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Irish solo sailor Tom Dolan has been named Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year for 2020 in recognition of his fifth overall and best ever Irish result in the year's La Solitaire du Figaro Race, amid another landmark 12 months for inspiring performances in Irish sailing against all the odds thrown up in the pandemic.

September’s Sailor of the Month was announced as the overall winner at tonight's Irish Sailing Awards that was celebrated online due to COVID-19

Dolan was announced from a line up of 26 individual sailors and pairings who have excelled in their respective disciplines, be it offshore, dinghy, cruising, windsurfing, or sailing administration.

Even when Tom Dolan had been down the numbers in the early stages of one of the early legs of the four-stage 2,000 mile Figaro Race in September, Dolan and his boat were soon eating their way up through the fleet in any situation which demanded difficult tactical decisions. His fifth overall at the finish – the highest-placed non-French sailor and winner of the Vivi Cup – had him right among the international elite in one of 2020's few major events.

Tom Dolan, posted Ireland's best ever results in the 2020 La Solitaire du FigaroTom Dolan, posted Ireland's best ever results in the 2020 La Solitaire du Figaro Photo: Alexis Courcoux

The 33-year-old who has lived in Concarneau, Brittany since 2009 but grew up on a farm in rural County Meath came into the gruelling four-stage race aiming to get into the top half of the fleet and to underline his potential to Irish sailing administrators considering the selection process for the 2024 Olympic Mixed Double Offshore category which comes in for the Paris games.

Tom Dolan's foiling FigaroTom Dolan's foiling Figaro, 'Smurfit Kappa'

Having worked hard on his mental approach in the early season, Dolan made an excellent start by leading the 624 miles first stage across the Celtic Sea before Fastnet Rock. He lost four places on the approach to the light and more on the long run and reach to the finish, but the 10th place finish was a foundation to build on. He followed up with a solid 11th in the second stage and his career-best seventh on the last stage ensured he was fifth going into the last leg which could not be sailed.

It was a bravo performance achieved alone on foreign waters, such is the lot of the solo sailor. Tonight's big prize, however, underlines to the Meathman that the Irish sailing community is with him all the way. 

WM Nixon will profile Tom Dolan, the Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year 2020 in his weekly blog here on Saturday

Inclusion Award

In other awards made on the night, Pat Ryan of Galway Bay Sailing Club won the Irish Sailing Inclusion Award, given to someone who develops participation for people with all types of abilities so that they can experience sailing. Ryan was a volunteer with the Sailability Programme which ran throughout the pandemic and got children with disabilities out sailing. During lockdown we are all at risk of becoming isolated and institutionalised at home, and this is particularly so for some people with a disability. The judges were impressed that a safe and controlled environment was created for all the Sailability volunteers and participants – and this crucial and perhaps unexpected lifeline was made possible by Pat's perseverance and vision. To quote one of the young sailors, ‘Sailability helps me feel physically empowered and has provided me a welcome, social, inclusive and accepting environment where I can be myself. This has been a lifeline to me during the pandemic.’

Volunteer Award

The Irish Sailing Volunteer of the Year Award was reintroduced this year and won by John Leahy of Dun Laoghaire Harbour for his work during the pandemic with the Cruising Association of Ireland. He won out of dozens of nominations entered by the public from around the country. From the moment the pandemic hit John provided a constant stream of communication for CAI sailors – that on the surface looked like talks, presentations and Whatsapp groups, but in reality strengthened the bonds of their community and helped people enormously in a time of great crisis, loneliness and fear. As one person wrote “John’s dedication to support us is commendable and no doubt helped some with the solitude they found themselves in”.

Leadership Award

Another Galway resident recognised for their long volunteering career was Nancy Roe of Galway City Sailing Club who won the inaugural Irish Sailing Leadership Award, a brand new award to recognise leadership and vision. Nancy won the award on the basis of her long-term commitment to making sailing accessible to all – particularly families and young people including the disadvantaged or disabled or those with no previous experience.

Eve McMahon, youth sailor of the year Eve McMahon, youth sailor of the year

Youth Sailor Award

17-year-old Eve McMahon of Howth won Youth Sailor of the Year for the second year in a row on the basis of her performance at the Laser European Championships in Gdansk in Poland. This was her first senior event and she was the youngest competitor in the field by some way. Eve is now a training partner with the Irish Sailing Team and sails alongside Annalise Murphy and Aoife Hopkins.

Senior Instructor Award

Sligo featured heavily in the line-up with Sarah Nicholson of Sligo Yacht Club winning Irish Sailing Senior Instructor of the Year.

Training Centre of the Year

Wild West Sailing based in Sligo winning Irish Sailing Training Centre of the Year. The Oysterhaven Centre in Cork won the Irish Sailing Sustainability Award.

President's Award

And Ron Hutchieson won the annual President’s Award for his voluntary work with the Laser Association spanning over 40 years.

Published in Tom Dolan

Tonight from 7 pm, Irish Sailing in an 'online ceremony' will reveal the 2020 winner of the Irish Sailor of the Year award.

Selected from a shortlist of sailors who have already earned monthly awards, the Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year Award will be presented tonight as part of tonight online Irish Sailing Awards hosted by the Irish Sailing Association.

The annual battle for Sailor of the Year is drawn from an impressive list and an overall winner has been selected by the Sailor of the Year Judges.

Afloat Sailors of the Month 2020 kept our sport going through adversity is the view of Winkie Nixon in his review of a line up of 26 individual sailors and pairings who have excelled in their respective disciplines, be it offshore, dinghy, cruising, windsurfing, or sailing administration.

This year's award marks the 25th anniversary of the scheme,  a milestone Afloat honoured last weekend with a roll-out of the outright overall winners of the past 24 years.

The 2020 Irish Sailing Awards are taking place online and you can attend the virtual event, click this link here.

Published in Sailor of the Year
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In these long-lived times, a Silver Jubilee is not what it used to be in an era when Golden Jubilees, Centenaries, Tricentenaries and whatever you're having yourself are cascading around us in an almost continuous nostalgia-fest.

