Irish Sailor of the Year
Irish Sailing News

Irish Sailor of the Year

Irish Sailor of the Year  

All of this years nominee's for the Irish Sailor of the Year, presented by

The day has arrived to award one person or team as the Irish Sailor of the year, but who of these 36 incredible achievements will take the winning title. 

Anthony O’Leary - Cape 31  

It says everything about Anthony O’Leary’s long and successful involvement with sailing to affirm that he puts even more back into the sport than he takes from it. Already a well-established national and international winner when he became the youngest-ever Admiral of the Royal Cork YC back in 2000-2002, he has since gone on to be “Sailor of the Year” in 2010 and 2014 while continuing in many roles in service to sailing. 

Yet in January 2023 there was clearly no slackening of the pace as he spearheaded the global spread of the Cape 31 class with a convincing victory in its first American regatta in Florida. Designed in the depths of County Wicklow by another former “Sailor of the Month”, Mark Mills, the Cape 31 is the hottest keelboat class for today and tomorrow. 


Chris Bateman – 29er&49er 

Former junior champion Chris Bateman is a top sailor who leads by example and inspiration. Having decided that the ever-young Fireball is the answer for junior and adult dinghy sailors who don’t want to go down the cheque-book route to racing, he has beavered away re-building the formerly popular and economically attractive class both in practical restoration, and in actively sailing the boat to championship level. The result has been a favourable and supportive response from Fireball sailors new and “old”, and a genuine re-invigoration of the class spreading outwards from Cork. 


David Beattie  

David Beattie enthusiastically follows many maritime interests. But it was a special blessing for the Irish Cruising Club, that he should become their Commodore as the Pandemic began to tighten its grip, for he has been willing to serve as Commodore for four years instead of the usual already demanding two years in the top role, ably supported by his wife Aoife. Their diligence in representing Irish cruising in events near and far was much appreciated by the world cruising community, and this resulted in Chris Otorowski, Commodore of the Cruising Club of America, which celebrated its Centenary in 2022, making a presentation of The Friendship Cup to the ICC at the Annual Dinner in March 2023 in Sligo. 


Russell Bolger – Junior Champion 

The David Harte-inspired Fastnet Marine & Outdoor Education Centre in Schull is a great resource for sailing in Ireland, as its well-managed setup facilitates flexibility when the weather has been disobliging. Thus although the Junior Championship of Champions scheduled for the first weekend of October was blown out, the Centre had no bother in setting up another championship a month later, immediately before their own annual Team Racing Training Week. 

In those circumstances, it was more than appropriate that the Team Racing Nominee in the National Juniors, Russell Bolger of Royal St George YC crewed by Louis McGovern, emerged clearly as the new title-holder in the National Junior title after, successfully demonstrating that his team racing skills enabled him to keep close opponents well down the fleet as the full series unfolded. He won by a clear six points. 


Lucia Cullen & Alana Twomey - 29er 

There were 173 teams from 24 countries competing at the International 29er Europeans in Sweden in August, but the five crews sent from Ireland punched way above their weight in a challenging and complex boat which isn’t for the faint-hearted. And it seems that inter-provincial mixing of crews is the right way to go, as Dun Laoghaire’s Lucia Cullen (17) and Cork’s Alana Twomey (also 17) inspired each other through a week of racing in difficult wind patterns to clinch the Women’s Gold medal on the last day, a magic result for a crew whose sheer enjoyment of sailing is an inspiration for us all. 


Barry Cunningham – J109 National Champion 

The first J/Cup Championship in Irish waters on Dublin Bay in August 2023 saw several classes of this leading marque represented in the 40-strong fleet, but there was little doubting that the most intensive competition was in the J/109s. This especially attractive product of the renowned Johnstone design range has not only hit the target for success in Dublin Bay, but the participation by boats from this fleet elsewhere has brought home many significant titles, so this was definitely the class to watch. The racing was intense in the extreme, but Barry Cunningham of the hosting Royal Irish YC with Chimaera and his team had a performance graph going the right way, for after a fifth in the first face, they found their groove to register two firsts and ultimately take the title. 


Rob Dickson & Sean Waddilove – Olympic Qualification 49er 

The “Fingal Flyers” Rob Dickson of Howth (and other clubs) with Sean Waddilove of Skerries brightened sailing spirits in the gloomiest month of the year, with an absolutely stellar performance in the Olympic 49er Euros 2023 at Vilamoura in Portugal. They swept all before them both for total victory in the event, leaving their way clear into the 2024 Sailing Olympiad at Marseille where they first leapt to fame while still very much newbies in the U23 49er Worlds in September 2018. 

