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Having established himself as a daredevil of the sport of sailing, this latest stunt involves frequent Cork Harbour visitor Alex Thomson, on a kiteboard, chasing his IMOCA open 60 HUGO BOSS boat upwind and attaching himself via a rope to the top of the boat’s mast. The solo skipper then utilises the speed of the race boat to propel himself 280ft into the air, sending him surfing above the vast yacht. When Thomson reaches the peak of his flight, he detaches himself from the boat and expertly controls his descent back down, landing the kiteboard on the water in true Alex Thomson style, all whilst wearing a stylish BOSS suit.

Thomson is captured during the feat in a series of remarkable still images, as he kitesurfs more than twice the height of his HUGO BOSS mast, a height equivalent to a 25–story building.

With a passion for pushing himself to the limit – and having previously executed two other death-defying challenges out on the water - solo skipper Thomson was keen to complete the trilogy of stunts.

The Skywalk was carried out by Alex Thomson Racing, in partnership with sponsors HUGO BOSS and Mercedes-Benz. In total, 35 people were involved in the planning, co-ordination and execution of the stunt, including Alex Thomson Racing Operations Manager Ross Daniel, professional kite-surfer Susie Mai and kite-surfing coach Ray Kasper.

Having safely returned to dry land Thomson commented: “The previous two stunts that we carried out - The Mastwalk and The Keelwalk - were so successful that, as a team, we just knew we couldn’t stop there. We were all in agreement; we wanted to do something even bigger and better.

“I’ve always had a love for all things wind-powered so naturally a stunt which involved kite surfing was the next step. The idea of combining two of my favourite sports and executing something which, to our knowledge, had never been done before was really exciting.

“The team and I have been planning the stunt for a long time. There were lots of things that could have gone wrong. Perhaps most concerning for the team; was the prospect of an uncontrolled descent, causing me to come back down too fast. Water can be as hard as concrete if hit with enough velocity, so this was one of the most dangerous aspects of the stunt. But I had a brilliant team around me and, with their help; we managed to pull it off.”

“What’s next? Who knows?”

This is the third daring stunt to be unveiled by the 41-year-old yachtsman and his team. Videos of The Keelwalk – a challenge which involved Thomson walking along the orange keel of his racing yacht, whilst heeled over and sailing at high speed – and The Mastwalk – which saw the skipper climb the 30 metre mast of HUGO BOSS and dive from the very top into the water – have now been viewed by more than 4.5m people around the world.

Thomson will compete in the pinnacle event of the Ocean Masters race calendar – the Vendée Globe - later this year, a race which begins on November 6th. The non-stop, solo, unassisted, round the world race takes approximately 80 days to complete. In the last edition of the race, back in 2013, Thomson finished in third place. This time around he is determined to be the first Brit to win the prestigious title.

Published in Solo Sailing

#sailoroftheyear – That final decision on the ISA/ Sailor of the Year 2014 award will be announced at the Sailing Awards celebration in Dublin on the afternoon of Friday March 6th March at a ceremony which will also see each Sailor of the Month individually honoured, the ISA Youth Sailor of the Year awarded, the ISA Training Centre of the Year honoured, and the ISA/Mitsubishi Motors Sailing Club of the Year for 2015 announced.

The boating public and maritime community have been voting in very large numbers to help guide the judges in deciding who should be crowned Ireland's Sailor of the Year for 2014. According to our online poll, some popular front-runners have emerged with significant and often rapidly-varying levels of support. The judges welcome this huge level of public interest in helping them make their decision, but firmly retain their right to make the ultimate decision for the final choice while taking voting trends into account.

In considering those voting trends, we are aware that some over-enthusiastic supporters may feel that they are helping their favoured sailor's prospects by exploiting the system. Please be assured that support of this kind can be negative in its ultimate effect. But equally, the judges will be able to make allowance for any artificial support in order that a deserving sailor's prospects are not impaired by it as they reach their final decision.

The national award is especially designed to salute the achievements of Ireland's sailing's elite. Over nearly two decades the awards has developed in to a premier awards ceremony for water sports.

As in previous years, the overall national award will be presented to the person who, in the judges' opinion, achieved the most notable results in, or made the most significant contribution to, Irish sailing during 2014.


Created in 1996, the Afloat Sailor of the Year Awards represent all that is praiseworthy, innovative and groundbreaking in the Irish sailing scene.

Since it began 19 years ago the awards have recognised over 300 monthly award winners in the pages of Ireland's sailing magazine Afloat and these have been made to both amateur and professional sailors. The first ever sailor of the year was Dinghy sailor Mark Lyttle, a race winner at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

The judges decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into. 

Published in Sailor of the Year
Tagged under

#dday – More than three generations have come of age since the end of World War II. For most people nowadays, it is remote and sometimes incomprehensible history, captured only in films which - it is assumed - exaggerate the horror of it all.

It certainly suggests a world which could not be more different from that which we enjoy today. With all modern life's problems, we still have a freedom of movement and a choice of activities which were unknown for those on active service during the six years of war. Yet among those who volunteered – including many Irishmen and women – there was a clearcut feeling that a job needed to be done. But once it was done, then peacetime life could be enjoyed with extra zest.

This week, senior Dun Laoghaire sailing man Mickey d'Alton was awarded France's Legion d'Honneur and America's Distinguished Service Award in celebration and commemoration of his personal contribution to the success of D-Day in 1944. W M Nixon reflects on some very special and personal sailing stories.