Nevertheless the healthy Quarter Century of the "Sailor of the Year" contest deserves celebration, as it has evolved since its inception to give a true reflection of Irish sailing in all its historic and extraordinary variety. And it has done this by being based on monthly awards which – at an early stage – weren't found to be enough to truly reflect our sport's exceptional diversity, and so in some months the adjudicators have allocated two or even three awards.

Thus although this weekend we honour the outright overall winners of the past 24 years, we do so in the knowledge that each of them represents the tip of a decidedly impressive iceberg which, in a busy year, will have seen between twenty and thirty very special sailors honoured for exceptional achievements that, in the one month when they shone with extra vigour, were genuinely incomparable.

Failure is an orphan, but success has many parents. Yet as it happens, there really were several inputs for the creation of Ireland's "Sailor of the Year" competition back in the winter of 1995-96, for it was something whose time had clearly come.

In September 1995 John Lavery and David O'Brien of the National YC had won the Fireball Worlds in Dublin Bay, and as winter drew in, they were invited to the glitzy Texaco All-Star Sports Awards in Dublin, where the attendees had been selected by the sports editors of the national newspapers.

David O'Brien and John Lavery on their way to winning the Fireball Worlds in Dublin Bay, September 1995David O'Brien and John Lavery on their way to winning the Fireball Worlds in Dublin Bay, September 1995. The celebration of their success at the Texaco All-Star Sports Awards two months later played a role in the creation of the Sailor of the Year contest based on monthly awards in 1996

As it happened, there had already been a sailing presence in this gala ceremony back in 1974 when Bill Whisker of Ballyholme was there as the GP14 World Champion. But generally sailing was seldom represented, and the two Fireball stars of 1995 got to thinking of how our sport might have its own All Stars Annual event, where people from widely different sailing disciplines might get together to celebrate our sometimes crazy world of people who sail boats.

Meanwhile, the formidably effective Deirdre Farrell, Press Officer for the rapidly expanding Irish Distillers, was receptive to ideas for a broader involvement with sailing sponsorship. For although she ran the boisterous prize-giving for the biennial Round Ireland Race, she'd been particularly impressed with the turnout at the Round Ireland Sailing Record Gala Dinner which Cork Dry Gin sponsored at the National YC in November 1993 to celebrate the new and truly astonishing record set by Steve Fossett, Con Murphy, Cathy Mac Aleavey and their shipmates in the 60ft trimaran Lakota.

The celebration of Lakota's 1993 Round Ireland Record with an impressive assembly of sailors from many backgrounds in the NYC in November 1993 contributed to shaping the template for subsequent "Sailor of the Year" award ceremonies. Photo shows (left to right) Con Murphy, Cathy Mac Aleavey, Steve Fossett, David Scully and Brian Thompson The celebration of Lakota's 1993 Round Ireland Record with an impressive assembly of sailors from many backgrounds in the NYC in November 1993 contributed to shaping the template for subsequent "Sailor of the Year" award ceremonies. Photo shows (left to right) Con Murphy, Cathy Mac Aleavey, Steve Fossett, David Scully and Brian Thompson

It was something which had to be put into perspective to give it meaning, so in the early Autumn of 1993, Deirdre Farrell worked in conjunction with what was then print Afloat Magazine to extract a list of developing round Ireland sailing times going back to the 19th Century. Those who were in that list and still happily with us were invited along to a unique one-off event, whose participants reflected an even more diverse Irish sailing scene than that provided by the Round Ireland Race prize-givings. For instance, we'd the likes of Steve Fossett of Lakota rubbing shoulders with Rob Henshall from Fermanagh, who'd gone round Ireland unaccompanied on a Bic Sailboard, and there were legendary deep-sea cruisers who hadn't thought in terms of racing or records for years.

That was an inspirational memory, and it was fascinating how, when an idea's time has arrived, it can take shape with lightning speed. All-encompassing monthly awards were clearly the way to go in building up a "Sailor of the Year", and a link-up with the Irish Independent newspaper - for which I wrote a weekly sailing column for more than thirty years - gave it extra heft when allied to the "central command" of Afloat Magazine with realistic support from Cork Dry Gin.

The first "Sailor of the Year", Mark Lyttle is seen in training in Dublin Bay for the 1996 OlympicsThe first "Sailor of the Year", Mark Lyttle is seen in training in Dublin Bay for the 1996 Olympics. Photo: O'Brien

Still at it….Mark Lyttle in Dublin Bay September 2018, immediately after winning the Premier Division in the World Laser MastersStill at it….Mark Lyttle in Dublin Bay September 2018, immediately after winning the Premier Division in the World Laser Masters

Much has changed since, but the line of the "Sailors of the Month" has been a strong and steady golden thread which now – 25 years on – has in its time given a well-deserved place in the spotlight to more than 600 individual monthly winners, all of whom - as the competition realized its full potential and the awards ceremony took on a smooth-running structure – will have been present at one of the annual gatherings when the gongs were distributed and the overall winner emerged.

Quite a few of them were, of course, to win monthly awards in several years, and two very special sailors have won the annual overall award twice – Anthony O'Leary of Crosshaven in 2010 and 2014, and Annalise Murphy of Dun Laoghaire in 2012 and 2016. But much and all as we'd like to mention all the 600 or so sailors who have featured in the monthly awards since 1996, in this age of brief concentration spans, the 24 winners until now will be quite enough to be going along with for today:

Mark Mansfield of Crosshaven was overall winner in 1999Mark Mansfield of Crosshaven was overall winner in 1999


1996 MARK LYTTLE (Dun Laoghaire)

Top Irish Laser sailor at home and abroad, successful debut at Atlanta Olympics including race win. (He was subsequently winner in World Laser Masters in Dun Laoghaire, 2018 – sailing is truly a sport for life).