Since then, despite the various Covid interruptions, they have significantly matured into the top level, They’ve taken on board the harsh lessons learned at the Tokyo Olympics, and with their start problems coming well under control, they now have an on-track and determined campaign which brought us all some early Christmas glitter. 


Tom Dolan - Figaro 

The rise in the international solo offshore sailing reputation of Tom Dolan, who has been known to describe himself as “an escaped farmboy from north Meath”, has been one of the great Irish sailing sagas of our time. For more than a decade, has been recounting Big Tom’s progress from being identified as an exceptional talent by the now-defunct Glenans Ireland in Baltimore, to eventual hard-won solo sailing stardom in France via the well-established but ferociously competitive Mini-Transat and Figaro Solo routes. 

These days, he is one of that elite band of Figaro Solo stars who are always included in any pre-race reckoning of success potential. And with the first full-on post-pandemic 54th staging of the offshore classic in late August and early September 2023, it was something special for the skipper of the Figaro 3 Smurfit Kappa-Kingspan to do well from the get-go, as its initial 620-mile stage was scheduled to finish – for the 21st time in the Figaro’s colourful history – back home in Ireland at Kinsale. 

He came into port thinking he was second, but infringements by the supposed winner soon catapulted him into first place, making for a fantastic return home. 


Harry Dunne - Optimist 

In progressing through each phase of a sailing career, the received wisdom is that you should tick off each staging post while you’re ahead. Harry Dunne of Howth was registered with a Departure Lounge “Optimist Age” of 15 going into the 115-boat Nationals at Ballyholme, and thus it was irrevocably his farewell tour, his last chance to exit an already successful Optimist racing stage of life with a real flourish. And despite – or maybe because of – some very challenging sailing conditions, he did it with style, winning the seniors by a clear margin of nine points, and eventually heading for home with every trophy for which he had been competing. 


James Dwyer - Swuzzebubble 

Boats may be inanimate objects, but those who sail them seldom see them that way. The classic Half Tonner Swuzzlebubble certainly arouses special emotions, for there are senior sailors in Ireland who sailed her to success as ISORA Champion in 1980, when she was owned by the late Bruce Lyster of Dun Laoghaire’s Royal St George YC. 

Forty-three years ago, she was quite a basic boat. But now, after surviving many vicissitudes and at least one unsuccessful attempt to get her to a landfill site, she is back in Ireland in a superbly re-furbished style, and her proud owner is James Dwyer of the Royal Cork Yacht Club. 

Almost from the moment the first races started in the Simply Blue Sovereign’s Cup 2023 in Kinsale, it was clear that Swuzzlebubble and her crew were on a roll, and they took the title with a clean sweep of six wins. And in December, it was announced that Swuzzlebubble was the ICRA “Boat of the Year” for 2023 after adding other successes. 


Cian Guilfoyle – Cara (Rolex Fastnet Race Winner) 

Back in the dark latter days of the Pandemic, high-flying rumours began circulating about a new Botin 52 being completed in New Zealand. Normally, the multi-titled 52 class sees only incremental improvements as the latest boats take up this ultimate challenge on the modern scene. But the word was that this boat had more bright ideas than a wagonload of Einsteins - she would knock most other 52s out of the ballpark. And when this new boat Caro campaigned her first major at Hamilton Island, this did indeed prove to be the case, to such an extent that formerly dedicated TP owners reckoned it would be a step too far to try to keep up with this latest level of the arms race. 

Caro is as international as she is successful. Designed in Santander in Northern Spain, she was engineered by Pure and built in New Zealand by Core Builders Composites under the supervision of Mark Turner, with the overall project management in the hands of Justin Ferris from Doyle Sails NZ. 

Owner Max Klink has her down as registered in Switzerland, yet her sail numbers in 2023 seem to emanate from the Cayman Islands. Whatever, this supra-national mix has provided a boat of such exceptional speed and achievement that merely to be listed on her potential crew panel is high recognition. And to be on board – as Cian Guilfoyle of the National YC was - for a global peak like the 50th Fastnet Race was talent-recognition of a high honour. 

