#sailorofthemonth – Round Ireland former open record holder and race winner Dickie Gomes of Strangford Lough is the Afloat.ie "Sailor of the Month" for May 2014, following his successful defence of the Leinster Trophy for veteran and classic boats in Dublin Bay last Saturday.
It was on the final day of the month that the Gomes-owned, skippered and self-maintained 102-year-old 36ft yawl Ainmara swept across the sunlit waters of the bay to take line honours, and win the title on corrected time for the second year running, after a close-fought battle with Old Gaffers Association International President Sean Walsh's cutter Tir na nOg.
The win by Dickie Gomes was a timely reminder of his long and extraordinary sailing career, prompted by the fact that the Round Ireland Race (this year's is in three weeks time) provided the setting in 1988 for one of his most remarkable successes, while he also held the Round Ireland Open Record from 1986 to 1993.
These headline-grabbing achievements were made as skipper in other people's grand prix boats. But his sailing career began in earnest in 1966 when he bought the Ainmara, designed and built by John B Kearney in Ringsend, Dublin in 1912, and already 48 years old.
Despite her years, he won offshore and inshore races with Ainmara, and voyaged extensively with her. Though he was to become involved with other more glamorous craft, he has always kept the old yawl as his pet boat, and he provided her with a major refit, done almost entirely working on his own, for her Centenary in 2012.
But he has always also lived for speed sailing, and he made his mark internationally in 1982 with the 40ft Dick Newick-designed trimaran Downtown Flyer, which he built and campaigned in partnership with Brian Law, who continues to sail with him and was one of the crew aboard Ainmara for Saturday's Leinster Trophy defence.
Downtown Flyer's successes included a win in the two-handed Round Britain & Ireland Race. After two hectic years, she was sold, but the speed bug had bitten. In 1986, Gomes skippered the 80ft catamaran Novanet in a challenge to the round Ireland record established in May 1986 by Robin Knox-Johnston's 60ft catamaran British Airways, which in turn had shaved a few hours over the superb time set by the great Denis Doyle's Frers 51 Moonduster in the 1984 Round Ireland Race.
Although Novanet's challenge was made in November 1986 in ferocious weather with fourteen hours of darkness in every twenty-four, the Gomes campaign still succeeded, and succeeded so well that his new record stood for seven years until September 1993, when Steve Fossett – his crew including Cathy MacAleavey and Con Murphy of the National YC - zapped round with the 60ft trimaran Lakota, setting a time so good it still stands today despite several challenges.
The veteran Ainmara made good use of her jib topsail in retaining the Leinster Trophy on Saturday May 31st. Photo: Carol Laird
But meanwhile regular participants in the Round Ireland Race from Wicklow reckoned that the real man to beat in getting round the Emerald Isle was Denis Doyle with Moonduster. In 1988, Dickie Gome had the boat to take on the challenge, as by this time he was skippering Brian Buchanan's Frers 49 Hesperia III. Though Hesperia was a 1975 boat, while Moonduster was 1981, these two Frers beauties were almost sister-ships. But as The Duster rated marginally higher, by the time their boat-for-boat race right round Ireland concluded, Hesperia had won, and Dickie Gomes was for two years the holders of both the Round Ireland Record and the Round Ireland Race titles.
So when today you see the gallant old Ainmara and her veteran skipper sailing the sea, you're seeing the continuation of an exceptionally varied and well-lived sailing career which has enhanced everyone who has become involved with skipper and boat alike, and provides us with a very worthy Sailor of the Month for May 2014.