1997 TOM ROCHE (Dun Laoghaire)

Top-scoring skipper in best-ever Irish Admirals Cup Team, placing fourth overall in thirteen teams

1998 TOM FITZPATRICK & DAVID McHUGH (Howth & Wicklow)

Top Irish 470 sailors at home and abroad

1999 MARK MANSFIELD (Crosshaven)

1720 European Champion in big-fleet event, All Ireland Helmsman's Champion

2000 DAVID BURROWS (Malahide)

Top Irish Finn, race-winning performance in Sydney Olympics 

David Burrows of Malahide, Sailor of the Year 2000David Burrows of Malahide, Sailor of the Year 2000. With the Internet still in its infancy, it was amazing how much info and promise you could cram into a magazine cover

2001 MARIA COLEMAN (Baltimore)

Olympic Women's contender, ranked second in world in Europe Class by ISAF

2002 ERIC LISSON (Crosshaven)

Round Ireland winner with multi-champion Cavatina

2003 NOEL BUTLER & STEPHEN CAMPION (Dun Laoghaire & Swords)

Laser 2 World Champions

2004 EAMONN CROSBIE (Dun Laoghaire)

Round Ireland Winner and multiple offshore champion with Ker 32 Voodoo Chile 

Maria Coleman of Baltimore was the first female Sailor of the year after an ISAF global ranking of second in the Women's Europe ClassMaria Coleman of Baltimore was the first female Sailor of the year after an ISAF global ranking of second in the Women's Europe Class

2005 JARLATH CUNNANE & PADDY BARRY (Mayo, Connemara & Dun Laoghaire)

Circuit of Arctic Ocean with self-built expedition yacht Northabout

2006 JUSTIN SLATTERY (Wexford & Kinsale)

World-class professional offshore sailor, on winning boat twice in Volvo Ocean Race

2007 GER O'ROURKE (Kilrush & Limerick)

Overall winner 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race, also class winner Sydney-Hobart Race and second overall Transtlantic Race with Cookson 50 Chieftain 

Ger O'Rourke of Limerick helms his Cookson 50 Chieftain to the finish line to become overall winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2007Ger O'Rourke of Limerick helms his Cookson 50 Chieftain to the finish line to become overall winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race 2007

2008 DAMIAN FOXALL (Derrynane, Co Kerry)

Overall winner and co-skipper with Jean-Pierre Dick in Barcelona World Race

2009 MARK MILLS (Wicklow)

Rapidly-rising international design star, particularly successful in emerging Southeast Asia market

2010 – ANTHONY O'LEARY (Crosshaven)

Team Captain and Boat Skipper for Ireland's first Commodore's Cup win

2011 - GEORGE KENEFICK (Crosshaven)

Multiple success across several disciplines including All Ireland Helmsman's Championship

2012 - ANNALISE MURPHY (Dun Laoghaire)

Fourth place in Women's Laser Radials in London Olympics, was in lead for first three days.

2013 - DAVID KENEFICK (Crosshaven)

Figaro Solo "Rookie of the Year", aged just 22 

David Kenefick (22) of Crosshaven racing his Figaro 2 FullIrish to be Rookie of the Year in the 2013 Figaro SoloDavid Kenefick (22) of Crosshaven racing his Figaro 2 FullIrish to be Rookie of the Year in the 2013 Figaro Solo

2014 - ANTHONY O'LEARY (Crosshaven)

Captain and boat skipper with Irish Commodore's Cup team in regaining trophy

2015 - LIAM SHANAHAN (Dun Laoghaire)

Winner of Dun Laoghaire-Dingle race and ICRA Boat of Year with family-campaigned J/109 Ruth

2016 - ANNALISE MURPHY (Dun Laoghaire)

Silver Medal in Women's Laser Radial at Rio de Janeiro Olympics

2017 - CONOR FOGERTY (Howth)

Class and handicap winner in Single-Handed Transatlantic race with Sunfast 3600 Bam

2018 – ROBERT DICKSON & SEAN WADDILOVE (Howth, Lough Ree & Skerries)

Gold Medal in Int. 49er U23 Worlds

2019 - PAUL O'HIGGINS (Dun Laoghaire)

With JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI, ICRA Boat of Year, ISORA Champion, and winner Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race

2016 winner Annalise Murphy with the new 2017 winner Conor Fogerty at the awards ceremony in the RDS2016 winner Annalise Murphy with the new 2017 winner Conor Fogerty at the awards ceremony in the RDS, February 2018. Photo: Brian Turvey

Next week we'll know who is the Silver Jubilee winner, but for now some memories of winners and awards ceremonies won't go amiss when current circumstances prevent the physical presence of both.

For there certainly was a time back in the early noughties, in an era when Cork Dry Gin were still allowed to sponsor sporting events, when the annual gathering in the theatre and socialising area in the Visitors Centre at the Jameson Distillery in Dublin was a major Springtime event which knocked the winter for six, and accelerated the planning and anticipation for the new season.

Indeed, it became such a fixture that we found ourselves being drawn into the world of high diplomacy. As Anglo-Irish relations thawed after the Good Friday agreement of 1998, there was increasing talk of a Royal Visit to Ireland, and the powers-that-be were casting around for events which could accommodate preliminary visits by junior royals to test the waters. Princess Anne was noted for her interest in sailing, and gradually the idea took shape that she might do the honours at the "Sailor of the Year" awards up at the Distillery.

2003 Laser 2 World Champions Stephen Campion and Noel Butler with Anne, Princess Royal, at the 2003 Sailor of the Year  Awards ceremony2003 Laser 2 World Champions Stephen Campion and Noel Butler with Anne, Princess Royal, at the 2003 Sailor of the Year Awards ceremony in the Jameson Centre, February 2004

It was a very Irish solution to a potentially tricky international sticking point. But the Princess Royal is a good sport, seemingly game for anything, and if boats are involved so much the better. As for the setup at Irish Distillers, they had Deirdre Farrell on top of her form to ensure that all went smoothly, which it duly did. So much so, in fact, that we have the photo from the ceremony of 2004 when Noel Butler and Stephen Campion received the big award of 2003 for their Laser 2 World Title as though a presenting Guest of Honour of this calibre was par for the course.

It was leading into a time time when the Irish economy was accelerating so rapidly that in one crazy year we'd no less than three different Irish Commodore's Cup teams, and it wasn't until people slowed down with the "new economics" of 2008-2009 that things became focused, resources were better utilized, and Anthony O'Leary assembled and led a pared-back team which did the business in 2010 – Ireland had finally won the Commodore's Cup, and he became clear Sailor of the Year

However, the economy was taking so long to emerge from the crash of 2009 that Ireland by-passed the 2012 series, but came back with a bang in 2014 with O'Leary leading again to such good effect that the Commodore's Cup was ours once more, and he was the first to become Sailor of the Year twice.