You could tell there was something different about these men. From the mid 1940s onwards, there were these Irish sailing enthusiasts whose pleasure in our sport had its own special zest. They lived for the moment, they lived to sail the sea. The amount of sailing they did, and their huge enjoyment of it, was a wonder to behold.

For these were the men who had seen active service at sea in World War II from 1939 to 1945. Ireland had stayed neutral. But there were those who, while they may well have supported this policy of neutrality for Ireland, nevertheless felt the need to get personally involved in the war against Nazi Germany. Mostly, they'd joined the British army. Then there were those who sought the opportunity to learn flying while they were at it, and joined the Royal Air Force. But from within Ireland's sailing community, there were those who felt the only way to go to battle was in the war at sea.

Yet during the war itself, when they came home on leave to neutral Ireland, they went sailing whenever possible, and would bring like-minded British sailing enthusiasts with them to savour the relaxation of being able to go afloat simply for pleasure and freedom of movement, rather than for sudden sharp bursts of activity trying to kill other seafarers between the long periods of acute boredom at sea or in port waiting for action.

Until recently, despite the fact that Sweden, Switzerland and Spain stayed neutral throughout World War II without drawing obloquy upon themselves, Irish neutrality was a bone of contention even though Irish rebel forces had been at war with Britain only eighteen years earlier, and more recently there'd been Civil War in 1922 over the resulting peace treaty. Thus if Eamonn de Valera had led Ireland into World War II on either side, it would have resulted in another civil war, whereas the policy of careful neutrality, while not being totally hostile to the Allied cause against Germany, was in fact the best solution to a wellnigh intractable policy problem.

While historians may still argue about it today, a searchlight of pure common sense was shone into this sometimes murky corner in June 2014 on the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy Landings when D-Day veteran Mickey d'Alton – decorated this week with the Legion d'Honneur for his distinguished service in command of a Tank Landing Craft at Omaha Beach on June 7th 1944 - was interviewed about his experiences.

mick2.jpgMickey d'Alton in thoughtful mood aboard the French Naval Vessel Somme before receiving the Legion d'Honneur. Photo: W M Nixon

Almost as an afterthought, he was asked how he had felt - as an active combatant – about Irish neutrality. His typically clear-sighted analysis was like a breath of fresh air, a clarion call of sound reasoning. Mickey d'Alton thought that Irish neutrality had been the best possible way forward, indeed the only possible way. Apart from the very real risk of another civil war just 17 years after the previous one had ended with much bloodshed, if the government had decided to enter the new war, had they done so on the German side – which some wanted – then there would have been immediate invasion from Britain. But had they gone in on the Allied side, then the Allies would have been obliged to re-direct already limited resources to help in the defence of Ireland's long coastline and almost entirely unprotected countryside and cities.

Instead, Ireland went her own way, making no demands on the war resources of the allies, while still providing tens of thousands of able-bodied men and women to serve in the Allied forces, and moreover providing a haven in which they and their comrades could recuperate properly while on leave.

After the total horror of war was over, their greatest wish was to return to a life as normal as possible, and as quickly as possible. And after years of being restricted in their freedom of movement and in peril for much of the time from hostile sharers of the sea, their dearest wish was to sail just as much as humanly possible, and revel in the fact that they could do so without other vessels being seen as a direct threat.

Their desire to return to normal recreational sailing and everyday family life as quickly as possible meant that often they didn't talk of their wartime experiences, even among people who had strongly supported their motivation and actions. It seemed better to keep memories to yourself, for as Mickey d'Alton has said, his abiding memory is that war is an appalling waste of just about everything that it touches. As for another seafaring veteran, Norman Wilkinson of Howth who had also had "a good war", his attitude was that they hadn't fought in order to talk about it afterwards, he felt they'd fought to make the world safe for ordinary life and particularly for sailing, and as soon as hostilities were over, he did an impressive amount of sailing right up to his death at the age of 82.

In our comfortable modern world where we complain if a plane is half an hour late, we can scarcely imagine the bureaucratic moves and difficult travel such people had to complete in order to achieve their ambition of getting into the Royal Navy. Around Dublin, the word was that if you could get yourself the late-1930s equivalent of a Yachtmaster Certificate through Tom Walsh's mariners' courses, then that would give you access through the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve which had been set up to recruit experienced yachtsmen straight into the fast track to promotion.

Certainly that was the route taken by two Howth sailors I later got to know well, Norman Wilkinson and Ross Courtney. They both got the fair wind of the certificate from Tom Walsh in jig time, and on linking up across the water with the RNVR, Norman was immediately channeled into the commission line and went on to have distinguished if mysterious service among the Greek Isles in armed caiques. But for Ross, the medical was a set-back. Later I was to know him as one of the finest and most fearless close quarters helmsmen in all Ireland. But the naval medicos had found he was colour blind, which precluded him from any deck officer duties.

However, they told him to come back in a year or so, when demand would have risen to such an extent that his vision problems could well be set aside in order to avail of his obvious talents in seamanship. But Ross insisted that he wanted to start having a bash at Hitler just as soon as possible. It turned out the only job he could get on a warship was as a stoker, so throughout the duration Ross Courtney laboured in the acutely dangerous job of stoker, mostly on destroyers patrolling Transatlantic. And when the war was over and the Royal Naval Sailing Association was set up to provide yachts and sailing opportunities for former RN personnel, Leading Stoker Courtney was proposed for membership by an Admiral, and seconded by a Commodore.

