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Solo Sailor Tom Dolan is Named Irish Sailor of the Year for 2020

12th February 2021
Irish Sailor of the Year 2020 - Tom Dolan brought his Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa firmly into the frame in 2020 Irish Sailor of the Year 2020 - Tom Dolan brought his Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa firmly into the frame in 2020

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. Team

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Ireland's Sailor of the Year Awards

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 25 years ago, the awards have recognised over 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.

And since then it's gone on to read like a who's who of Irish sailing.

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.

The overall national award will be announced each January to the person who, in the judges' opinion, achieved the most notable results in, or made the most significant contribution to, Irish sailing in the previous year.

A review of the first 25 years of the Irish Sailor the Year Awards is here

Irish Sailor of the Year Award FAQs

The Irish Sailor of the Year Awards is a scheme designed by Afloat magazine to represent all that is praiseworthy, innovative and groundbreaking in the Irish sailing scene..

The Irish Sailor of the Year Awards began in 1996.

The awards are administered by Afloat, Ireland's boating magazine.

  • 1996 Mark Lyttle
  • 1997 Tom Roche
  • 1998 Tom Fitzpatrick & David McHugh
  • 1999 Mark Mansfield
  • 2000 David Burrows
  • 2001 Maria Coleman
  • 2002 Eric Lisson
  • 2003 Noel Butler & Stephen Campion
  • 2004 Eamonn Crosbie
  • 2005 Paddy Barry & Jarlath Cunnane
  • 2006 Justin Slattery
  • 2007 Ger O'Rourke
  • 2008 Damian Foxall
  • 2009 Mark Mills
  • 2010 Anthony O'Leary
  • 2011 George Kenefick
  • 2012 Annalise Murphy
  • 2013 David Kenefick
  • 2014 Anthony O'Leary
  • 2015 Liam Shanahan
  • 2016 Annalise Murphy
  • 2017 Conor Fogerty
  • 2018 Robert Dickson & Sean Waddilove
  • 2019 Paul O'Higgins

Yes. 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 by using an Afloat online poll). 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. By voting for your favourite nominee, you are creating additional awareness of their nomination and highlighting their success.

Anthony O'Leary of Crosshaven and Annalise Murphy of Dun Laoghaire are the only contenders to be "Sailors of the Year" twice – himself in 2010 and 2014, and herself in 2012 and 2016.

In its 25 year history, there have been wins for 15, offshore or IRC achievements, nine dinghy and one designs accomplishments and one for adventure sailing.

Annually, generally in January or February of the following year.

In 2003 Her Royal Highness Princess Anne presented the Awards.

©Afloat 2020