That said, in the missed year of 2012 another rising talent ably filled the gap. Annalise Murphy had been right on track for medal honours at the 2012 London/Weymouth Olympics until the final race – staged absurdly close to the flukey shore to facilitate spectators – became such a lottery that she did well to hang on to fourth in the final tally. But that brought the National YC star a deserved Sailor of the Year title which she replicated in style in the Rio Olympics by taking the Silver and becoming the second person to register the double in the "Sailor of the Year" listings.

Yet although racing inevitably dominates the single yearly title, the monthly awards reflect every aspect of our life afloat, and in 2005, cruising finally came out tops. It was a hectic year, as Peter Killen of Malahide and his merry men were making a pioneering cruise of the Antarctic with the Amel Super Maramu Pure Magic. But at the other end of the planet, Jarlath Cunnane and Paddy Barry on the former's own-built expedition yacht Northabout were in process of completing their circuit of the Arctic Ocean, and when Northabout successfully returned to Clew Bay in October, they became hot favourites for the 2005 Sailors of the Year title.

The contrast in Sailor of the Year winning boat types – Arctic circumnavigator Northabout (Jarlath Cunnane & Paddy Barry) returns to Clew Bay and the benign presence of Croagh Patrick in October 2005The contrast in Sailor of the Year winning boat types – Arctic circumnavigator Northabout (Jarlath Cunnane & Paddy Barry) returns to Clew Bay and the benign presence of Croagh Patrick in October 2005………Photo: Rory CaseyRobert Dickson and Sean Waddilove get up a head of steam to win the 49er U23 Worlds at Marseille in September  2018 …..and Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove get up a head of steam to win the 49er U23 Worlds at Marseille in September 2018

Inevitably the health of the national economic cycle plays a role in sailing activity, and in 2009 things were barely on tickover on Irish waters. But there were green shoots and fresh opportunities elselwhere, and international County Wicklow-based yacht designer Mark Mills – who had first leapt to fame in 1996 with Aztec for Peter Beamish of Dun Laoghaire, where the boat is still based but now called Raptor - grasped opportunities in southeast Asia and other localised hotspots of economic vitality such as the Mediterranean.

He did so with his boats gaining so much race success that he became Sailor of the Year, an unusual but popular choice which has been reflected in 2020 when he became Sailor of the Month in April for international awards when lockdown was preventing practically all other sailing.

But for the most part, it has been actual sailing which has won out, and inevitably it has been racing which sets the pace and wins the gongs. Looked at overall, the home ports of our Sailors of the Year reflect the focusing of the numbers, with the main centres figuring significantly in a listing in which both Crosshaven and Dun Laoghaire provide double winners. But it is Crosshaven which has two siblings as winners with George and David Kenefick, and within two years of each other too.

However, in taking the complete overview, if you really want to give one of your male offspring a head start in the long race to become the "Sailor of the Year", you might do well to think favourably of calling him Mark or David……

Meanwhile, here's a final detailed look at the 2020 lineup, for which voting concluded on January 30th

Published in W M Nixon
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Who gets your vote as Afloat Sailor of the Year 2020? Afloat Sailors of the Month 2020 kept our sport going through adversity is the view of Winkie Nixon in his review of a line up of 26 individual sailors and pairings who have excelled in their respective disciplines, be it offshore, dinghy, cruising, windsurfing, or sailing administration.

In February, our judging panel will announce the Sailor of the Year  — and you can have your say by voting in our poll on any page of the Afloat website.

As in previous years, the boating public and maritime community can have their say to help guide judges in deciding who should be crowned Ireland's Sailor of the Year for 2020 by using our online poll (see right of this page). The judges welcome the traditional 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.

Please note: One vote per person. Your vote DOES NOT necessarily determine the overall winner.

The national award is specially designed to salute the achievements of Ireland's sailing's elite. After two decades the awards has developed into 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 2020.

You can read more from Afloat's WM Nixon here.

By supporting your favourite nominee you are creating additional awareness of their nomination and highlighting their success.

Voting online is open to public view from Monday, January 11 until Saturday, January 30th 2020.

CLICK THE LINK ON EACH SAILORS' NAME TO READ THEIR ACHIEVEMENT FROM 2020 AND VOTE FOR YOUR SAILOR in the right-hand column (on desktop machines) and below on tablet and mobile.


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 over 25 years ago the awards have recognised nearly 500 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 Month
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Tonight at 6.30 pm, Afloat along with Irish Sailing in an 'online ceremony' will be revealing the 2019 winner of the Sailor of the Year award. Selected from a shortlist of sailors who have already earned monthly awards, the Irish Sailing/Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year Award will be profiled on Afloat. 

The annual battle for Sailor of the Year is drawn from an impressive list which includes young sailors like Harry Durcan, James Dwyer Matthews and siblings Eve and Jamie McMahon who have shown impressive form throughout 2019; offshore champion Paul O’Higgins who has won the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle race two years in a row; Cork’s Anthony O’Leary representing Ireland in keelboats internationally; school and university captains Lucy McCutcheon, Mark Hassett and Jack Fahy showing the young talent in team racing; windsurfer Oisin van Gelderen who continues to break speed records, alongside those who have dedicated their lives to sailing – like Pierce Purcell of Galway who was a founder of Galway Bay Sailing Club, Gary MacMahon who lead a 20-year project to repatriate and restore the wooden ketch “Ilen” now used for community-based education and sailing projects, and Cormac MacDonncha who organised the Galway-Lorient Cruise in Company.

For a full review of the 2019 Sailors of the Month read W M Nixon here.

Update at 6.30pm: Congratulations to Paul O’Higgins, Irish Sailor of the Year.  Click to read a profile of the winner by W M Nixon here.

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Saturday 21 March is the date for Irish Sailing’s 2020 National Conference, AGM and Irish Sailing Awards at the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire.

This year the governing body is bringing all aspects of sailing here under one roof, with a choice of three conferences taking place simultaneously throughout the day.

Firstly, the Race Management and Support Conference will cover the promotion of racing, policies and race management training. It is open to anyone involved in events, not just race officials.

