Wednesday 21 March 2018

Rising star Browne strikes blow for teen brigade

WM Nixon

Sophie Browne of Tralee Bay is Irish Independent/ Sailor of the Month for January after taking the silver medal in the Girls Division in the Optimist World Championships in New Zealand.

She added it to the gold in the Girls, and fourth overall, which she won from an enormous fleet in the last major European regatta of 2011 at Palma, Mallorca in December.

It's some going when you're just 14. Sophie is back at school now, trying to make up for lost study time. But if she gives it the same total dedication she puts in on the water, she'll sail into a good leaving cert in due course.

Dedication is the name of the game and the Browne family in Tralee are a byword for it. Normally, the adjudicators for the Sailor of the Month are reluctant to hand the award to the most junior helms. They grow up so quickly, there's something ephemeral about it all.

But even at only 14, there's nothing ephemeral about Sophie's success. Other kids may think too much about the glitzy side of championships, but Sophie is well aware of the sheer hard work and unglamorous dedication which goes into that podium place.

After the regatta in Palma in December, the European Optimist squad went out to New Zealand with high hopes. But the pre-Worlds and the Worlds were salutary experiences. Thoughtful observers were well aware of the rising talents of southeast Asia, and South America too, as well as New Zealand and Australia, but for most it was a daunting learning experience.

It's Singapore which is most clearly setting the pace. Kimberly Lim from the vibrant city-state was both top girl and the new world champion.

Sophie was second in the girls, but was back in 13th overall. Yet she was still one of the best of the Europeans -- the top British sailor, for instance, was back in 21st.

She is the youngest helm to have taken the monthly award. We've had younger sailors sharing a title as crews on a Mirror dinghy, but this is the first driver. And we're full sure it won't be the last we'll hear of Sophie.

We spoke too soon last week about the benign weather of Sanya in southern China. Well, it's grand once you get there, but three of the boats in the Volvo Race have been slugging to windward in rough conditions off the coast of Vietnam as they battle to get to Sanya today.

Iker Martinez's Telefonic for Spain continues to impress in the lead, but Groupama (Franck Cammas, France) and Camper (Chris Nicholson, NZ & Spain) are staying in touch.

Abu Dhabi (Ian Walker) is further down the line, while Sanya (Mike Sanderson) is 200 miles astern, but Puma (Kenny Read US), has left the leading group and taken a flyer to the east -- today we'll know if it paid off.

There's cheering news for Irish sailors in the new global rankings published this week.

Annalise Murphy (Laser Radial) has moved up to fifth in the world, as have Peter O'Leary and David Burrows (Olympic Star), while the northern 49er duo of Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern have moved up to eighth in their class.

Irish Independent

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