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David Kenefick is Irish Sailor of the Year for 2013

18th February 2014
kenefick solo
David Kenefick is the Irish Sailor of the Year for 2013.
David Kenefick is Irish Sailor of the Year for 2013

#fullirish – It's not hard to argue that 2013 was the biggest year by far in David Kenefick's sailing career. And that he's still only 22 years of age makes his solo sailing achievements over the last 12 months even more remarkable.

Indeed, his performance in the demanding Figaro Solo alone was surely enough to secure his place in our esteem - and garner him Afloat's Irish Sailor of the Year Award for 2013.

Kenefick's prodigious talent backed his claim to the Rookie of the Year title (never before awarded to a non-French skipper) as the youngest in the field running a gruelling Gallic gauntlet of almost 7,000 offshore miles, nearly all of them single-handed.

His year of success began in February - just three months after launching his Figaro bid - when he raced his Figaro one-design yacht for the first time in the 140 nautical miles of La Grande Motte.

Finishing second out of six finishers, the result put Kenefick in good stead for the following month's ICOM Cup Méditeranée in Marseille, where fifth place in the final leg saw him tally 11th overall - one step closer to achieving his long-held ambition.

But qualification for La Solitaire du Figaro was only sealed in April's 320-mile Solo Arrimer race, the longest he'd sailed till that date. And he bettered that rookie podium finish with 15th in May's 30-boat Solo Concarneau, in which he was the second newcomer over the line.

"I now know a lot more about what this kind of racing is," Kenefick told Afloat after that third race, underlining the mental strength that long-distance solo sailing demands.

"It is about training your mind. Your eyes will close but your mind is still going... You have to go there to understand it. It's weird waking up when you are at the helm. It's quite amazing what your body and mind can do."

That invaluable race experience aside, Kenefick also benefitted from the guiding hand of coach and mentor Marcus Hutchinson, himself a Figaro veteran, who put the young Crosshaven sailor through his paces.

Still, it's one thing to prepare and another to actually do it: the Figaro Solo is a unique challenge, the 535 miles of its first leg enough to ward off the weak.

So it was disheartening, though not surprising, to see Kenefick make a poor start off the line from Bordeaux on 2 June, stuck among the backmarkers as the fleet headed up the Gironde Estuary.

Around him strong contenders fell by the wayside in this race of attrition. And Kenefick himself would not emerge unscathed, a "little collision" taking a chunk out of the keel of his yacht 'Full Irish'.

Ultimately, though, it was just a scratch - a battle scar to prove Kenefick's mettle as he completed the first leg in 33rd place out of 41 starters.

But he knew he could do better, rueing the mistake of not sleeping when he had the chance and winding up lost in a tangle of fishing boats.

Light winds saw leg two shortened to 300 nautical miles from Porto to the Spanish port of Gijon - the last 45 of which, as Hutchinson wrote in his Figaro blog, proved the most important.

Sailing much smarter now, Kenefick was in the middle group, best positioned to act upon the telltale signs of stalling winds ahead, and at one point made it to the top 10.

His 18th place finish was a huge boost to his confidence and his chances going into the penultimate leg from Gijon to Roscoff, starting with straight 200-mile run across the Bay of Biscay considered the hardest leg of the course, where barometric pressure trends matter more than tidal charts.

Kenefick suffered on the wrong side of the fleet, putting him far down the rankings to the point where strategy goes out the window and all that matters is staying awake and getting as much speed as possible. But he wasn't the only one, and still reached Roscoff third among the rookies.

After four days of much-needed shore leave, the fleet embarked on the final leg to Dieppe: 520 miles via the south coast of England, an unforgiving route tracing rocky coastlines and tidal gates that demands physical toughness and nerves of steel.

Surviving a scary night-time game of rock dodgems, Kenefick hoisted early and drove hard through the night from Wolf Rock to Needles Fairway, gaining 11 places on the way - though a violent gybe towards the end loosened his mainsail and left him scrambling to improvise a fix.

However, it failed to put a damper on an "amazing" leg for Kenefick, who crossed the line in the small hours of 23 June with a cumulative placing of 28th out of 40 finishers, third among the rookies - and becoming only the fourth Irishman to complete the race after Damian Foxall, Paul O'Riain and mentor Hutchinson.

"If you had said to me last year that I'd be at the finish of the Solitaire," he said, "I don't think I would have believed you."

What an achievement - and yet that wasn't the end of Kenefick's offshore season, as he followed with a strong showing in September's Tour de Bretagne ala Voile, and an even more impressive display in the Generali Solo around the Mediterranean, where he finished 12th as the best rookie in the fleet.

That was enough to clinch the title of 2013's best Figaro newcomer for the young Corkman, who we also recognised as our Sailor of the Month for October.

"No one comes into this scene and performs at the top in their first year," he said as the weight of his achievements began to sink in.

But he did it, and so it was only right that we honour David Kenefick with the Sailor of the Year Award for doing what was previously thought impossible.

For full coverage of David Kenefick's 2013 season click here.

Published in Sailor of the Year Team

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