Meanwhile, the Training Conference has sessions that include preparing for the sailing season, developing instructors, improving standards and making the most of the Irish Sailing Passport. This conference is open to all training management, volunteers and instructors.

And all club management and volunteers are invited to the Club Symposium, for the sharing of ideas to promote sailing and with sessions on sustainability, inclusion and diversity, grant applications, bursaries, and new programmes from Irish Sailing.

Following the conferences, Irish Sailing’s AGM will take place at the Martello Suite, which in turn will be followed by a reception and the Irish Sailing Awards — decided from’s Sailors of the Month in 2019 — in the Carlisle Suite.

Booking for each conference and for the Irish Sailing Awards is now available online, and special rates have been arranged at local hotels for those who wish to make a night of it.

Published in ISA

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 presented at a ceremony in Dun Laoghaire on March 21st 2020.

2 gonzaga sailing2A new year of sailing gets underway in January with a new inter-schools trophy, the Shanahan Cup, donated by 2015 Sailor of the Year Liam Shanahan. He seen here fourth from right with the winning Gonzaga College Team at the hosting Irish National Sailing Club, part of the INSS in Dun Laoghaire


Jack Fahy

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 “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


Pierce Purcell (Services to Sailing)

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.

3 pierce purcell3Pierce Purcell has been central to the development of Galway Bay sailing for more than fifty years4 donal walsh4Donal Walsh of Dungarvan successfully dealt with some decidedly rugged weather during his accomplished award-winning cruise to seven countries in northwest Europe.


Donal Walsh (Cruising)

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.


Rob & Peter O'Leary

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.

5 rob peter oleary sailing5Racing an International Star at world level is a unique challenge, but Royal Cork’s Rob and Peter O’Leary are very much up for it


Harry Durcan

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.

6 cit sailing california6 The Cork Institute of Technology team helmed by Harry Durcan at the US Intervarsity Invitationals 2019 in California, when they took the Bronze Medal

7 james dwyer matthews rcyckyc7James Dwyer Matthews in command in brisk conditions at Howth, on his way to his second major victory of the year in August, when he added the Irish Open Optimist title to his win in the British Spring Opens in March


James Dwyer Matthews (Junior)

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 Sailor of the Month Junior Title. The August success in Ireland was the icing on the cake.

8 lucy mccutcheon ucd team8The UCD team (captain Lucy McCutcheon third right) in celebratory mood at Lough Key in Marc


Lucy McCutcheon (Team Racing)

Lucy McCutcheon, Commodore and Team Sailing Captain of University College Dublin SC, became the “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. 

9 jamie mcmahon9White-water sailing….April winner Jamie McMahon in action. Photo: O’Brien


Jamie McMahon (Junior)

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 (Junior)

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.

10 eve mcmahon10Eve McMahon’s emergence as top girl sailor in the Laser Radials at the Irish Youth Nationals in April was only the beginning – in July she went on to take U17 Gold at the Laser Youth Worlds in Canada

11 finn lynch portrait11Solo campaigner Finn Lynch has muscled up with numerous contests and training worldwide


Finn Lynch (Olympic)

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.

12 andrew craig with cup12Birthday boy. Andrew Craig with the trophy for the overall winner of the Scottish Series. When he was declared Sailor of the Month for May on June 1st, it turned out this was his birthday.


Andrew Craig

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.

13 paul ohiggins dingle13That winning feeling…..Paul O’Higgins aboard his JPK 1080 Rockabill VI in Dingle in June after successfully defending the title in the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race. Photo: Dominick Walsh/D2D


Paul O’Higgins (Offshore)

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.

14 ruth shanahan family14The Shanahan family’s J/109 Ruth at the start of the Dun Laoghaire-Dingle Race, skippered by 19-year-old Tom Shanahan. Photo: O’Brien


Tom Shanahan (Junior)

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.


Caroline Gore-Grimes (National Championships)

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.

15 dux racing15DUX, skippered by Caroline Gore-Grimes to become overall champion in the Frank Keane ICRA Nationals 2019. Photo: O’Brien16 whelan eleuthera dublin bay16Frank Whelan at the helm of his Grand Soleil 44 Eleuthera preparing for foredeck action. Photo: O’Brien


Frank Whelan (Inshore)

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.


David Gorman & Chris Doorly

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 “Sailors of the Month” for July.

17 chris doorly dave gorman17 Powering along – Chris Doorly and Dave Gorman revelling in Flying Fifteen racing Photo:

18 j24s 2019 lough erne18“Freshwater ocean….” The J24s in their 2019 Nationals on the broad expanse of Lower Lough Erne


Cillian Dickson (Keelboats)

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.


Shane McCarthy & Damien Bracken (Dinghies)

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.

19 bracken mccarthy19Experienced duo – Damien Bracken (left) and Shane McCarthy, Irish GP 14 Champions 2019
20 chris and olin bateman sailing20Chris & Olin Bateman powering along to victory in the National Junior Championship in Schull at the end of September. Photo INPHO/Bryan Keane


Chris & Olin Bateman (Junior)

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.

21 ilen baily21The restored 1926 56ft ketch Ilen – her traditional square sail to Conor O’Brien’s own design proved its worth on the voyage home to Ireland from Greenland. Photo: Gary Mac Mahon
23 gary macmahon nuuk23Ilen Project Director Gary Mac Mahon aboard the restored ship in Nuuk in Greenland. Photo: Chelsea Canavan


Gary MacMahon & Paddy Barry (Voyaging)

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.

22 paddy barry mountains22Paddy Barry, a man of the mountains and the sea and high latitude voyaging


Anthony O’Leary (Racing)

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.

24 anthony oleary helmsperson24Anthony O’Leary credits his many years of successful 1720 racing for his expertise in quickly learning the ways of the new Mark Mills-designed IC 37


Michael O’Connor

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.

25 oconnor and taylor25 Michael O’Connor (right) 73rd winner of the Annual All-Ireland Helmsmans Championship, with his shipmate Davy Taylor (left) celebrating his second all-Ireland win as a crewman. Photo: Irish Sailing/David Branigan

David Taylor (Special Award)

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.


Rocco Wright (Junior)

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.

26 rocco wright racing26 Rocco Wright in the Optimist North Americans 2019, in which he placed second.

