Eight Bells: Joe English


I am  very sad to announce the recent death of the yachtsman Joe English (58), a very good personal friend of mine and the former skipper of Ireland’s first entry in the Whitbread Round the World Race. He passed away on November 4 in his native Crosshaven, Co. Cork, Ireland. Joe was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers almost ten years ago that ended his career as a professional sailor.


I knew Joe for many years had the pleasure of sailing with him several years ago, and can testify as to his skill and his amazing sense of humour which will be missed by the nautical fraternity all around the globe.

He first competed in the Admiral’s Cup in 1977 on ‘Big Apple’ owned by Clayton Love, Hugh Coveney and Raymond Fielding leading up to the notorious 1979 Fastnet Race with Denis Doyle on the Ron Holland designed Swan 441 Moonduster, the forerunner to Doyle’s more famous varnished boat of the same name.

Later that year, he travelled to Australia where he was based in Sydney and competed in various major events including the Southern Cross and Kenwood Cup series in Hawaii. Returning to Cork in 1980, he won the One Ton Cup sailing with Harold Cudmore on ‘Justine’ winning all five races in a light airs series and followed this with victory in the two-ton cup in Sardinia a year later.

Following the death of his father in 1980, Joe met April Murphy and the couple returned to Australia where he was hired by James Hardy, the backer of the South Australia campaign and competed for the America’s Cup in 1983 that was won for the United States by Dennis Conner.

That same year, a group of Irish sailors and business figures formed the Sail Ireland syndicate to enter the 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Race. The 82-foot yacht was designed by Ron Holland and built in a warehouse in Dublin’s Ballyfermot. Named NCB Ireland, it was launched in November 1988 and Joe was appointed skipper in July 1989.

NCB Ireland became a national interest and her crew of 23 competed with distinction in the 33,000-mile course and faced several technical difficulties before safely completing the race after nine months around the world.

He competed in the 1993-94 edition of the Whitbread in the new 60-foot class with New Zealander Chris Dickson on ‘Tokio’ and subsequently became an advisor to the race management team as it evolved into a fully professional event.

In 1994, with friends from the Royal Cork Yacht Club in Crosshaven, he led the development of one of the world’s first sportsboat classes, the 1720 aimed at delivering affordable and fun racing for club level sailors. 115 of these boats were built and are still an active fleet today.

From 2004 at age 48, a series of tests led to a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimers Disease and he left his position with McWilliam sailmakers. Determined to fight the disease, he was open about his condition and participated in a RTE Primetime documentary in collaboration with the Alzheimers Society about the lives of sufferers and their families in Ireland.

After years of dedicated care by April and his children, Joe English passed away peacefully at St. Finbarrs Hospital, Douglas Road on Tuesday 4th November 2014.

Joe English is survived by his wife April, daughter Aoife, sons Robbie and Conor, brothers Eddie, Denis and Jean-Paul and a wide circle of friends and sailing mates in Ireland and around the world. – David Branigan


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