While he and Norman Wilkinson had returned to Howth during leave to sail whenever possible, once peace broke out they returned to sailing with renewed enthusiasm. Before the war, Norman had been a keen helmsman in the nucleus of a National 18 class at Howth. But post-war, the 18s had gone. So as he was desperate to get regular racing, he finally bought into the only class likely to provide it locally, the already venerable Howth 17s. But suddenly there was a demand for 17s from returning servicemen. So he'd to go to Skerries where the 1898-built Howth 17 Leila had been more or less abandoned in a field, and in 1948 he finally closed the deal to buy her at the-then enormous price of 120 pounds.

Fifty years later, when the class was about to celebrate its Centenary, he was still sailing Leila with regular success. But there was no false sentimentality about Norman – when I asked him could he remember how he'd felt buying the boat he had grown to love all those fifty years earlier, he smilingly replied that he'd thought it was an awful lot of money to be paying for such an old boat, but he was desperate to get the opportunity to race regularly, and he continued to do so right up to his death.

As for Ross Courtney, he was already a Howth 17 star, but as soon as he could afford it he moved into offshore racers, and even in his late seventies this man who had been turned down for a commission because he was colour blind was still out-sailing and particularly out-helming all the opposition in his Sigma 41 Jabberwok.

mick3.jpgThe French Navy's logistics vessel Somme sailed to Dublin to provide the setting for the presentation of the Legion d'Honneur

Mickey d'Alton came from the other side of the bay, and was immersed in Dun Laoghaire sailing. He decided that Hitler was an "awful monster" who needed to be stopped as directly as possible, so by the age of 19 in 1940 he'd got himself into the RNVR and served in ships until it was over. But as he came with yacht and small boat sailing credentials, when the huge group of people who would be needed to pilot the armada of Tank Landing Craft right across the English Channel for the D-Day landings was being assembled, he perfectly fitted the job requirements. Thus his D-Day exploits became the defining experience of his lengthy war service, and it was this one and utterly exceptional action which saw him being celebrated on Monday with French Ambassador Jeanne Pierre Thebault pinning the Legion d'Honneur on Mickey d'Alton's 93-year-old breast.

People have asked why it was left until now to honour somebody who has clearly been a hero since 1944 and probably beyond. But it was only last year with the 70th Anniversary of D-Day that the French government made the decision to honour in this particular way anyone still alive in Ireland who qualified as a D-Day veteran.
For with the passage of time, the extraordinary achievement of the D-Day landings becomes ever more remarkable to contemplate, and the reality is that survivors such as Mickey d'Alton have an exceptional rarity value, not least because the fact that they have so cheerfully stayed alive for so long as active members of the community is a testament both to themselves and to the wonder of what they achieved.

As the ceremony was held in Dublin Port aboard the large French logistics vessel Somme – a gallant workhorse which recently did much to suppress the piracy problem off Somalia - there was something almost homely about the gathering, particularly as many of Mickey's sailing friends were there to wish him well. And as for the more military side of things, perhaps the most poignant although less formal moment on Monday was the presentation of the US Veterans' Distinguished Service Award to Mickey by John Shanahan of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States

As John put it: "This was indeed an international allied effort, for here we had an Irish skipper piloting a British boat to invade France to fight the Germans with our American tanks – and Mickey didn't lose one of them." In fact, as anyone who watched Tom Cunliffe's excellent TV series "Six Boats Which Built Britain", the D-Day LCTS which made the invasion possible were an American invention. But whatever their origins, they needed skippers and navigators of the ability of Mickey d'Alton to complete their mission with success, though he remains haunted by the memory of those who failed to make it.

For although in some ways we may have sanitized the memory of D-Day through films of the quality of Saving Private Ryan simply because we assume that the unbelievably violent and rapid action must be exaggerated, when Mickey d'Alton was taken by his son Mark to see Saving Private Ryan, and then went for a quiet pint afterwards, when the son asked the father what he thought of Spielberg's movie, the answer was: "It was just like that at Omaha Beach. He got it exactly right".

It was a life-shaping experience, yet Mickey d'Alton seldom if ever talked of his wartime life during a postwar sailing career which has only eased off its extraordinary pace since he entered his nineties in 2010. Indeed, frequent shipmate Michael O'Rahilly, a former Dublin Bay SC Commodore, recalls that the only reference he ever heard in hundreds of miles of cruising with Mickey was when they were returning from the Faeroes in the Dublin Bay 24 in 1961.

mick4.jpgThe Dublin Bay 24 might not be everyone's first choice for extended cruising, yet with Euphanzel Mickey d'Alton and Ninian Falkiner cruised to Norway, the Shetlands and St Kilda in 1956, and to the Faeroes in 1961. Both cruises were awarded the Irish Cruising Club premier trophy, the Faulkner Cup.

They'd come out of the south end of the Sound of Mull and were shaping their course towards the Sound of Jura as evening drew on, and as Oban was nearby, Michael suggested to Mickey that they might use Oban as an overnight anchorage. "I'd rather not" was the response, "I spent what seemed like a very long time in Oban on a training course during the war, and if I never see the place again it will be too soon".