Click here for November and December 2019 award winners. 

The and Irish Sailing Sailor of the Month Awards and the Irish Sailor of the Year Award will be presented in March 2020

Published in W M Nixon

#SailorOfTheYear - Robert Dickson and Seán Waddilove have been named Afloat Irish Sailors of the Year for 2018 in recognition of their gold medal victory in the 49er U23 Junior World Championships, amid another landmark 12 months for inspiring performances in Irish sailing.

September’s Olympic Sailors of the Month were presented with their 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 8 February).

Robert Dickson (21) of Howth and Seán Waddilove (20) of Skerries rose to the challenge in Marseille last August and September as they battled a strong international field — and a Mistral at full strength — to score their first world gold, and their first major win.

“HowthHowth YC Commodore Joe McPeake (centre) at the reception to welcome home the new gold medallists Robert Dickson (left) and Sean Waddilove | Photo: Ian Dickson

It was down to the wire at the climax of the final race on Saturday 1 September as the Dublin duo led a chasing pack in the fleet of 52 boats.

However, their placing was no surprise to anyone following the former 420 pair’s performance during their week on the Cote D’Azur, with seven results out of their first nine races in the top five — and all that after starting out on only two days of training, with Robert levelled by a bout of food poisoning.

Going into the final day as leaders no doubt piled on the pressure, which must have doubled when gear failure in their 10th race saw them slip down the finish order.

But according to Robert, the pair played it cool. “We were still leading the regatta by three points which we didn’t know at the time,” he told “We never think about points. We need a clear mind to carry out our jobs on the water.”

What a job it was, too — and a testament to their skill and steely nerve that after that humbling stumble, they recovered to win the final and claim Ireland’s first ever major victory of their age group in the skiff class.

It was also vindication of more than year of extraordinarily hard work put in by both young men, after injury felled Seán in early 2017 and almost scuppered their campaign for the 2020 Olympics.

Far from it, the signs now look exceedingly bright for a stellar performance in Tokyo next year.

According to the International 49er Class — whose president Marcus Spillane must be delighted at his home nation’s achievements — the academy set-up in Ireland has been key to this country’s boost in competitiveness in the skiff. 

Despite the departure of Saskia Tidey to Team GB slowing down Irish 49erFX ambitions, on the men’s side the squad has grown since the split of Rio challengers Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern, the former forging a new partnership with Seafra Guilfoyle for Tokyo 2020 (McGovern retired last year and is now high performance manager with RYA NI). 

And indeed, Robert and Seán are an integral part of this growth.

Recounting for his and Seán’s path to the title, Robert explains that for both it began well before any world-class ambitions. 

Each got into sailing as a child at club level, Robert sailing an Optimist alongside family in Lough Ree while Sean got his start via a taster course in Skerries. 

As their talent shone through and competitions became a matter of course, the two would meet and become friends on the national circuit, forming a bond as their success soon took them abroad. 

And after joining Irish Sailing’s Olympic Pathway in the Oppy class, it made perfect sense that they would team up to progress to the 420 class — in which they started training in their Transition Year — and then two years later to the 49er, often regarded as the ‘Formula 1’ of dinghy racing.

“Training with the 49er Development Squad and having a 100% committed coach makes training much more effective,” says Robert. “You can train solo but it’s not as effective as having a group of boats around you, pushing each other on and off the water to strive to be the best. This medal was certainly a team effort!”

That team, past and present, includes former 49er Development Team coach Tytus Konarzewski, Thomas Chaix, Ross Killian, ex-Olympic duo Ger Owens and Scott Flanigan, Graeme Grant, Philippe Boudgourd, John and David White, and sports physio Mark McCabe at SportsMed Ireland.

And that’s not to mention Robert and Sean’s families and fellow sailors, supportive clubs and sporting bodies — and their colleges that allow them to work classes and assignments around their full-on training schedule.

To confirm a suggestion proffered by the 49er class, the investment made in creating Olympic contenders like Laser Radial silver medallist (and 2016 Sailor of the Year) Annalise Murphy has indeed — in the success of Robert Dickson and Seán Waddilove — been leveraged in bringing the next generation of youth and junior talent into the top levels of their age categories.

WM Nixon will have a profile of the 2018’s Afloat Sailors of the Year as well as the many worthy nominees in his Sailing on Saturday column, available later tonight right here on

“GuestsGuests taking their seats at the 2018 Volvo Irish Sailing Awards | Photo: David O’Brien

Robert and Seán topped another incredible field of nominees for 2018, among them faces recognised from 2017’s shortlist and years previous, as well as a fellow Olympic contender.

Liam Glynn was a Sailor of the Month in July for his bronze at the U21 Laser Worlds, while Peter and Rob O’Leary were stars in the Star class. Wins at home and abroad put Justin Lucas on our radar, as was Irish Topper number one Hugh O’Connor, and Firefly duo Atlee Kohn and Jonathan O’ShaugnnessyBrendan Lyden captained UCC1 to victory at the University Sailing Association Team Championship.

Last year’s Sailor of the Year Conor Fogerty made the list again for his runaway victory in Class 3 at the RORC Caribbean 600 mere days after collecting his Afloat gong.

Tom Dolan topped the rookies in his first Figaro Minitransat, while Barry Byrne skippered the Irish Defence Forces to the top of the corinthian ranks (and second overall) in the Volvo Round Ireland Race, besides a successful defence of the Beaufort Cup at Cork Week.

Niall Dowling took line honours in the Round Ireland, while later in the year Vicky Cox and Peter Dunlop topped the ISORA standings.

The inspirational Enda O’Coineen was no April fool as he completed his delayed circumnavigation for his own personal Vendée Globe milestone.

Pat Kelly and company got off to a flying start on their J/109 Storm, while windsurfer Oisin van Gelderen set new Irish speed records in Luderitz.

Classic boating was ably represented by Ilen restorer Gary MacMahonDave Cullen’s Wave Regatta champion Checkmate XV and Mermaid fan Darragh McCormick, while Darryl Hughes found a fruitful partnership with his vintage ketch Maybird.

Peter Kennedy fought hard to claim his All-Ireland title, Molly Breathnach cruised her way to a spot on the list, Fintan Cairns showed true leadership vision with the DBSC Turkey Shoot, and Donal O’Sullivan bowed out from his role at the same club after decades of unparalleled contributions.

