2016 will mark twenty years since Afloat inaugurated the “Sailor of the Month” awards, with their peak achievement of the “Sailor of the Year” accolade. This means we have now honoured nearly 300 sports sailors of every kind, of many ages, and from all parts of Ireland. For as seasoned observers will have noted, from time to time there’s such a plethora of monthly achievement that we have to subdivide the awards into inshore and offshore divisions, and then we might be obliged to add in extra variants purely for cruising, or for international achievement on Irish waters. All of which pushes the numbers well beyond the 228 winners which nineteen years would otherwise suggest.
But no matter how we may try to shape it, the traditional Irish calendar has two weeks and more at mid-winter totally blanked off for the Yuletide seasonal celebrations, while deadlines for the Afloat Annual (the 2016 Edition will be published at the end of this week) means that from the outset, we realized that December’s winner would have to be decided by December 15th at the latest.
So for us here at Afloat.ie, the new Irish sailing season starts tomorrow. But our first New Year winner (or indeed winners) of the January 2016 Sailor of the Month award won’t be announced for another six weeks. Time was when there’d be little enough to choose from for Irish sailing achievement in these midwinter six weeks. But with the Pre-Olympic Copa Brasil De Vela Regatta of very special Irish interest getting under way today in Rio, added to the usual Irish presence in the Rolex Sydney Hobart race on December 26th (don’t forget an Irish skipper has twice won it outright), and with a record entry already shaping up for Quantum Key West Race Week in Florida from January 17th to 22nd, the judges may well be faced with multiple choices.
Refreshingly, making the choice for December has been very clearcut. The entire Irish sailing community breathed a sigh of relief and approval when John Twomey and his crew of Austin O’Carroll and Ian Costello qualified to sail for Ireland in the September 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.
The Providence Team IRL Sonar crew looked to be battling for vital places in the trials in Melbourne, but in the end they secured the slot on December 2nd with a race to spare.
It’s an extraordinary achievement, not least in that former Kinsale YC Commodore Twomey will be racing in his 11th Olympic Games. And his experience and enthusiasm showed through in setting out to do the remaining race with as much determination as he would have shown had his Olympic place still depended on it.
But then, that’s the way John Twomey and his team are with their sailing. While they’re inevitably associated with the Sonar for international sport, in his time John has managed to compete seriously with an International Dragon in open competition, using a boat which was only slightly modified to take account of the fact that a boyhood cycle-race accident lost him the use of both legs. Such enthusiasm, allied to his achievement in qualifying for an 11th Olympics, puts him in a class of his own to be the Afloat.ie “Sailor of the Month” for December 2015.