With this award of the Legion d'Honneur, Mickey d'Alton will now be best known as an Irish hero of D-Day, which is perhaps as it should be. But the fact is that since the war ended, he has had an unrivalled sailing career – both inshore and offshore – of the highest achievements, while his life ashore has been one of abundant energy and many interests. Although a Chartered Quantity Surveyor, in his fifties he returned to college to study arbitration, and then went on to post graduate qualifications which have seen him negotiating and hearing cases at the highest international level.

mick5.jpgMabel d'Alton at the helm as Michael O'Rahilly takes a bearing during the 1961 cruise to the Faeroes. Between them is the famous "D'Alton Cockpit Cover", which was fitted to Euphanzel on longer offshore passages as the Dublin Bay 24 did not have a self-draining cockpit. Photo: Michael d'Alton

He married a kindred spirit in Mabel, and their two children Mark and Sonda bring the same lively intelligence to everything they do.
As to his sailing, although his proven success and perfectionism as a navigator in the era long before radio and electronics took over made him set the highest standards for his shipmates, he has always had the happy knack of teaming up with people whose abilities and resources neatly match his own skills, so much so that while he has owned a couple of boats, they have always been in partnership with kindred spirits.

His most renowned sailing achievements were as navigator and effectively sailing master with Ninian Falkiner, a pillar of the Dublin medical establishment who went on to become Commodore of the Royal Irish Yacht Club, with whom Mickey formed a very fruitful sailing partnership from 1944 until Ninian Falkiner's death in 1972.

Their best-known achievements were with the Dublin Bay 24 Euphanzel from 1948 until 1965. Gradually they built up their expectations with short cruises and offshore races, but in 1956 they hit the big time with a cruise from Dublin Bay through Scotland's Caledonian Canal to Norway, then across to the Shetland Islands following which – the weather being favourable – they simply sailed on across the open Atlantic in a sou'westerly direction for hundred of miles until they reached St Kilda, regarded as Ultima Thule in those days.

For this cruise, they were awarded the Irish Cruising Club's premier trophy, the Faulkner Cup. To put it in perspective, remember that as soon as Euphanzel got back to Dublin Bay, she returned to being a One Design boat in a Dun Laoghaire class raced regularly with the greatest possible vigour. Yet most summers they cruised as well, in 1961 going to the Faeroes with a special kayak-style cockpit cover developed by Mickey as the DB 24s didn't have a self-draining cockpit, and he reckoned they'd get their come-uppance one day. It duly happened on the way back – they were hit by a Force 9 but the d'Alton Cover worked a treat, whie their thoroughbred boat continued to make to windward in horrifying seas, with Mickey's navigation spot-on in almost zero visibility.

mick6.jpgShipmates re-united. James Nixon (left) was one of many sailing friends who went aboard the Somme in Dublin to congratulate Michael d'Alton on his Legion d'Honneur. In 1964 they sailed together round Ireland in Euphanzel, and subsequently went to the Faeroes in the Excalibur 36 Tir na nOg. Photo: W M Nixon

1964 saw a last hurrah with Euphanzel with a round Ireland cruise, then the following year Ninian Falkiner was one of those who went with the modernising of Dublin Bay sailing, as he bought a brand new all fibreglass van de Stadt-designed Excalibur 36 which he called Tir na nOg. The mixture of local and offshore racing and extensive cruising which had become established with Euphanzel was continued, but after five years NInian and Mickey felt they'd done their duty by glassfibre, and the last boat for the team was the 12-ton Nicholson designed timber sloop Felise, which in 1970 they cruised to the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway.

With Ninian's death in 1972, Mickey became involved in partnership with a 25ft Glen OD, while his most notable cruising achievement during the mid '70s was as navigator for Paul Campbell aboard the latter's 37ft Tyrrell-built yawl Verve, which in 1975 they sailed out to Rockall where, from a dinghy rowed by Mickey, crewman Willie Dick, who had extensive rock-climbing experience, became possibly the first person - certainly the first yachtsman - to land directly on that tricky bit of rock, as any previous known landings had been by helicopter.

mick7.jpgThe Rockall landing in 1975 from Paul Campbell's Verve. Mickey d'Alton is manoeuvring the dinghy, while Willie Dick has just managed to grasp a handhold after jumping on to the rock face.

By this stage in life with his sixties approaching, Mickey d'Alton's sailing programme might have been expected to slacken. But war veterans cherish their freedom to go sailing as and when they please, and they cherish it far too much to think of easing off, let alone retiring.

So what is arguably the best part of Mickey d'Alton's sailing and cruising career was about to begin. He linked up with fellow senior sailors Franz Winkelmann and Leslie Latham, and they bought themselves a Ruffian 23 – Siamsa – which gave double value as she provided them with regular One Design racing in Dublin Bay, and thanks to modifications mostly made by Mickey – sometimes utilising unexpected items of equipment in unusual ways – she was turned into a very able little cruiser.


The Ruffian 23 Siamsa "airing out" during the 1997 cruise from Dublin Bay to the Isle of Scilly. Three very senior sailors managed to cruise thousands of miles in this very able if decidedly small boat.

And by heavens, how these three old guys cruised their little boat. It was all the more remarkable as Franz was all of 6ft 2ins tall, and more or less had to be folded in two if he was going to get below, while Leslie was so old his age was never mentioned. As for Mickey, his only concession to the passing years was that his vigorous hair and bushy beard were allowed even more freedom of movement and growth, and he looked like someone sent out from Central Casting to be the Old Man of the Sea.

The years may have been passing, but the enthusiasm for sailing never dimmed. Of their many cruises to many places, one of my favourites has to be the cruise to St Kilda in 1983. Siamsa's only auxiliary engine was an outboard so small it could only push them in and out of port in a calm, otherwise they were sail only, so in getting to St Kilda they dealt with headwinds simply by keeping sailing, and kedging in the nearest handy roadstead when the tide turned against them while beating through the Irish Sea and North Channel.