Former sailmaker Ross Kearney is now sailing for the love of it, while Mark Lyttleproved he’s still winning calibre with his Grand Masters title in September.

And Gregor McGuckin got a nod in September for his selfless actions during the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe Race, racing to the aid of the injured Abilash Tomy with his own storm-worn yacht under jury rig.

In the night’s other prizes, Irish Sailing president Jack Roy presented the Senior Instructor Award to Southern Region winner Ellen O’Regan of Schull and the Fastnet Marine & Outdoor Education Centre for her exceptional instructor management abilities and skills.

Bray Sailing Club took one of the night’s two new categories as the Inclusion Award was presented by Gina Griffin to senior instructor Jack Hannon for his work on the Watersports Inclusion Games. The club was also named Training Centre of the Year for 2018 (presented by Cllr Ossian Smyth).

Howth Yacht Club and the Royal Cork Yacht Club shared the inaugural Sustainability Award, presented by Irish Sailing’s new sustainability ambassador Damian Foxall.

And Youth Sailor of the Year, presented by Irish Sports Council chief executive John Treacy, is the National Yacht Club’s Nell Staunton, one of the standouts of Ireland’s Laser Radial youth squad and eighth-place finisher in last summer’s Youth Sailing Worlds in Texas. 

Hosted once more by master of ceremonies Fiona Bolger, the night as always welcomed guests from Irish club and high performance sailing — youth and veteran, professional and corinthian.

Among the 500 people in attendance at the RDS Main Hall were Volvo Car Ireland MD David Thomas and PR and events executive Emma O’Carroll; from RYA NI, chair Jackie Patton (also of the Atlantic Youth Trust) and chief executive Richard Honeyford; and UK Sailmakers’ Barry Hayes.

Representing the Olympic Federation of Ireland were CEO Peter Sherrard, secretary Sarah O’Shea and Colm Barrington, first vice president and former chairman of Irish Sailing’s Olympic Steering Group. 

From the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport were assistant secretary Deirdre O’Keeffe and Peter Horgan, principal officer of sports policy and the National Sports Campus, while Fianna Fáil spokesperson for sport Robert Troy also joined the evening.

From Dun Laoghaire’s waterfront were harbourmaster Simon Coate; National Yacht Club Commodore Ronan Beirne with Vice Commodore Martin McCarthy and club archivist Frank Burgess; Royal Irish YC Commodore Joseph Costello; Royal St George Vice Commodore Peter Bowring; and DMYC Commodore Frank Guilfoyle

Representing the rest of Co Dublin were Dublin Bay Sailing Club’s new honorary secretary Chris Moore; Howth YC’s Vice Commodore Emmet Dalton with the club’s Rear Commodores Paddy J Judge and Ian Malcolm, race officer Richella Carroll and communications officer Brian Turvey; and Malahide YC Commodore Matt Ryan and Rear Commodore Ciaran O’Reilly.

Also in attendance were Bray Sailing Club’s outgoing Commodore Darina Porter, incumbent Boris Fennema, treasurer Torren Gale, and Jack Hannon; Skerries Sailing Club Commodore Kathryn Collins with Vice Commodore Liam O’Callaghan; and Dublin Port Company assistant harbour master Tristan Walsh.

Cork’s flag was flown by Kinsale Yacht Club Commodore David O’Sullivan and Vice Commodore Michael Walsh, along with Baltimore Sailing Club Commodore Niall O’Neill, and Royal Cork’s Admiral Pat Farnan, general manager Gavin Deane and sustainability chair Aoife Deane.

RTÉ broadcaster Fergal Keane; Volvo Ocean Race photographer Brian Carlin; Sailing Into Wellness founder Colin Healy, World Sailing delegates Con Murphy and Paddy Boyd; Nobby Reilly, formerly of ICRA; and former ICRA Commodore Simon McGibney were also in attendance.

Guests were also given a special up-close look at some of the boat models sailed by Ireland’s next generation of high achievers in sailing at home and abroad.

“BoatsBoats on display at the rear of the RDS hall during the 2018 Volvo Irish Sailing Awards | Photo: David O’Brien

Ian O’Meara of Viking Marine and Pierce Purcell Jr and Nicky Bendon of CH Marine represented the dinghy scene presenting Lasers and a Topper respectively, while Kenny Rumball of the Irish National Sailing & Powerboat School brought along a training Optimist and RS Quest — and Gerry Salmon, Joss Walsh and Martin Salmon of yacht broker MGM Boats showed a scale model of the new Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300 that wowed the Paris Boat Show in December.

Hosted by Irish Sailing with Afloat magazine, the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards aim to highlight the breadth of sailing across the country.

Afloat’s Sailor of the Year awards have been running since 1996, recognising over 500 Irish sailors in that time. The awards “were originally formulated to bring a bigger profile to sailing achievements that do not get their fair share of the media coverage,” says editor David O’Brien. “Now these achievements are reaching a wider audience than ever before.” neared 1.3 million visitors in 2018 — an audience the publication is eager to share with Ireland’s sailing community.

“ wants to work with every club and every class in the country,” says O’Brien. “Please get in touch.”

Update Saturday 9 February: This article was corrected to show that Bray Sailing Club won Training Centre of the Year and not Lough Swilly Yacht club as previously indicated.

Published in Sailor of the Year

The wait is nearly over to find out who will be named Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year for 2018 at the star-studded Volvo Irish Sailing Awards in Dublin’s RDS this Friday 8 February.

Once again the country’s finest sailors will be recognised for their achievements across a host of categories including youth sailing, training, inclusion and sustainability.

However, the award most pertinent to readers will be the one they’ve had a hand in selecting from a year of remarkable feats at home and abroad via our online poll of the boating public and maritime community.

Winkie Nixon rounds up the worthy nominees from Sailors of the Month between January and October, while the final list added five more picks from November and December: speed sailor Oisin Van Gelderen; offshore pair Vicky Cox and Peter Dunlop; Donal O’Sullivan, who recently retired as DBSC Honorary Secretary; Dun Laoghaire’s Fintan Cairns; and classic boat sailor Darryl Hughes.

