#SailorOfTheYear - Conor Fogerty has been named Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year for 2017 for his astonishing performance in the Single-Handed East-West Transatlantic Race last summer during what was a particularly strong year for Irish offshore sailing.
June’s Offshore Sailor of the Month was presented with his prize by Minister of State Mary Mitchell-O’Connor at the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards gala in Dublin’s RDS Concert Hall this evening (Friday 9 February).
The accolade comes nearly eight months after the corinthian sailor from Howth Yacht Club found himself in definitive trophy contention, when a storm ravaged the OSTAR and TWOSTAR fleets in the North Atlantic in early June.
With attentions immediately and understandably turned to the plight of those sailors and vessels worst affected by the extreme conditions, it was only in the aftermath that those not already on the Fogerty tip realised Ireland’s lone entry in the 2017 OSTAR was some ways west of the storm before it hit.
Make no mistake, this was no fluke. “[Fogerty] had been sailing his Sun Fast 3600 Bam! with such skill and determination that he had sailed beyond the worst of the weather,” Winkie Nixon writes.
That put Fogerty second only to clear race leader Andrea Mura’s Open 60 Venta di Sardegna in the OSTAR division, before the winds ruined the party behind them. What’s more, in the hours and days that followed, Fogerty was sailing Bam! in near-contact with TWOSTAR entry Rote 66, an Open 40 significantly larger than his own boat.
Indeed, even with a depleted fleet, it was remarkable that Fogerty was able to keep up with those bigger boats and take Bam! all the way to Rhode Island amid persistent tough conditions. As Winkie says: “His victory was no joyride.”
But a victory it certainly was. When Bam! crossed the line at Newport on 19 June to take that prize of prizes, the Gipsy Moth Trophy, Fogerty’s closest competition was 500 miles astern — and his only company in port were boats with far more muscle and speed potential. It was a prime example of a skipper making all the difference.
The hero’s welcome bestowed upon Fogerty on his return to Howth at the end of the month, as Winkie observes, was richly deserved.
Accepting his award this evening, Fogerty said it was great to see offshore sailing reaching new heights, and recognised the importance of having such a platform as the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards to share his and fellow ocean-crossers’ passion.
The Sailor of the Year for 2017 also extolled the virtues of the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association as a learning ground.
“For anyone who wants to get involved in offshore sailing, I’d recommend ISORA to get their feet wet,” Fogerty added.
Fogerty bested a worthy field of nominees in 2017, among them such offshore luminaries as Vendée Globe stalwart Alex Thomson, his Fastnet Race partner Nin O’Leary, and Volvo Ocean Race veteran Damian Foxall.
In the wake of Annalise Murphy’s big award last year, younger sailors featured prominently in 2017.
Trinity sailing team captain Richard Roberts and his UCC counterpart Liam Manning; Youth Pathways champ Ewan McMahon; Finn class Olympic hopeful Fionn Lyden and fellow Tokyo 2020 challenger Finn Lynch in the Laser; super junior Michael O’Suillebhain; and Dun Laoghaire all-rounder Lorcan Tighe were all in contention.
Saskia Tidey found a fruitful new 49erFX partnership with Great Britain’s Charlotte Dobson; while Aoife Hopkins, winner of the European Women’s U21 Laser Radial title, sat her Leaving Cert just a month after that achievement and gained a whopping 605 points in a testament to her dedication.
Stewart Hosford (who shared with Thomson); Pacific voyager Daragh Nagle; tactician Ian Moore; Rush’s Kelly family; cruiser John Maybury; Safehaven Marine powerboat specialist Frank Kowalski; Michael O’Connor and his Sin Bin crew; offshore duo Vicky Cox and Peter Dunlop; Rockabill VI campaigner Paul O’Higgins; Sydney-Hobart partners Gordon Maguire and Jim Cooney; and Clipper Race skipper Conall Morrison rounded out this year’s slate of Sailor of the Year nominees, with two notable exceptions.