Maintaining a viable way of life in a 23 footer without standing headroom would have been a challenge to most sailors, but the crew of Siamsa just kept plodding along, they'd experienced it before, they knew they'd get there in due course, and meanwhile weren't they sailing and having a very satisfying time?

mick9.jpgStill at it. Mickey d'Alton at the helm of John Latham's Beneteau Oceanis 311 Seasaw. Photo: Sonda d'Alton

This remarkable partnership afloat lasted for well nigh fifteen years. In time Leslie passed on, then Franz died, yet although Siamsa was sold, Mickey continued sailing until quite recently with John Latham, Leslie's son, on his Beneteau Oceanis 311 Seasaw, while his love remains undimmed for the remote places best visited by cruising boats, and particularly the west of Ireland,

Until this week, Mickey d'Alton was best known as a sailing man, and in the world of sailing it was in the inner circles of cruising that he was most highly regarded. Over the years, his awards have included the Faulkner Cup of the Irish Cruising Club in 1956 and 1961, the ICC's Round Ireland Cup in 1964, and the same club's Wybrants Cup in 1983 and 1986, its Fingal Cup in 1990, and the Fortnight Cup – for a cruise to the Isles of Scilly in the little Siamsa – in 1997.

In addition, there would be a host of trophies from offshore races of varying lengths, and from inshore racing in Dublin Bay. And now, many years after receiving his medals won and presented during wartime, he is Legion d'Honneur and USV Distinguished Service Award. A great man.

mick10.jpgMan of the west. Mickey d'Alton recently photographed in Roundstone in his beloved West of Ireland. Photo: Sonda d'Alton

Published in W M Nixon

#SAN FRANCISCO MISSING SAILORS – An Irish sailor is reported missing from a yacht in San Francison after a serious accident during a yacht race at the weekend.

One crew man died, three others are missing and three survived after 12-foot waves hit James Bradford's Sydney 38 Low Speed Chase, which was competing in the Full Crew Farallones Race, organised by San Francisco Yacht Club.

The crew of the yacht has been named but the name of one additional crew member, reported locally as the missing Irish sailor, has not been released. Authorities are still making efforts to reach his family. A statement has been issued by San Francisco Yacht Club here.

Coast Guard and National Guard rescuers are continuing to search the sea 27 miles west of the Golden Gate bridge for the missing sailors.

Three other sailors were rescued from the rocks on Saturday afternoon after the boat crashed onto Southeast Farallon Island at around 3pm.

Forty-nine boats competed in this year's race, which started Saturday, taking the fleet out the Golden Gate Bridge and around the Southeast Farallones Island.

The finish was at the yacht club race deck, with a calculated race distance of 58 nautical miles

Local reports say several boats turned back when 25-knot winds and high waves churned up the waters near the Farallones, but otherwise the race conditions were typical for that area and this time of year, said San Francisco Yacht Club director Ed Lynch.

More on this story from the San Franciso Chronicle here.

US Coastguard footage of the resuce here

Published in News Update
Tagged under

#SAILOR OF THE YEAR – At home and abroad, Irish sailors once again delivered an impressive range of results in 2011.

Review our top sailors by month here. The reviews are also in print in Afloat's Sailing Annual 2012 in shops now! And vote for them in our online facebook poll. You just need to be a facebook fan of Afloat to record your vote.

As in previous years, Afloat magazine is asking the public to give its view who should be crowned Ireland's Sailor of the Year for 2011.

The overall national award will be presented to the person who, in the judge's opinion, achieved the most notable results in, or made the most significant contribution to, watersports during 2011. Now you can log on to Afloat's facebook page and help select the shortlist from the last 12 months' top performers. Bios of each sailor of the month's performance are here.

afloat sailor of the year

The boating public gets to nominate their top three through the online poll, gets a vote too and the Sailor of the Year judges decide the final winner.

Cast your vote by midnight February 18, 2012. The awards are administered and judged by Afloat magazine, the Irish Independent.

The judges decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Thanks for your interest!

#PERTH2011 – Irish sailor Annalise Murphy needs to beat America's Paige Railey by at least four places to win a bronze medal in tommorrow's Laser Radial final following a stunning performance in Perth today with two further race wins at the ISAF World Championships.

18 knot winds gave the Natonal Yacht Club Sailor (who qualified for the London Olympics this week) the chance to shine again today and significantly narrow the point's gap going in to Sunday's Medal Race.

Published in Olympics 2012

#SAILOR OF THE MONTH – Pat Kelly of Rush Sailing Club is the Independent "Sailor of the Month" for November after his J/109 Storm - crewed by fellow-Fingallions - was celebrated as the Irish Cruiser Racer Association "Boat of the Year" at the ICRA annual general meeting in Dun Laoghaire at the weekend.

The sailors of north Fingal are on a roll these days. Back in September, Matt Davis of Skerries won our monthly award after his Sigma 400 Raging Bull retained the Irish Sea offshore championship. And another Skerries sailor, windsurfer Oisin van Gelderen, continues to be Ireland's fastest man afloat, his current official best speed being 44.23 knots.

Now it's the turn of Rush to top the podium. Not that Rush is new to successful sailing. Once upon a time, it was the top port on the east coast of Ireland for smugglers who veered into privateering and occasionally even piracy. To succeed in any of these activities, they needed fast ships and able skippers, and captains like Luke Ryan and James Mathews gave Rush its formidable sailing reputation.


storm j109

Storm was made ICRA Boat of the year last weekend and this Saturday her skipper Pat Kelly becomes Sailor of the month for November. Photos: Bob Bateman

Highlight of Pat Kelly's season with Storm was his outright class win in the ICRA Nationals at Crosshaven. Five wins in six races is the sort of performance that would get the Luke Ryan/James Mathews seal of approval. Storm was also regularly in the frame in many other major events, and had frequent success in regattas and club racing with a dedication to sailing that does her skipper and crew proud.

