The Irish Sailing Awards, held online this year, is the annual awards event celebrating the achievements of inspirational people in the sailing community. This year, the awards presented the perfect opportunity to show that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, our sports were able to return to the water in a safe and responsible way, and marked the end of a strange and difficult year with an optimistic eye on the future.
One of the most popular awards on the night is always the Irish Sailing Inclusion Award, given to someone who develops participation for people with all types of abilities so that they can experience sailing. This year, the award was won by Pat Ryan of Galway Bay Sailing Club 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.’
The Irish Sailing Volunteer of the Year Award was reintroduced this year and won by John Leahy of Dun Laoghaire 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”.
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.
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.
The hotly contested Sailor of the Year Award in association with Afloat magazine was won by “Flying Irishman” Tom Dolan – the Irish sailor based in France who finished in 5th place at the Figaro Solitaire last year. This is the annual French multi stage solo offshore race and Tom was the highest-placed non-French sailor since 1997.
Sligo featured heavily in the line-up with Sarah Nicholson of Sligo Yacht Club winning Irish Sailing Senior Instructor of the Year, and 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. And Ron Hutchieson won the annual President’s Award for his voluntary work with the Laser Association spanning over 40 years.