Meet Johnny Durcan, Seafra Guilfoyle’s new 49er crew.
Johnny Durcan has rejoined the Irish Sailing Team. Having graduated from the Irish Sailing Academy Johnny spent a brief period training with the Laser Men’s team in late 2017 before resigning to pursue other interests. Now he is back in the system following a three month trial period, and will crew with Seafra Guilfoyle in the 49er discipline. They sail alongside teammates Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove and are based out of the Irish Sailing Performance HQ. Johnny is from Crosshaven and a Quercus Sports Scholar at UCC. He will split his final year of law and business over two years so he can compete.
How did you team up with Seafra ?
“I’d meet Seafra for coffee whenever he was home; we were still friends and staying in touch. We had a short training practice session together in Cork and then it all happened quickly. We had four day’s notice from Matt (49er coach Matt McGovern) and James (O’Callaghan Performance Director) to get to Dublin and start training ! Irish Sailing then provided one-to-one coaching with Sean Evans to help the team get up to speed as quickly as possible."
You were a member of the Irish Sailing Academy and were briefly part of the Laser Men’s team. You’ve been studying for the past three years. What’s it like being back on the Team ?
“It’s good to be back – I was a long time waiting. I feel like I experienced college and enjoyed it but I needed a goal and I wasn’t ready to let Olympic sailing pass me by. Seeing Rob and Sean go to the Games was inspiring. We all grew up on the Pathway Programme, and they were just a few years older than me and it suddenly made everything a bit more real. I’m 21 now, not a kid any more. I’m always focussed when I commit to something and I have no distractions now - I don’t want to go to Fresher’s Week ! I’m doing something that I love, I’m not missing anything else”.
Who or what has influenced your sailing ?
“Me and Harry my twin brother sailed Oppies (Optimists) against each other, then went into a 29er together for a year, and then onto Laser Radials. I think that competing against Harry was important – I was always trying to beat him. He was always better than me – probably still is ! Having a twin helps in a competitive sense. Ewan McMahon (Irish Sailing Laser Men’s Team) was also a massive part of me getting better. The two of us fought a lot when we were on the Academy – working together but a pretty tense rivalry which probably helped shape me as a sailor.
I’ve had a lot of experience yacht sailing. I think that the more sailing you can do, the more experience you gain – it’s all about spending time on the water. I did Transition Year in Schull with Dave Harte. That’s probably where I made the biggest improvement in my sailing over three or four months”.
You and Harry followed a similar training path for a number of years. What’s it like now ?
“Harry is doing a lot of serious yacht sailing overseas. He’s loving it. We talk every day - mostly sailing chat, sometimes girls ! Our family orientates around sailing. My mum is an optimist measurer and was in the USA this summer at their national championships, and then Dad was doing 1720s all summer in Baltimore”.
You had a horrible near-drowning experience back in 2017 (Johnny was in the middle of a sailing competition in America and capsized, getting tangled up in a wire. Fellow competitors Simon Hoffman and Santiago Alegre saw what was happening, dived in, thus forfeiting their own chances to win, and managed to free an unconscious Johnny and save his life). At the Irish Sailing Awards that year Simon and Santiago were awarded the President’s Award for their actions. Looking back now, how did the experience change you ?
“It's mostly behind me – sometimes on the boat there are things that I prefer not to do as a result, but it serves as a good reminder to always make sure the gear and equipment is all good and to bring a knife. I stay in touch with them both. I was talking to Simon yesterday about the Worlds in Oman – they’re both on 49ers and I’ll probably see them there. We’ll stay friends without a doubt !”
What are you enjoying most about being back on the Team ?
“I’m happy! I was quite lost for a while. Having sport is an everyday part of my life and losing that made me lose my focus. I genuinely felt like I didn’t have something in my life when I didn’t have sailing. Now I’m happy every day. I’ve barely seen any of my friends this summer because I’ve been training so hard but they can see I’m much happier”.
On the flip side, what do you like least?
“The diet and trying to eat all the time. It was great for two weeks but now I’m struggling. I had a tub of icecream with Nutella last night and I didn’t enjoy it, and the two girls I’m living with were so angry with me !”
What’s your biggest challenge now ?
“The biggest challenge is trying to catch up as quickly as possible and get to Rob and Sean’s level. On a personal level – getting used to training every single day and not having any day off is hard. I’ve also come to love cycling ! Annalise (Murphy) has had a very positive influence. I love cycling with her on a Thursday morning – I call them “coffee cycles” - meet in Sutton on a Thursday morning, going for a coffee and a 2 hour cycle, nothing too strenuous”.
Do you have a message for other young sailors who want to advance their sailing skills?
“Sail as much as you can and on different boats to find which one you like the most. The younger you are the more variety you should have. It that experience adds up”.
The 49er teams will compete on 16-21 November at the 2021 49er World Championship in Mussanah, Oman. You can follow their progress on all the Irish Sailing channels (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram).
Photo credit: Clare Keogh