Pat kept his previous 30-footer in the tide-riven anchorage at Rogerstown off Rush SC's attractive south-facing clubhouse, one of the few south-facing sailing clubhouses in the entire country. However, with the bigger boat it was necessary to find a berth at Howth, and in fact Storm sails as a joint HYC/RSC entry. But the club in Howth wouldn't begrudge this success to their smaller neighbours to the north. And with their own marina in fine shape (it hosts next year's ICRA Nationals in late May), they'd be the first to agree that the only thing holding back north Fingal sailing from even greater achievements is the lack of sheltered and conveniently accessible pontoon berthing on the entire coast between Malahide and Carlingford Lough.

More from WM Nixon in the Irish Independent here

#SAILOR OF THE MONTH – George Kenefick of Crosshaven is the Independent Sailor of the Month for October after rounding out an already successful season with an inspired performance in the Student Worlds in France.

The 23-year-old helmsman won the Quarter Ton Classics Corinthian Division in July with his immaculately-restored boat Tiger, racing against a top lineup in the Solent. That performance saw him recruited to helm the English-owned boat Chimp in the Half Ton Worlds at the same venue in August. Kenefick showed the quality of his abilities by interacting with a crew he'd never sailed with before to become overall winner against an impressive international fleet.


George Kenefick, Mel Collins and John Downey celebrate their win on Lough Derg. Photo: Brendan Fogarty

Back in home waters, next up was the Waterways Ireland ISA National Championship on Lough Derg in the ISA's SailFleet flotilla of J/80s at the beginning of October. For this series Kenefick recruited Crosshaven clubmates John Downey and Mel Collins as crew. The opposition included former champion Mark Mansfield, who had returned to competitive sailing by winning the 1720 Europeans in Baltimore against a fleet including Anthony and Nicholas O'Leary, both former Irish Open Champions.

It went right down to the wire, with Mansfield and O'Leary emerging well ahead on 12–points apiece. On the countback, Kenefick was the new champion. Almost immediately, he was back in the thick of logistics and personnel organization in taking the Cork Institute of Technology sailing team to France for the Student Worlds, CIT representing Ireland as winners of our national series.

With sixteen college teams from all over the world, even in resources-rich French sailing the organizers were stretched in finding an evenly-matched fleet of sixteen Archambault keelboats. There were top class new boats, but some not so new boats, and a trio of boats well past their sell-by date. It was all in the luck of the draw, and the Irish and much-fancied Portuguese found themselves drawing the shortest straw.

In a demanding series, the Portuguese were never at the races with their tired mount, but the Irish simply refused to give up despite a boat which, with its equipment, was falling apart. There was ample opportunity to do this, as the series in the Bay of Biscay off La Trinite included some really rough stuff. In fact, the Irish revelled in the strong breeze, but in the light airs which settled in as the week drew on, it took pure skill.

By the final races last Saturday, they'd got themselves an unassailable third position, but the two British teams – defending champions are allowed an extra place – had miscalculated the points situation. So on the final day, they team raced, one of their boats sailing the Irish crew down the fleet in the best Ben Ainslie style. It was the first time Ireland had finished outside the top six, but they still had the bronze, the Brits took silver, and the French were well ahead to win overall.

More from WM Nixon in the Irish Independent here

Matt Davis is the Irish Independent/ "Sailor of the Month" for September. The youthful Skerries skipper and his crew of all the talents from Fingal successfully defended the Irish Sea Offshore Championship with a dedicated season-long campaign in their Sigma 400 Raging Bull.

The welcome revival of the offshore racing programme in the Irish Sea has been steered by Peter Ryan of the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire, but without the enthusiastic crew like the Skerries squad, it just wouldn't happen.

Apart from the continuous effort of keeping a frontline offshore racer and all her equipment in sound working order, the demands on personnel for time in this crowded era can be quite exceptional. The logistics are formidable, as the regular cross channel ISORA programme is based on a willingness to alternate between starting points on the Welsh and Irish coast.


Matt Davis and crew on board Raging Bull in one of this year's ISORA races. Photo: Brian Carlin

For boats heading for an away start, it often involves an overnight passage beforehand. In the case of Raging Bull, all starts are away events, as the programme does not as yet take in Skerries. But we can hope that this will change in the future, as the nucleus of a Fingal offshore racing group develops around the Davis success.

With the summer of 2011's uneven weather, Raging Bull's crew had to be fit and ready to take full advantage of their boat's proven ability in rugged weather, while at the same time managing to turn in a respectable performance in light airs.

For the first time, the biennial Dun Laoghaire-Dingle race was recognized as an ISORA event, and Davis and his crew revelled in it. For much of the race they were the only boat mounting a significant challenge to the pace setter, Martin Breen's Reflex 38 Galway Harbour. Though the Skerries boat had to be content with the runner-up slot to the Galway boat in Dingle, they were first of all the ISORA participants, a top score which stood well to them when they continued with the Irish Sea programme right up until mid-September. Despite the limited size of the harbour, the maritime spirit of Skerries is manifesting itself in many areas of sailing, and Matt Davis's achievement is typical of the special Fingal fervour.

More on Matt's 2011 victory in Autumn Afloat magazine out next week!