So, although they lost their supposedly essential electronic masthead wand while getting an added pasting in the edge of Portland Race while outward bound, Adrian Stead and his crew always found that bit of almost super-natural extra speed for which Caro is increasingly renowned, despite having to use some very ancient helming skills to find it.  


Jack Fahy & UCD Sailing 1st – Oxford Top gun Winner’s and British Varsities winners 

Jack Fahy of Dun Laoghaire and the University College Dublin Sailing Club Team Racing Squad hit the target when they emerged as winners of the elite eight-team Top Gun Invitational Series, organised on the premier English team competition venue of Farmoor Reservoir by Oxford University. 

It’s the first time that UCD has been invited to this exclusive “Championship of Champions”, but they rose to the challenge with style in a superbly-run series. It was of course very much a team effort, but in the time-honoured manner, Team Captain Jack Fahy made the “Sailor of the Month (Team Racing) for February, while ensuring that the entire squad are up in lights, and they are: Jack Fahy & Emily Riordan, Liam Glynn & Triona Hinkson, and Tom Higgins & Cian Lynch. 


David Kenefick - 1720 

The 1720 Sportsboat Class in Ireland has a certain something which means that when its annual championship comes around, it often attracts stars from other classes for this peak of sportsboat sport. And though the 2023 1720 Nats at Dunmore East with Waterford Harbour SC in September my not have attracted the significantly large numbers seen at some other venues in recent years, there was some very hot talent battling it out on the Waterford Estuary and the nearby Atlantic, with David Kenefick of Royal Cork came through the lineup of multi-class superstars to take the title ahead of a Who’s Who of 1720 talent. 


Pamela Lee – Transat Jacque Vabre  

The short-handed long distance offshore racing scene from France is recognised as the world peak in a very specialised area. Design development at all boat sizes is at such a pace that in a hyper-hot division such as Class40, anyone racing a 2018 boat in 2023 was at a real disadvantage. Yet Pamela Lee of Greystones and her co-skipper Tiphaine Raguenau did just that with Engie-DFDS-Brittany Ferries in the Transat Jacques Vabre 2023, and in a mostly more modern fleet of 44 boats, they were recorded at 29th overall at the finish in Martinique, with several much newer male-sailed boats astern. 

Not so long ago, it was quite an achievement just to sail the Atlantic. But at this competitive level, Lee & Ragueneau were up against an emergency return to Lorient for sail repairs which were quoted for a three hour delay, but it was six hours and more adrift on completion. Yet despite battling to get back into rhythm with the main peloton of the fleet, and further sail repair challenges while racing, they were very much on the pace at the finish, and increasingly recognised as a force to be reckoned with in a very tough competitive environment. 


Finn Lynch – Olympic Qualification ILCA 7 

Finn Lynch added nation qualifying for the Paris Olympics 2024 to his many ILCA 7 achievements, including a world silver medal from 2021. In a nerve-jangling conclusion to the Gold fleet series in the Men's single-handed event at the Allianz Sailing World Championships in The Hague in The Netherlands on 19th August 2023, the National Yacht Club ace secured one of the last Paris 2024 Olympics places for Ireland. 

Lynch sailed out into the final two races for his event, needing only to deliver two safe results to maintain or improve on 14th place by nation. But after crossing the finishing line, he sailed ashore under the impression that he had missed qualification when he had actually managed to place 15th by nation and 23rd overall. 

Elated with the outcome, he described qualifying Ireland for Paris 2024 as a "monkey off my back" and is now focused fully on preparations for the Olympics and selection for the national squad. And when, in October, he stepped aboard a Mermaid at Foynes for the Championship of Champions 2023, the stardust came with him - he won! 


Gary MacMahon  

Twenty years ago, the thought that the two Conor O’Brien-designed and Baltimore-built ketches – the 1922 42ft world-girdling Saoirse and the 1926 56ft trader-ferry Ilen - would be sailing together at their birthplace in 2023, the Centenary Year of the start of O’Brien’s great pioneering circumnavigation, would have been dismissed as fantasy. Yet the plans for this unprecedented occurrence were already well in place in April for the Baltimore Wooden Boat Festival from May 26th to 28th. And while the re-restoration or re-birth of the two vessels may have involved many people, pivotal to it all was been one man, Gary Mac Mahon of Limerick, who devoted 27 years to bringing this all together. And then, with the job done, he stood back in April 2023. 


