12 of Ireland’s finest to compete off Miami

Competitions for year start in earnest with Olympic places still up for grabs

With the New Year, a new season for Irish contenders at the performance end of the sailing spectrum begins this weekend on the idyllic waters of Biscayne Bay off Miami.

Over 800 sailors from around the world are expected at the event with 650 registered so far including a dozen from Ireland.

The ISA performance squad across all age ranges ended 2014 with a training camp in Cadiz immediately after Christmas with only one day lost to light winds.

The Laser Radial academy as well as the emerging 49er development sailors were all in attendance, a total of 16 people including the strength and conditioning coach and a sport psychologist.


Vans, containers, coach RIBs and competitor boats are already in transit to venues around the world in preparation for various championship and training events.

Highlight of the year ahead for the qualified disciplines is the test event for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

‘Maximum time’

“It’s all about getting maximum time on the water at the venue for the games,” said James O’Callaghan, ISA performance manager. “There are also the worlds and Europeans for every age category that are key events.”

However, while most the senior squad will all have their focus firmly set on Rio, the 49er FX skiff duo of Andrea Brewster and Saskia Tidey have still to qualify Ireland for that event at the games and will be looking to the class world championships in Argentina in November.

“It makes it quite a long season but it does gives them a chance to improve on last season in which they did well but didn’t qualify,” said O’Callaghan. “It’s a big carrot for them as it’s another chance to qualify the nation.”

But behind the established sailors that include the London 2012 veterans, several dozen younger athletes are in formation and have been attending training camps and a few are included in the starting-line up in Florida this weekend.

The big indicator of up and coming form will be the Youth Nationals at the Royal Cork Yacht Club at Easter.

Some are already sailing full-time such as Finn Lynch while Fionn Lyden and Darragh O'Sullivan are also fully committed in the Laser Standard rig.

Seafra Guilfoyle is slightly younger than the others and is still at school but is also at academy level working towards under-21 world championship level.

Last opportunity

However, while Miami will see a full Irish squad represented in both Olympic and Paralympic classes, 2015 is the last opportunity that the up and coming sailors will have to sail against world-class competitors.

Changes to the world calendar and grading system means that only top-40 ranked sailors will be eligible to compete at the Olympic class regattas that were formerly open events.

Participants will need to be in the top 30 by ISAF world-ranking plus the next best 10 sailors from the previous qualifying regatta for a given Sailing World Cup event.

Technically, the Sailing World Cup began in December in Melbourne and is followed by Miami and moves to Hyeres in April and Sail for Gold in Weymouth in June.

A Summer break for the Olympic test event leads into the Asian regatta at Qingdao in China with a Grand Final in Abu Dhabi in November for those that qualify.

But established regattas such as the Princess Sofia Trophy in Palma, The Holland Regatta and Kiel Week that weren't selected for the World Cup series remain open and are key opportunities for newcomers to break into the world rankings. OLYMPIC SQUAD Laser Radial: Annalise Murphy; Laser Standard: James Espey; 49er skiff: Ryan Seaton & Matt McGovern; 49er FX skiff: Andrea Brewster & Saskia Tidey.

DEVELOPMENT ACADEMY (UNDER-23) Laser: Finn Lynch; Fionn Lyden; Darragh O'Sullivan; Seafra Guilfoyle; 49er: Mark Hassett & Oisin O'Driscoll, Sean Donnelly & Tadgh Donnelly

YOUTH ACADEMY (UNDER-19) Laser Radial: Cian Byrne, Ross O'Sullivan, Conor O'Beirne, Liam Glynn, Aisling Keller, Erica Ruigrok. 420: Peter Mc Cann, Harry Whitaker, Lizzy McDowell, Cara Mc Dowell, Colin O'Sullivan, Doug Elmes, Sean Waddilove, Robert Dickson.

JUNIOR SQUAD Optimist: Micheal O'Suilleabhain, Grace O'Beirne, Robert Keal, Cathal O'Regan, Michael Carroll, Kate D'Arcy, Conor Horgan, Emily Whitaker, Jack Fahy, Nicola Ferguson, Morgan Lyttle, Charlie Cullen, Alana Coackley, Tom Higgins, Aoife Byrne. Topper: Lucy Donworth, Ros Morgan, Geoff Power, Katie Landers, Juliet Nyhan, Eoghan Byrne, Shane O'Brien, Tom Keal, Amy Carroll, Caoimhe Foster, Maeve O'Sullivan, Cian Jones, Molly Murphy, Paddy Cunnane.

David Branigan

David Branigan

David Branigan is a contributor on sailing to The Irish Times