More ISORA News here
The road to 2012 glory has just got one step closer for some of the nation's top sailors who today became the first British athletes to be officially selected to compete for Team GB at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Ben Ainslie, the triple Olympic gold and silver medallist and Britain's most successful Olympic sailor, heads the list of 11 athletes confirmed by the British Olympic Association as being on the startline at Weymouth and Portland for next year's sailing events.

Sailing is the first of the 26 Olympic sports to have officially selected any of its athletes, with the 11 sailors revealed today at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, competing across seven of the ten Olympic classes and representing a mix of both established Olympic medallists and first-time Olympians.


Picture shows L-R Skandia Team GBR sailors Stephen Park (Olympic Team Manager, Kate Macgregor (Womens Match Racing), Hannah Mills (470), Lucy Macgregor (Womens Match Racing), Bryony Shaw (RSX), Ben Ainslie (Finn), Nick Dempsey (RSX), Andrew Simpson (Star), Iain Percy (Star) Annie Lush (Womens Match Racing) and Saskia Clark (470).

Ainslie, 34, has earned the right to race for his fourth Olympic gold in 2012, gaining selection in the heavyweight Finn dinghy event, while Iain Percy will aim for a third gold in total and a second in partnership with best friend Andrew Simpson in the Star class with whom he won the Olympic title in Beijing.

Paul Goodison will look to defend his Laser class crown on his home waters of Weymouth and Portland, while Nick Dempsey and Bryony Shaw will look to build on their respective Olympic bronze medals in the RS:X Men's and Women's windsurfing events (Dempsey, Athens 2004; Shaw, Beijing 2008).

The 2010 World Championship-winning trio of Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor have earned the nod to race at their first Olympic Games in the Elliot 6m Women's Match Racing event – a new event on the 2012 programme – with Lucy and Kate the first two sailing sisters ever to compete for Great Britain at the Olympics.

A whirlwind seven months after teaming up and following a string of podium finishes, Olympic debutant Hannah Mills and Beijing Olympian Saskia Clark have earned the confidence of the Royal Yachting Association selectors in the 470 Women's event. Mills joined forces with Clark in February 2011 following the retirement of Clark's former helm Sarah Ayton.

Selection trials are ongoing in the remaining three Olympic classes – the 470 Men, the 49er and the Laser Radial events. Team GB Chef de Mission Andy Hunt commented:
"This announcement is a key milestone and an exciting and important moment for us - it represents the beginning of the creation of Team GB, Our Greatest Team of approximately 550 athletes. Having the first athletes confirmed for Team GB for the London 2012 Olympic Games is fantastic. The eleven sailors are a good mix of experience, including six Olympic medallists, as well as promising Olympic debutants who are World or European medallists in their own right.

"There is certainly some fierce competition within sailing and there are no free passes to compete for Team GB in any sport in London 2012. In fact, in terms of overall depth and talent, we believe Team GB in London 2012 will be the most competitive British Olympic Team in modern history. Our aspiration for Team GB in London 2012 is to win more medals across more sports than for
over a century."

RYA Olympic Manager/Team GB Sailing Team Leader Stephen Park added (from Helensburgh, Scotland): "We're delighted to be announcing the first sailing members of Team GB. All the sailors selected today have had a fantastic year of performances which has resulted in them gaining selection at an early opportunity, allowing them good time to focus their campaigns specifically on the challenges of Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour in preparation for the 2012 Games.

"The mix of experience we have with the six Olympic medallists, one Olympian and four first-time Olympians provides an exciting balance that will hopefully deliver the required results in 2012 while at the same time increasing the pool of 2016 Olympic triallists."

Ben Ainslie said (born: Macclesfield; grew up in: Restronguet, Cornwall; currently living in: Lymington): "It's an honour to be selected to compete for Team GB at the 2012 Olympics.
This qualification process was definitely the hardest compared to the previous four I've been through. The previous experiences helped, but at the same time having the Olympics in the UK puts that added bit of pressure on, we all want to compete on home waters, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"The competition was strong, having four top British sailors (Giles Scott, Ed Wright, Andrew Mills and Mark Andrews) battling for qualification meant I had to be at my best in every race. Certainly that is a credit to those guys, how well they were sailing and how they pressured me all the way in every event. At the same time pressure has always brought the best out of me and the competition with the British sailors gave me that added edge in competition. It's now all about getting the plans right for my fitness and preparation to peak at the right time, you don't want to reach burnout and
the Olympics are the end goal!"

Paul Goodison commented (born/grew up in: Sheffield; currently living in: Weymouth, Dorset): "It feels really good to have been selected early for the 2012 Games – I know it's still 10 months away but for me it's really important that selection's out of the way so I can start to focus on what I need to do to put myself in the right position to deliver in 10 month's time.

"This will be my third Olympic Games – it's going to be very different to the last two but with a home Olympics I'm sure it's going to be an advantage to be on home waters with a home crowd. We spent a lot of time training out there in Weymouth and hopefully this will pay dividends next year.

"Winning the Games in China was just an amazing experience for me – from the lows of finishing fourth in Athens to then winning the gold medal in China was fantastic. I can only imagine what it would be like to repeat this feat again in Weymouth with my family and friends there on British waters – it would be an amazing experience so I'm looking forward to 2012."

Bryony Shaw said (born: Wandsworth, grew up in: Oxford; currently living in: Tunbridge Wells): "For me this will be my second Olympics, and it's exciting that I've been able to keep on improving. It's amazing to be part of such a strong and special team and to feel the vibe that we're all focussed and confident with the task ahead.