Cian McCarthy & Sam Hunt  

The attractive Sunfast 3300 Cinnamon Girl made an impressive post-pandemic impact with 2022’s Inishtearaght Race from Kinsale. But for 2023, her hand-in-glove team of Cian McCarthy and Sam Hunt made an international impression with a fantastic display of co-ordination and impressively high-speed sailing in a souped-up boat, setting larger headsails with a lengthened bowsprit. 

In an otherwise big boat race from Dun Laoghaire to Dingle, they were right there with the second batch of leaders on the water, maintaining the full-on pace right to the end to finish second overall and win the two-handed division going away. A masterful performance by any standards. 


Eve McMahon - Olympic Qualification ILCA 7 

The transition from ultra-successful international junior sailing to youth and adult competition can be a tricky one, but ILCA-racing Gold Medal-winning multiple junior champion Eve McMahon of Howth found the perfect stepping-stone with the ILCA6 U21 Worlds at a breezy Tangiers in October. 

Going into the final race in one of the strongest winds of all, her 18 points overall lead did not make her totally unassailable. But all seemed secure as she approached the finish in third, only to capsize almost at the line. 

Her resilience showed through, however, as she calmly but very quickly righted the boat and finished eighth, enough to give her the Gold Medal by a clear 14 points. If, as Ernest Hemingway observed, “Courage Is Grace Under Pressure”, then Eve McMahon has an abundance of courage to augment her great sailing talent. 


Micheal O’Suilleabhain & UCC Sailing – Student Yachting Nationals and Varisities Champions 

The annual Intervarsities Keelboat Championship in the final weekend of March in Howth Yacht Club’s J/80s was very representative of rising talent, and a complete spectrum of winds and weather over the two-day event puts skippers and crews through a very rigorous test. And in the early stages, things were only looking so-so for University College Cork Firsts, skippered by Michael O Suilleabhain, as they emerged from the First Flight one point down on Technical University Dublin. 

Nevertheless, they made it to the final, but even here, it went right to the wire, as they came out of the lee mark for the final beat with the spinnaker snagged at the masthead. Yet they sorted that in record time, and sailed the concluding beat like people possessed to take the win. We have to nominate the Captain for “Sailor of the Month” in a team-racing situation, but the total lineup was Micheal O'Suilleabhain, Sally O'Flynn, Cathal O Regan, Michael Carroll and Rosa Lyden. 


John Minnus  

John Minnis of Royal Ulster YC and his longtime helm Gareth Flannigan will look on Dublin Bay as their Happy Hunting Ground. For although the previous Minnis boat, the First 31.7 Final Call, and her distinguished successor, the very optimized Archambault 35 Final Call II, have both achieved notable success on either side of the North Channel, it has been during campaigns down south in Dublin Bay that they’ve really shone. 

In July’s demanding Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta, there was no doubt in the minds of seasoned observers that IRC 1 was the Grand Prix division, and the convincing way in which Final Call II worked her way to the head of its leaderboard, and stayed there through a wide variety of conditions and against other crews of all the talents, was very convincing indeed. 


Johnny Murphy  

One of the most popularly acclaimed victories in sailing in Ireland in 2023 was Johnny Murphy’s September winning of the “Champion Boat” award at the conclusion of the ICRA Nationals at his home port of Howth with his J/109 Outrajeous. With only one good – admittedly very good – day of racing out of a schedule of three, it was a nerve-racking contest, and Outrajeous had been having difficult in showing the kind of success which her owner-skipper had shown in campaigning an Albin Express and a 1720. But with emotionally-acknowledged crew support – particularly from first mate Neil Spain – Outrajeous emerged victorious to achieve well-earned and tumultuous applause at the prize-giving. 


Aongus O’Cualain  

Those of us who have found it challenging enough to get a sailing dinghy with a purpose-designed road trailer into a road-ready and race-ready condition were in awe of the achievements of Aongus O Cualain of Connemara and his team with their Galway Hooker at the Old Gaffers’ Dublin Bay Diamond Jubilee Regatta in the last weekend of May. 

Their gleoiteog mor Blat na hOige is a lot of boat to be transporting right across Ireland on a slightly-modified lorry. But as the boat in some form or other has been around since 1895 or so - and with the family for much of that time - the honour of Connemara was at stake, 

To talk of “Mission Achieved” is scarcely adequate. They dismissed queries about their superb suit of white sails by pointing out that tan-barking or the larding of pitch onto hooker sails is a relatively new idea in terms of the boats’ very long history. And then, despite a rather light breeze on Dublin Bay, they went out and won the Asgard Trophy, a prize of unrivalled historic significance as it was presented to the DBOGA by John Kearon, the conservator of Erskine & Molly Childers’ Asgard. 


