the final race a testament to skipper and crew alike.
Michael O’Connor of Royal St George YC emerged as the 73rd All-Ireland Champion Helm after a ding-dong two-day final raced in Flying Fifteens from the National Yacht Club on October 5th & 6th. No stranger to success, O’Connor was the Corinthian Champion in the SB20 Worlds in Cowes in 2017, and this year he secured his place in the all-Ireland with victory in the SB20 Nationals at the RIYC.
Every keen helmsperson needs a Davy Taylor as his or her right-hand man when the chips are down. In 2013, he was there to help fellow SB20 sailor Ben Duncan win the All-Ireland in J/80s, and then in 2019 he was the efficient and essential crewing presence to get Michael O’Connor over the line as the 73rd All Ireland Champion in Flying Fifteens. He gets the October Special Award by popular acclaim, and in honouring Davy we honour crews everywhere.
Optimist ace Rocco Wright of Howth found it was tough at the top when the 185-strong 11-nation fleet gathered at his home port for the Irish Open Nationals in August. After he’d won the first race, he was a marked man, and had to be content with fourth overall by the finish. But back in July, he’d taken 10th overall in the Worlds in Antigua (the best ever by an Irish helm) and then in October he notched 2nd overall in the North Americans, giving him Ireland’s top international Optimist performance in 2019.
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 in March 2020