Sailing: Mills builds on success with Sailor of Year award
Mark Mills of County Wicklow, the globally successful sailboat designer, is the Irish Independent/Afloat.ie Sailor of the Year 2009 after a sustained run of exceptional achievements, which built on his original accolade as Sailor of the Month a year ago, for January 2009.
A winning designer must be a high-achieving sailor in the first place in order to meet the hugely varying demands of his profession.
Over the years, designers such as America's Cup legend Nat Herreshoff have shown themselves well able afloat. Olin Stephens made his name by winning the Fastnet Race twice as helm and crew on boats of his own design, and Ron Holland -- Ireland's favourite Kiwi -- made his mark skippering his own boat to win the Quarter Ton Worlds in 1973,
When we made Mills Sailor of the Month a year ago, it was in celebration of his success during 2008 -- mostly with Cork owners -- in boats, which included Eamonn Rohan's Blondie, first of the Argentine-built Mills-designed King 40 production class.
In October 2008, it became Boat of the Year at the Annapolis Boat Show, and demand was such that production was moved to America, where a smaller sister, the Summit 35, was already being developed. The King 40 became the Summit 40, and success continued worldwide.
Meanwhile the 2009 season was leaping to life, and Mills' designs were hitting the headlines, most notably in Ireland where Dave Dwyer's Mills 39, marinerscove.ie, continued her successful progress, and two visiting King 40s lifted class titles in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta and the Sovereign's Cup at Kinsale,
Then the superb Mills-designed 68-footer Alegre (Andy Soreano) won the 620-mile Middle Sea Race from Malta in rugged conditions in late October, beating the Fastnet winner Ran (a 72-footer) on a boat-for-boat basis.
It was a magnificent achievement, but Mills' success wave was progressing on other fronts. The new Summit 35 became Boat of the Show at Newport in the US, while Summit 40s were winning all over the world, showing her enduring quality by launching into 2010 with another win at January's Key West Regatta in Florida.
Mills goes all over the world to meet builders and owners and take in regattas and major races. But his base is in Wicklow, in the northwest of the county where the hills are rising to become the Wicklow Mountains.
In addition to his proven racing range, current projects include a 90-metre sloop, which will have a mast-top above the usual cloud base. In all, it's a body of work of exceptional quality.
Only a very able sailor could create the race-winning ideas, and see them through to completion, and Mark Mills is most deservedly our new Sailor of the Year.
The 33rd America's Cup is back in America after Larry Ellison's 90ft trimaran BMW Oracle showed clear superiority over Swiss defender Alinghi (Ernesto Bertarelli) in two straight wins, with Irish-born specialist Noel Drennan as sail consultant. Golden Gate Yacht Club of San Francisco are now the defenders, with the Italians the Challengers of Record. We're assured that the next edition will be a proper regatta rather than a brief gladiatorial contest.
Meanwhile, in the Caribbean they've the perfect cure for Monday morning blues in February. This Monday sees the start of the RORC Caribbean 600 race, perfect sunshine sailing.
Defending title holder is Ireland's Adrian Lee with his Cookson 50 Lee Overlay Partners, his crew including ace helm Peter O'Leary of Cork.
Lee's challengers in a fine fleet count Fastnet winner Ran, the 80ft Beau Geste from Hong Kong, another Cookson 50 -- Ron O'Hanley's Privateer from the US -- and another Irish team, Niall Dowling and Michael Boyd with a Class 40 speed machine.