Niall & Ronan O’Briain  

Sailing for sport in Connemara has long tended to be in a world of its own with the local traditional craft, but 2023 is very much a breakout year. One of our “Sailors of the Month” for July was the west’s Aongus O Cualain’s, who brought his optimized classic Gleoiteog Blat na hOige to the Dublin Bay Old Gaffers Asgard Plate Race, and won overall against a fleet of every sort of gaff-rigged boat. And now in September, the growing Flying Fifteen fleet in the far west has made it to the top, with Niall & Ronan O’Briain of Flying Fifteen Chonamara winning a very hard-fought Irish Flying Fifteen Nationals at County Antrim Yacht Club in Whitehead on Belfast Lough. 

Whitehead is about as far from Connemara as you’ll get Flying Fifteen racing in Ireland, but if anything the distance provided an added incentive to put down an important marker in the progress towards a more broadly-based outward-looking sailing picture in the far west. 


Seamus O’Connor  

By October, the last of the remarkably varied international fleet of boats that had attended the Irish Cruising Club’s Conor O’Brien & Saoirse Centenary Rally in Madeira had returned to their often very distant home ports. Thus it was felt that a line could finally be drawn under a unique event in which ICC Rear Commodore Seamus O’Connor, of West Cork and Portugal, had played the key role as Chairman of the Organising Committee. 

The 3rd of July 1923 was a pivotal date in Saoirse’s pioneering global circumnavigation, as it marked her arrival at Funchal in Madeira to complete what was in effect the 1,100-mile maiden ocean voyage from Dublin Bay, sailing the new and relatively un-tested vessel to O’Brien’s own design. 

Thus experienced voyagers tend to see Funchal as the real starting point for what went on to be an unprecedented amateur small-boat circumnavigation of the world south of the Great Capes. It was felt imperative that while there were Centenary festivities in Dun Laoghaire to mark the start of the voyage, O’Brien’s achievement deserved an extra effort with an international rally in Funchal starting on July 3rd 2023, centred around the restored trading ketch Ilen, Saoirse’s “big sister”, which is now the flagship in Ireland of Sailing Into Wellness. 

Seamus O’Connor’s multi-talented Committee found themselves dealing with many and various Madeiran and Portuguese agencies and organisations in order to ensure a smooth welcome for ocean sailing boats which were approaching the island quite literally from every point of the compass. It all went well, by October all the participants were back where they meant to be for the winter months, and Seamus O’Connor and his Committee had deservedly earned everyone’s gratitude. 


Don O’Dowd  

An initially-discouraging weather pattern and an expanding fleet placed special demands on the organisers for the post-pandemic resumption of the biennial Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta. But the broad shoulders of longtime administrator and current Chairman Don O’Dowd backed the efforts of Regatta Director Paddy Boyd to pull a remarkable success out of a very mixed period of sailing conditions, and the result was diverse competition-filled waterborne sport in the very best Dun Laoghaire traditions, which go back to 1828 and beyond. 


Ron O’Hanley - Privateer 

With a racing machine as complex as the canting-keel Cookson 50, crew and boat management demands are raised to a fresh level. But when Ron O’Hanley of the New York Yacht Club arrived with the already hyper-successful Privateer for the Volvo Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race, it was educational for all Irish sailors, as was their virtually flawless performance to take the win. 

This was the Big Boys’ Game and no mistake. As to the rarity of their owner-skipper’s surname, we were told the O’Hanleys are descended from an elite Roscommon warrior group. We were even sent their Coat of Arms. So now you know. 


Paul O’Higgins - J109  

While sailing in Ireland has its conspicuously attention-getting aspects, the real backbone of the sport continues to be the active club sailor who can quietly keep a usefully large crew panel together in order to have the right mix of talents when taking on any special challenge. Paul O’Higgins of the RIYC in Dun Laoghaire with the JPK 10.80 Rockabill VI is an excellent example of these quiet enthusiasts, these people who truly enjoy their sport, and his healthy approach was underlined during 2023 when – among other successes – Rockabill VI won the Irish Sea Offshore Racing Association Championship 2023 in a cliffhanger conclusion with success in the final race. 