"To earn my selection by winning medals in Weymouth was the main focus for me and it's given me great confidence to have been able to do that, and gives me a great feeling that I can perform there. My windsurfing has transformed, everything is on track and we're pretty confident that there are some more gains to be made on the physiological side."

Nick Dempsey added (born/grew up in: Norwich, Norfolk; currently living in: Weymouth, Dorset): "It's great to have gained selection, but really it's just another step on the way. You still get the feeling that it's the start of the build-up, and little things like starting to get your bits of Olympic kit are quite exciting and bring home how close it's getting.

"This is my fourth Olympics, and this one is just everything to me. It's the one – the Games that I've been waiting for my whole life. You're never going to get better than winning an Olympic medal on home waters. I've performed really well in Weymouth this year but there are still some big gains to be made, so everything for me is about preparing for Weymouth and
fine-tuning everything – learning more, getting fitter, stronger and faster."

Lucy Macgregor said (born/grew up in/currently living in: Poole, Dorset): "It's pretty exciting, and it's great to be part of such a strong team. Gaining selection feels like the next step on the road, and the start of more hard work ahead of us. None of the three of us has any Olympic experience, so we don't entirely know what to expect, but we're confident in the plans we have in place and we can learn from the other members of the team and from our coach Maurice on that side of things.

"We have some more training time ahead of us in Weymouth this year, but the next big competition for us is the World Championships. For the other nations it will be vital for country qualification so the competition will certainly be tough, and will give us the chance to race against the best teams and see what else we need to work on."

Kate Macgregor added (born/grew up in/currently living in: Poole, Dorset): "It's really exciting to be selected – it didn't hit me for a few hours after I'd heard as we were off sailing, but it's really exciting and makes everything that little bit more real now!

It's our first Olympics, but being part of such a great team and having all these people around us with Olympic experience that we look up to means that it won't be such a scary thought.

A medal is our ultimate goal and we have the potential to achieve that – we've just got to keep working hard over the winter and throughout next year and hopefully will things will continue to fall into place for us."

Annie Lush said (born/grew up in/currently living in: Poole, Dorset): "It took a while for the news to sink in! Even though we haven't had a clear competitor in our trials, I have been trying for eight years to make it to the Games so to have that finally confirmed is an exciting moment.

"There's a lot of work still to do – the goal is not just to go, but to go and win a medal, and gaining selection makes you realise how close it all is. It's our first Olympics, so the key will be trying to predict what those unique challenges of the Games will be and preparing for them. We'll be trying to learn from the others within the team, and our coach as well, who already have that experience, and the Test Event was a real learning experience for us in that regard.

"It would be a massive, massive achievement to win a medal next year and an amazing marker of the best part of a decade of hard work that went into it."

Iain Percy commented (born/grew up in: Winchester, Hampshire; currently living in: Emsworth, Hampshire): "That's the first hurdle over, but really ever since Beijing we've been focussing on 29 July 2012 and all the hard work over the past few years has been to make sure we're in the best possible shape come that day.

"I'm really proud to be representing Team GB at my fourth Olympics. It's every athlete's dream to win an Olympic medal at home – it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, so we'll be giving it our all to be up there on the podium again next year."

Andrew Simpson added (born/grew up in: Chertsey, Surrey; currently living in: Sherborne, Dorset): "It's a real privilege and a special moment to be selected for the London 2012 Games, but selection alone is not enough – it's just a means to an end. We want to be there on the startline in 2012 with a real shot at retaining our gold, so everything we've been working on since Beijing 2008 has been geared to towards optimising our racing, our equipment and ourselves towards the challenges we expect from Weymouth as a venue."

Hannah Mills said (born/grew up in: Cardiff; currently living in: Portland, Dorset): "I didn't believe it when I first heard the news – although we'd had a great few months and some fantastic results since teaming up, I'd built it up in my mind that our trials would be carrying on so it came as a big surprise.

"Things were all looking a bit different for the both of us seven months ago, so to be given this chance is really, really exciting, but really it's just a stepping stone on the way with lots of hard work still ahead of us.

The Test Event was a great eye-opener in terms of how things might be at the Games. We've been given this massive task and now we just need to sort out all our plans so we're in the best place to achieve it."

Saskia Clark added (born/grew up in: Colchester, Essex; currently living in: Weymouth, Dorset): "I'm so pleased and relieved! We've had some really good results since teaming up but didn't know if it was enough. I'm so pleased for Hannah as this will be her first Olympics and we've had a good start to our campaign with much more, we feel, still to come.

"It was a dark time for me back in February [when Sarah Ayton retired] but Hannah and I gave it everything in the time we've had. When we teamed up we knew we didn't have a lot of time, and our aim was to do enough to try and push the trials on to Perth or further. We surpassed our expectations winning medals in all but one event we've done together, but there's a huge amount of hard work still to do and I know that a lot of the other girls will come back stronger next year."

Sailing's 2012 legacy is already in action, proven by a number of youth attending the team announcement. These youngsters are part of the RYA's OnBoard (OB) programme to introduce sailing and windsurfing as a sport for young people. The children are all year 6 pupils from the Jubilee Primary School, located in the London Borough of Hackney, which is one of the five London Olympic Boroughs. Over ten years, OB is working to introduce half a million children into sailing and windsurfing. Jubilee Primary School attends regular sessions at the North London RYA OnBoard Centre based at Stoke Newington Reservoir Centre and has exchange visits to the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic sailing venue.

Published in Olympics 2012
Page 1 of 3

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