The organisers flew in Santiago Alegre from Spain and Simon Hoffman from Australia to thank them for saving the life of Johnny Durcan, one of Ireland’s leading high performance sailors, who got into difficulty at the 29er World Championships in California last summer. The pair were special winners from Afloat last August for their efforts, and received the President’s Award tonight — as well as a standing ovation from the full house in attendance.
Also recognised was Jay Stacy, who received the President’s Award for his actions that saved the life of one of his crew a rogue wave hit their boat off the Waterford/Wexford coast. Accidents like this are rare, but tonight was an opportunity for the sailing community to recognise their bravery and say thank you.
In the night’s other prizes, the Senior Instructor Award went to Kate Caldwell of Mullaghmore Sailing Club, who recently left her role at the Co Sligo club after three years to study for a Master’s degree.
Training Centre of the Year for 2017 is Crookhaven Harbour Sailing Club, which since 1979 has specialised in training junior sailors in West Cork close to the sailing mecca of Schull.
From the South West to the North Channel, Ballyholme/Donaghadee’s Dan McGaughey was named Youth Sailor of the Year for his incredible podium performance in the gold fleet at the Topper World Championships in Loctudy, France last August, where he finished third amid a top-class junior field.
The 34-year-old from Belfast Lough was one half of Ireland’s most successful skiff duo in the 49er dinghy with Carrickfergus helm Ryan Season, the pair competing at London 2012 and Rio 2016. McGovern was most recently mounting a new campaign with 2013 Laser youth champion Robbie Gilmore.
In his address earlier in the evening, Irish Sailing president Jack Roy emphasised that as much as high achievements in sailing have a place in the sport, “for most of us it’s about getting on the water, whatever your level of expertise.”
Citing the so-called ‘Annalise effect’, Roy noted “a bounce in the number of people sailing around the country last year.” In Irish Sailing’s Try Sailing initiative for 2017, half of those participating were women, and more than half were aged under 18 — showing the potential for growth is there.
Roy also took time to thank “the everyday heroes who don’t always get recognised by awards and trophies: the volunteers who dedicate so much time, energy and passion to our sport, and who share their knowledge and expertise with other sailors. Quite simply, our sport cannot function without them.”
Hosted once more by master of ceremonies Fiona Bolger, the night as always welcomed guests from Irish club and high performance sailing, including Irish Sailing's youth and Olympic squads, national champions at all levels, class captains, club commodores, previous Sailors of the Year, and world and Olympic competitors.
There was a stron turnout from Royal Cork Yacht Club, now under new Admiral Pat Farnan. RCYC flag officers Colin Moorhead, Kieran O’Connell and Gavin Deane were in attendance, while Howth Yacht Club Commodore Joe McPeake was in attendance with Brian Turvey, chair of Howth’s New Wave Regatta.
Representing Dun Laoghaire’s waterfront was National Yacht Club Commodore Ronan Beirne with Vice Commodore Martin McCarthy and club archivist Frank Burgess, as well Alistair, Muriel and Kenneth Rumball of the INSS.
Nobby Reilly, formerly of ICRA; Peter Ryan of ISORA; Chris and Sandra Moore of the DBSC; and ICRA Commodore Simon McGibney were also in attendance, as was Irish Coast Guard chief Chris Reynolds following his return in 2017 from secondment to the Horn of Africa.
Hosted by Irish Sailing with Afloat magazine, the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards aim to highlight the breadth of sailing across the country.
Afloat’s awards have been running since 1996, recognising over 500 Irish sailors in that time, says editor David O’Brien.
“[The awards] were originally formulated to bring a bigger profile to sailing achievements that do not get their fair share of the media coverage,” he adds. “Now these achievements are reaching a wider audience than ever before.”
Afloat.ie topped over 1.2 million visitors in 2017 — an audience the publication is eager to share with Ireland’s sailing community.
“Afloat.ie wants to work with every club and every class in the country,” says O’Brien. “Please get in touch.”