Ben O’Shaughnessy & Ethan Spain – 29er European Champions 

The five day International 29er Europeans at the Royal Swedish Yacht Club was a global sailing highlight for 2023, as it attracted 173 teams from 24 countries for a week of racing. Young Irish sailors from the ultra-focused 29er racing development squad showed themselves well able for the enormous challenge, as in the final day’s racing, the Cork/Dublin pairing of Ben O’Shaughnessy (17) from Royal Cork Yacht Club and Ethan Spain (18) from the National YC moved confidently from defending a near-certain Silver Medal win into ensuring that they were going home with the Championship title.

Description image of Irish Sailor of the Year

David O’Shea  

Although the bulk of the Howth 17 Class’s 125th Anniversary visit to West Cork took place in the final week of June when the weather was already deteriorating into its adverse July pattern, the last of these historic little boats had not returned safely home until early July, and it was only then that the full achievement and vision of Class Captain David O’Shea could be fully appreciated. 

Getting such an inevitably idiosyncratic ancient class to move together in some sort of coherent manner can be akin to herding cats. But with great patience and the co-operation and warm welcome of key local establishments such as Baltimore Sailing Club, Cape Clear Distilllery, and O’Sullivan’s of Crookhaven, Dave O’Shea saw his vision through to successful fruition. The spirit of the class is stronger than ever. 


Tiernan Roe  

Irish classic boatbuilders and owners are no strangers to the podium at the annual International Classic Boat Awards in London, and 2023’s ceremony in April was no exception. Simon O’Keffe of Schull – current family owner of the 1902 gaff cutter Lady Min designed and built in Schull by his great-grandfather Maurice O’Keeffe – had the well-earned satisfaction of seeing master-boatbuilder Tiernan Roe being suitably honoured with the trophy for the best restoration for boats under 40ft LOA, a rare moment in the limelight for a craftsman who normally and quietly just gets on with the job. 


Duncan Sclare  

The world of dedicated cruising moves at its own leisurely pace, and the publication of the Irish Cruising Club yearly awards only really becomes official at the Annual General Meeting in February. Thus our new “Sailor of the Month (Cruising)” is receiving the award for a successful venture which was actually completed in March 2022. 

But when the ICC’s premier trophy, the Faulkner Cup which dates back to 1931, was confirmed on February 17th at the Club’s AGM in the Royal St George YC in Dun Laoghaire, it was rightly acclaimed as something fresh, and good news for the club. For in an era when ever-larger yachts seem dominant, it went to former Mayo SC Commodore Duncan Sclare for a determinedly executed delivery cruise from the North Sea to Clew Bay in limited time with his newly-acquired vintage 29ft Verl 900 Quibus. 


Lawrie Smith  

Early in the 1960s, Stan Smith – a builder and developer from Bury near Manchester – secured the site for the modest holiday home of his dreams beside the harbour in Glandore in West Cork. Summers in Glandore with much sailing for his young son Lawrie became an essential element in Smith family life, and though Lawrie went on to a stratospheric career in international sailing, whenever possible he has listed Glandore Harbour Yacht Club as his home base. Thus in September 2023, thanks to Lawrie the Dragon Gold Cup – the class’s supreme prize – was added to Glandore’s trophy haul. It was a particularly timely outcome with the 2024 Gold Cup scheduled for Kinsale. 


Tom Higgins, UCD Sailing – Team and Match Racing  

University College Dublin are on such a roll in the 2023 Team Racing season that their captain Jack Fahy had already taken an SoM earlier in the year in February. Then in April 2023 at Grafham Water, they won the British Opens, the first time for an Irish team in 53 years since TCD took it in 1970 during a remarkable run of success. Tom Higgin's also took a UCD team to the Youth Match Racing World Championships in Sydney and placed 5th overall in the event.


Clementine & Nathan Van Steenberge – 29er World Champions 

The International 29er is one of the most demanding boats on the global junior sailing scene. Yet the sister-and-brother crew of Clementine & Nathan Van Steenberge have carved their way through its international heights with style, speed and success. Their Championship title at the uniquely demanding Worlds at Weymouth in early August provided a Masterclass, with their all-winning final day of racing an exceptional performance worthy of the most experienced sailors. 


Rory Whyte – Topper 

Fifteen-year-old Rory Whyte of Waterford Harbour SC started his Topper 4.2 Worlds campaign at his alternative home club of RCYC at Crosshaven in less-than-perfect style, with an OCS in Race One. After such a score, the only way is up, and he immediately got up into the frame, and stayed there – reaching the very top – through a demanding race-packed series. The Rory Whyte Show was in town, and no mistake, and at the racing’s eventual conclusion, he was conveyed ashore aloft in his boat in true champion’s style. 


