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Annalise Murphy Brings Olympic Stardust to Sutton Dinghy Club's "Golden Ticket" Junior Courses

13th August 2020
A moment of inspiration recalled at Sutton Dinghy Club's Junior Training – Annalise Murphy wins her Silver Medal in Rio, August 2016 A moment of inspiration recalled at Sutton Dinghy Club's Junior Training – Annalise Murphy wins her Silver Medal in Rio, August 2016

Olympic Silver Medallist Annalise Murphy took a break from her training routine towards the 2021 Olympics this (Wednesday) morning when she hopped into her sponsored Mercedes SUV to see the successful COVID-compliant Junior set up put together by Hugh Gill and his training team at Sutton Dinghy Club.

With the enforced delayed start to the season, and the limitations even when you can sail, Hugh and his colleagues reckoned that user-friendly one-week open introductory courses for young people would best fit the bill, and his hunch has been proven totally right.

With Sutton Dinghy Club's location in the heart of a thriving coastal suburban area, there's an abundance of young families with children in the district just itching to break free from lockdown and get afloat under helpful supervision as soon as possible. Demand among members and from the neighbourhood was such that places on the courses became locally known as the Gold Ticket, so much so that some parents who managed to secure one or two for their kids thought it best to keep quiet about it. 

Annalise with (left to right) SDC Senior Instructor Matthew Cotter, and trainees Pauline Knief, Juliette Weston, Lien Johnston, and Marina McMahonEven social distancing doesn't eliminate the stardust – Annalise with (left to right) SDC Senior Instructor Matthew Cotter, and trainees Pauline Knief, Juliette Weston, Lien Johnston, and Marina McMahon

But keeping quiet has not been the mood of the moment around the club since the courses got up to top speed, as there's a lot of pent-up energy to be burnt off, and the fact that in many cases it's recruiting newcomers to sailing is a bonus.

Annalise arrived bang on time at 10.30 and had her temperature taken by Clodagh O'Brien and recorded by Caoimhe Fleming, two of the team's designated Young Assistants, and then she walked into the boat park to a welcoming cheer from a group comfortably within the permitted 200 limit, but nevertheless there were well over 100 people including 80 trainees, instructors and other junior members and parents.

Annalise Murphy with SDC Vice Commodore Ciara O'TiarnaighThese regulations are serious business – Annalise with SDC Vice Commodore Ciara O'Tiarnaigh.

Trainees were in their pods with their instructors, while numbers control ensured that all others were social-distancing. After being welcomed by Ciara O'Tiarnaigh, SDC Vice-Commodore, Annalise then explained how she, as a young girl sailing an Oppie in Dun Laoghaire, went on to become an Olympic Silver Medalist – it was a spellbinding talk which had the kids enraptured.

She then did 20 questions which the young sailors had prepared in advance, covering her diet, favourite brand of sailing bootees, her feelings and emotions, her training regime, her sponsors, which brand of butter she preferred, and what she had for breakfast this morning……

Keeping the trainees in their approved pods was one of the challenges of the morning. Keeping the trainees in their approved pods was one of the challenges of the morning

Then came the big surprise. Looking across the dinghy park, Annalise saw that there - there rigged and ready to sail - was her old training Laser that she used when training in Rio de Janeiro when she won her Silver Medal. It is now owned by young Joe Doherty, an SDC Instructor who's walking tall, for as of this morning he has Annalise's autograph on his boat.

The memories cascaded on both sides as Annalise recalled racing in the annual Schools Championship at Sutton in 2002/3, and she also raced there in the Crosbie Cup in the Optimists. She was completely at ease with the young sailors as she displayed her Silver Medal and talked to each group of trainees and their instructor.

It was an inspirational morning, and she left Sutton Dinghy Club sailors with the thought that each and every one of them could some day become a champion sailor. That said, she left with the reminder that it's a tough road to follow, for she'd outlined her gruelling keep-fit routine, and departed with the information that after a morning off, she felt doubly obliged to put in a long afternoon's training session under sail in her Laser from Dun Laoghaire.

Annalise Murphy signs her 2016 Olympic Training Laser at Sutton DC Annalise Murphy signs her 2016 Olympic Training Laser at Sutton DC for owner Joe Doherty, with Peter Boyle and Jane Hunter. All photos Andy Johnston & Conor Clarke

As for the team at Sutton Dinghy Club, the morning brought a real highlight into a busy programme which has seen the club more lively than ever before during weekdays, an unexpected but very welcome outcome in the aftermath of Lockdown.

But the present healthy situation in Sutton didn't arrive by simply waving a wand. As Hugh Gill reveals, a lot of thought and effort has been going into this eventually buoyant response to the COVID crisis since early May, and the Sutton plan is based on 12 basic principles.

A provisional plan was drafted back in early May, and was developed in consultation with a Medical Specialist in Infectious Diseases. Irish Sailing were advised of the SDC intentions, which they approved on paper, and then three days after the first course had been initiated and settled into full action, Irish Sailing's Training Development Officer Dave Garvey inspected the functioning setup, and gave it full official approval.

very tidal coastline at SuttonA fascinating place to learn to sail – the constantly changing and very tidal coastline at Sutton (Dinghy Club is centre of photo) is a waterborne playground for learner sailors

Many other clubs throughout the country have been working to meet similar challenges, but sailing adults without kids in the household may well be unaware of just how much effort is being put into helping the next generations afloat, and the Sutton Dinghy Club template is a useful example, with the setup being based on those 12 principals:

  1. All Instructors complete a Return to Work COVID-Related questionnaire
  2. In the week preceding the Course, all trainees' parents receive a COVID-Related Pre-Sailing Course Questionnaire to determine their health status, and if they have returned to Ireland from abroad in the past 14 days.
  3. One-Way system installed and clearly signed through Clubhouse
  4.  Significant and effective number of Advice Notices on Staying Healthy and Social Distancing posted in and around the Clubhouse
  5. Wall hand sanitisers installed at each access and exit point
  6. All staff, instructors and trainees are temperature checked each morning.
  7. All Instructor Teams get immune-boosting doses of Vitamin C each morning
  8. All trainees arrive in their sailing gear and go home in their gear. No changing facilities at the club.
  9. Only access to clubhouse is for toilets and Tuck Shop, with a maximum of two at a time. As those who have taken part will know, the Tuck Shop is one of the highlights of the Sutton Dinghy Club Sailing Courses.
  10. Each instructor operates for the week within a pod of their own trainees, with no crossover between pods
  11. Those trainees who require wetsuits get them for the week and return them on Fridays, when they are duly sanitised and left ready for the following week.
  12. An ongoing daily sanitising routine for all touched surfaces at the clubhouse is rigorously enforced

Hugh Gill has reached an encouraging conclusion which is reflected at several other clubs in Ireland: 

"Club fleets generally see cycles of popularity, and currently at Sutton we have quite a group of young sailors who have emerged from basic courses to now own Toppers and Lasers, and they are turning out for club racing and training regularly. These are the future of our sport, and hopefully, they'll be further inspired by Annalise's visit to become the champions of tomorrow - like so many members of SDC before them."

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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Annalise Murphy Olympic Silver Medalist

The National Yacht Club's Annalise Murphy (born 1 February 1990) is a Dublin Bay sailor who won a silver medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics. She is a native of Rathfarnham, a suburb of Dublin.

Murphy competed at the 2012 Summer Olympics in the Women's Laser Radial class. She won her first four days of sailing at the London Olympics and, on the fifth day, came in 8th and 19th position.

They were results that catapulted her on to the international stage but those within the tiny sport of Irish sailing already knew her of world-class capability in a breeze and were not surprised.

On the sixth day of the competition, she came 2nd and 10th and slipped down to second, just one point behind the Belgian world number one.

Annalise was a strong contender for the gold medal but in the medal race, she was overtaken on the final leg by her competitors and finished in 4th, her personal best at a world-class regatta and Ireland's best Olympic class result in 30 years.

Radial European Gold

Murphy won her first major medal at an international event the following year on home waters when she won gold at the 2013 European Sailing Championships on Dublin Bay.

Typically, her track record continues to show that she performs best in strong breezes that suit her large stature (height: 1.86 m Weight: 72 kg).

She had many international successes on her road to Rio 2016 but also some serious setbacks including a silver fleet finish in flukey winds at the world championships in the April of Olympic year itself.

Olympic Silver Medal

On 16 August 2016, Murphy won the silver medal in the Laser Radial at the 2016 Summer Olympics defying many who said her weight and size would go against her in Rio's light winds.

As Irish Times Sailing Correspondent David O'Brien pointed out: " [The medal] was made all the more significant because her string of consistent results was achieved in a variety of conditions, the hallmark of a great sailor. The medal race itself was a sailing master class by the Dubliner in some decidedly fickle conditions under Sugarloaf mountain".

It was true that her eight-year voyage ended with a silver lining but even then Murphy was plotting to go one better in Tokyo four years later.

Sportswoman of the Year

In December 2016, she was honoured as the Irish Times/Sport Ireland 2016 Sportswoman of the Year.

In March, 2017, Annalise Murphy was chosen as the grand marshal of the Dublin St Patrick's day parade in recognition of her achievement at the Rio Olympics.

She became the Female World Champion at the Moth Worlds in July 2017 in Italy but it came at a high price for the Olympic Silver medallist. A violent capsize in the last race caused her to sustain a knee injury which subsequent scans revealed to be serious. 

Volvo Ocean Race

The injury was a blow for her return to the Olympic Laser Radial discipline and she withdrew from the 2017 World Championships. But, later that August, to the surprise of many, Murphy put her Tokyo 2020 ambitions on hold for a Volvo Ocean Race crew spot and joined Dee Caffari’s new Turn the Tide On Plastic team that would ultimately finish sixth from seventh overall in a global circumnavigation odyssey.

Quits Radial for 49erFX

There were further raised eyebrows nine months later when, during a break in Volvo Ocean Race proceedings, in May 2018 Murphy announced she was quitting the Laser Radial dinghy and was launching a 49er FX campaign for Tokyo 2020. Critics said she had left too little time to get up to speed for Tokyo in a new double-handed class.

After a 'hugely challenging' fourteen months for Murphy and her crew Katie Tingle, it was decided after the 2019 summer season that their 'Olympic medal goal' was no longer realistic, and the campaign came to an end. Murphy saying in interviews “I guess the World Cup in Japan was a bit of a wakeup call for me, I was unable to see a medal in less than twelve months and that was always the goal".

The pair raced in just six major regattas in a six-month timeframe. 

Return to Radial

In September 2019, Murphy returned to the Laser Radial dinghy and lead a four-way trial for the Tokyo 2020 Irish Olympic spot after the first of three trials when she finished 12th at the Melbourne World Championships in February 2020.

Selection for Tokyo 2021

On June 11, Irish Sailing announced Annalise Murphy had been nominated in the Laser Radial to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Murphy secured the Laser Radial nomination after the conclusion of a cut short trials in which rivals Aoife Hopkins, Aisling Keller and Eve McMahon also competed.

At A Glance – Annalise Murphy Significant Results

2016: Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Silver

2013: European Championships, Dublin, Ireland – Gold

2012: Summer Olympics, London, UK – 4th

2011: World Championships, Perth, Australia – 6th

2010: Skandia Sail for Gold regatta – 10th

2010: Became the first woman to win the Irish National Championships.

2009: World Championships – 8th

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