Sailing’s best and brightest won’t be the only VIPs in attendance, as Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Sport Ireland chief John Treacy and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Cathaoirleach Ossian Smyth will be on hand to present awards on the night.

In addition, luminaries from Irish club and high performance sailing, national champions, class captains, club commodores, previous Sailors of the Year, and world and Olympic veterans and hopefuls alike will be among the more than 400 guests gathered at the RDS this Friday night for the annual celebration of excellence in Irish sailing, hosted by returning master of ceremonies Fiona Bolger.

Guests will also have an opportunity to get a special up-close look at some of the very boat models sailed by this year’s award nominees.

The dinghy scene will be represented by chandleries CH Marine and Viking Marine displaying the Laser Radial, Topper and Optimist, while the Irish National Sailing & Powerboat School’s RS200 will also be in the hall — and yacht broker MGM Boats will have a scale model of the new Jeanneau Sun Fast 3300 that wowed the Paris Boat Show in December.

In all it’s shaping up to be another fantastic night toasting the very best sailing in Ireland has to offer — and if you can’t be there in person on the night, be sure to stay tuned to this Friday evening for the announcement of 2018’s Sailor of the Year.

Published in Sailor of the Year

Join Irish Sailing for an evening of celebration at the Volvo Irish Sailing Awards, taking place on Friday 8 February at the RDS, Dublin when the country’s finest sailors are recognised for their achievements.

There are also awards for Training Centre, Senior Instructor, Inclusion, Sustainability and Youth Sailor.

Sailor of the Year

Taken from the Sailors of the Month list which you can find here. You can also cast a vote for your sailor of the year in an online poll on the right-hand column.

Irish Sailing Youth Sailor of the Year - Shortlist

This award is given to a young sailor under the age of 18 who has achieved an excellent performance representing Ireland internationally.

  • Nell Staunton
  • Tom Higgins 
  • Rian Geraghty-McDonnell

Irish Sailing Training Centre of the Year - Shortlist

Given in recognition of outstanding services to training.

  • Western Region winner: Lough Swilly Yacht Club
  • Southern Region winner: Kinsale Outdoor Education Centre
  • Eastern Region winner: Bray Sailing Club

Irish Sailing Senior Instructor of the Year - Shortlist

The Volvo Irish Sailing Senior Instructor of the Year is given in recognition of exceptional instructor management abilities and skills

  • Western Region winner: Andrew Moran, Mayo Sailing Club
  • Southern Region winner: Ellen O’Regan, Fastnet Marine & Outdoor Education Centre
  • Eastern Region winner: Alex Pocock, Blessington Sailing Club

There are limited tickets available – to register please email [email protected] and you can check out our website page for updates, photos and videos here

Published in ISA
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Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) in Ireland Information

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) is a charity to save lives at sea in the waters of UK and Ireland. Funded principally by legacies and donations, the RNLI operates a fleet of lifeboats, crewed by volunteers, based at a range of coastal and inland waters stations. Working closely with UK and Ireland Coastguards, RNLI crews are available to launch at short notice to assist people and vessels in difficulties.

RNLI was founded in 1824 and is based in Poole, Dorset. The organisation raised €210m in funds in 2019, spending €200m on lifesaving activities and water safety education. RNLI also provides a beach lifeguard service in the UK and has recently developed an International drowning prevention strategy, partnering with other organisations and governments to make drowning prevention a global priority.

Irish Lifeboat Stations

There are 46 lifeboat stations on the island of Ireland, with an operational base in Swords, Co Dublin. Irish RNLI crews are tasked through a paging system instigated by the Irish Coast Guard which can task a range of rescue resources depending on the nature of the emergency.

Famous Irish Lifeboat Rescues

Irish Lifeboats have participated in many rescues, perhaps the most famous of which was the rescue of the crew of the Daunt Rock lightship off Cork Harbour by the Ballycotton lifeboat in 1936. Spending almost 50 hours at sea, the lifeboat stood by the drifting lightship until the proximity to the Daunt Rock forced the coxswain to get alongside and successfully rescue the lightship's crew.

32 Irish lifeboat crew have been lost in rescue missions, including the 15 crew of the Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) lifeboat which capsized while attempting to rescue the crew of the SS Palme on Christmas Eve 1895.


While the number of callouts to lifeboat stations varies from year to year, Howth Lifeboat station has aggregated more 'shouts' in recent years than other stations, averaging just over 60 a year.

Stations with an offshore lifeboat have a full-time mechanic, while some have a full-time coxswain. However, most lifeboat crews are volunteers.

There are 46 lifeboat stations on the island of Ireland

32 Irish lifeboat crew have been lost in rescue missions, including the 15 crew of the Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) lifeboat which capsized while attempting to rescue the crew of the SS Palme on Christmas Eve 1895

In 2019, 8,941 lifeboat launches saved 342 lives across the RNLI fleet.

The Irish fleet is a mixture of inshore and all-weather (offshore) craft. The offshore lifeboats, which range from 17m to 12m in length are either moored afloat, launched down a slipway or are towed into the sea on a trailer and launched. The inshore boats are either rigid or non-rigid inflatables.

The Irish Coast Guard in the Republic of Ireland or the UK Coastguard in Northern Ireland task lifeboats when an emergency call is received, through any of the recognised systems. These include 999/112 phone calls, Mayday/PanPan calls on VHF, a signal from an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) or distress signals.

The Irish Coast Guard is the government agency responsible for the response to, and co-ordination of, maritime accidents which require search and rescue operations. To carry out their task the Coast Guard calls on their own resources – Coast Guard units manned by volunteers and contracted helicopters, as well as "declared resources" - RNLI lifeboats and crews. While lifeboats conduct the operation, the coordination is provided by the Coast Guard.

A lifeboat coxswain (pronounced cox'n) is the skipper or master of the lifeboat.

RNLI Lifeboat crews are required to follow a particular development plan that covers a pre-agreed range of skills necessary to complete particular tasks. These skills and tasks form part of the competence-based training that is delivered both locally and at the RNLI's Lifeboat College in Poole, Dorset


While the RNLI is dependent on donations and legacies for funding, they also need volunteer crew and fund-raisers.

© Afloat 2020

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