Rocco Wright – ILCA 7 

The intensely-fought multi-race Youth Nationals at Howth in April saw many classes go right to the wire with only a point or two separating the leaders after the championship concluded. But in the “Senior Junior” class, the large-fleet ILCA 6, Rocco Wright of the host club, was literally in a class of his own, with the international Gold winner of 2022 returning to full competition in runaway style with a ten-point overall lead. 


Sienna Wright – Bronze at ILCA 6 Youth Worlds 

Steadily rising star Sienna Wright from Howth recorded a formidable tally in the Under 17 Division in the ILCA 6s at two major regattas in Poland during July. The Youth Worlds early in the month saw her take the silver in the U17s, and then in the third week the Youth Worlds of the class (formerly the Laser Radials) saw her record her second international silver, again in the U17s. 

The summer which eluded Ireland during July was generally very present in Poland, and her comment that it provided sailing which was “Quite tricky, very shifty conditions, long hours, but in the end it was a good result” well illustrated the kind of resilience and dedication which is required of Ireland’s young talent at this level. 


Ann Kirwan – Service to Sailing 

The Golden Jubilee of the much-loved Ruffian 23 Class was well celebrated in 2023 at all its main centres in an enjoyable moveable feast, mostly in Ireland but culminating in Hong Kong in October with the triennial Inter-Port Championship in which the Irish fleets take on the strong Hong Kong fleet. 

Former Dublin Bay SC Commodore Ann Kirwan – who successfully races two Ruffian 23s, Bandit in Dublin Bay and Orca II in Schull – played a role in all the Golden Jubilee events on most coasts. But for the winning Irish 20-person expedition to Hong Kong, she was both Team Captain and logistics organiser.


Nigel Young & Will Byrne - offshore 

Time was when the name “Swan 36” meant a semi-classic Olin Stephens design that introduced one of the world’s most famous yacht marques, way back in 1967. These days, a Swan 36 is a white-hot day-racing boat that looks totally functional, and competes in a series of international semi-private regattas which are the very opposite of the publicity-seeking logo-splashed razzmatazz which seems to pervade much top-level contemporary international sailing. 

Yet when somebody does achieve an outstanding win in this rarefied yet extremely intense corner of world sailing, the news does seeps out. And the victory by Richard Thompson’s Black Seal in May’s Swan 36 Sardinia Challenge confirmed that Neil Young of Royal Cork YC and Will Byrne of the National YC were in the crew. 


Cillian Dickson & Headcase 

The story of the restored J/24 Headcase in recent years has been a particularly heart-warming one of all-Ireland camaraderie and success, and in August 2023 the emphasis was firmly on international success with a final race victory to give a two point win in the J/24 Europeans on Lake Balaton in Hungary, racing against 42 boats from eight nations, following which they travelled south to Greece for the Worlds, and win the Corinthian Division. 

Yet even with a team effort of this quality, we have to narrow the “Sailor of the Month” to one identifiable individual, and helmsman Cillian Dickson of Lough Ree YC and Howth YC has emerged as “The Face of Headcase”, spokesman for a close-knit yet multi-background squad which includes Marcus Ryan and Louis Mulloy of Mayo SC, Ryan Glynn of Ballyholme YC, and Sam O’Byrne of Howth YC. 


Wicklow Rowers, Go Hard Or Go Home 

It had taken a while for regular success in ocean rowing to come Ireland’s way, but 2022 saw a massive leap forward with Galway Bay’s Karen Weekes and Damien Browne each completing the crossing, Karen east-west in April, and Damien west-east from New York to Galway in October. Yet 2023 was barely two weeks old when another remarkable achievement was added to the tally, with Wicklow’s five-strong “Row Hard Or Go Home” team crossing the finish line in Antigua on January 14th, after setting an east-west record from the Canaries of 33 days 12 hours and 38 minutes. 

Wicklow is already a noted port for coastal and cross-channel oarsmen, but a new dimension had been convincingly added by the RHOGH crew of Tom Nolan, Shane Culleton, Derek McMullen, and brothers Diarmuid and Gearoid O Briain. 

All text and information on nominees for Sailor of the Year was originally published by and can be found at: Who is Your Irish Sailor of the Year for 2023? (  

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