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Andy Thompson Of Larne – Sailing’s “Unknown” Superstar

28th September 2022
East Antrim Boat Club in Larne is a haven of peace and quiet in busy commercial town, manufacturing centre and ferryport
East Antrim Boat Club in Larne is a haven of peace and quiet in busy commercial town, manufacturing centre and ferryport

East Antrim Boat Club is a haven of almost rural peace and quiet on the point of land with the remains of historic Olderfleet Castle at the south side of this commercial town. For Larne is a bustling manufacturing centre and ferryport, whose civic claims include being “The First Link To Scotland” and “The Gateway To The Glens of Antrim”.

Yet if you’re in EABC, either in quiet times when you realise this is Maritime DIY Central, or at busy times when they’re hosting a major sailing championship, then you soon realise that Larne sells itself short in claiming to be just the link to one place, or the gateway to another.

For EABC is a thriving community-minded hub of sailing invention and activity afloat, a production line for the identifying and friendly encouragement of boat talent to international standards. And in longtime member and former Commodore Tom Jobling, EABC are lucky enough to have an analyst and writer who can fill us in on the backstory to some intriguing sailors of international standard originally from Larne, people who are more accustomed to getting on with the project in hand in preference to expending energy in setting some glossy publicity machine in action.

Former EABC Commodore Tom Jobling with his third “retirement-written” novel – a fourth is on the wayFormer EABC Commodore Tom Jobling with his third “retirement-written” novel – a fourth is on the way

These days, Tom has supposedly retired from the daily grind, which in his case was on the marketing side of the Tegral buildings company. But he keeps himself busy as a writer of novels “with a nautical twist”. There are already three in publication, and a fourth is on the way. Yet while he has shown he can deal successfully with a broader readership, in recent days he has shown he can comfortably take up the sailing wordsmith reins with style, and here’s his take on Larne’s multiple crewing winner Andy Thompson

OUR ANDY ...

Ashore and a voice was heard to ask after the penultimate race of the late-August Fireball Worlds at Dromineer on Lough Derg. "So, who is this Andy Thompson guy?" Quick as a flash, his neighbour (at that same yacht club bar) said:

"Oh, I know him; he is or was a member of my club. He's a crew, but not any old crew."

Continuing, he said: "Put simply, Andy is one of the most decorated sailors on the circuit. Not counting his amassed pile of local and regional titles, it is his national and international record that stands him apart from the rest of us."

Andy Thompson's love affair with competitive sailing was hatched while crewing for his late father Ronnie at East Antrim Boat Club on Larne Lough. Father and son thereafter raced the Irish circuit. Thus Andy got his first taste of 'International' sailing in 1991 when the Thompsons competed at the GP14 Worlds at Cape May in the US. Andy was hooked.

 A very effective performance sailing school – GP14 racing in Larne Lough A very effective performance sailing school – GP14 racing in Larne Lough

His father, however, was soon looking for a replacement crew, as his son had moved away from then-troubled Northern Ireland to find work with English sailmakers Pinnell & Bax. It was the dream job – sailing and getting paid to do it! On leaving P&B, he moved to the West Midlands and Speed Sails, where his relationship with the late great Richard Estaugh blossomed.

Currently, Andy is employed at the huge Sunseeker superyacht shipyard complex at Poole in Dorset, but meanwhile, it’s timely to take an overview of his most outstanding crewing achievements:

'THE ANDY THOMPSON TABLE of TRIUMPHS

  • 2000 GP14: World Champion Richard Estaugh
  • 2000 GP14: Irish National Champion Ruan O'Tiarniagh
  • 2002 GP14: British 'Inland' Champion Andy Hately
  • 2003 FIREBALL: British Champion Shane McCarthy
  • 2007 FIREBALL: World Champion (2nd) Vince Horey
  • 2010 SCORPION: British Inland Champion Tom Gillard
  • 2011 SCORPION: British Inland Champion Tom Gillard
  • 2012 SCORPION: British Inland Champion Tom Gillard
  • 2015 GP14: UK National Champion Shane McCarthy
  • 2015 GP14: UK Inland Champion Shane McCarthy
  • 2015 FIREBALL: British Inland Champion Tom Gillard
  • 2016 GP14: UK National Champion Shane McCarthy
  • 2019 GP14: UK National Champion Sam Watson
  • 2022 GPI4: Irish National Champion Shane McCarthy
  • 2022 FIREBALL: World Champion Tom Gillard
  • 2022 FIREBALL: National Champion Tom Gillard

Whether hiking or trapezing, Andy has raced in a variety of racing sail-boats, for example: the Merlin Rocket, 18 ft Skiff, RS400, Flying 15 and 1720's to name but a few. The above table, therefore, reflects not only his favourite craft but, in 'pot hunting' terms, the most successful.

Reflecting on his successes, Andy is quick to attribute his learning curve to the late and great Richard Estaugh, for whom he worked, sailed and celebrated. Together they won the 2000 GP14 Worlds in Durban, South Africa. Conversely, many of his leading helms are also quick to acknowledge Andy's talents.

Andy Thompson (left) with Shane McCarthy at the Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year AwardsAndy Thompson (left) with Shane McCarthy at the Afloat Irish Sailor of the Year Awards in 2016

Lifelong friend and multi-champion helm Shane McCarthy from Greystones said. "When Andy steps aboard, the boat comes alive – a hard taskmaster but a delight to sail with." North Sails' Tom Gillard – Andy's Fireball world champion helm – echoes Shane's comments, while Simon Relph mentions that while he never actually shared a GP14 with “Thompo”, "Andy crewed both on my Half Tonner and a 1720 Sportsboat, creating more great anecdotes than you’d believe, some of which I’d prefer not to share….”

Andy Thompson (right) on his way to British Inland Championship victory in 2015 with Tom GillardAndy Thompson (right) on his way to British Inland Championship victory in 2015 with Tom Gillard

Yes, Thompson was and is indeed a much sought-after crewman, and rightly so. The immediate past President of the GP14 International Association Curly Morris, said. "What Andy lacked in educational certificates he more than made up with his unique vision; he has this ability to 'see the wind', spot shifts that no one else can see. Truly he is a very special guy."

Curly Morris, former GP 14 International President and member of World Sailing Specialist Committees, is another graduate of the "East Antrim Boat Club Sailing Machine".  Photo: W M NixonCurly Morris, former GP 14 International President and member of World Sailing Specialist Committees, is another graduate of the "East Antrim Boat Club Sailing Machine".  Photo: W M Nixon

Andy Thompson (on the wire) in 2015 with Tom GillardAndy Thompson (on the wire) in 2015 with Tom Gillard

Born in Larne, Co Antrim in 1972, Andy Thompson's early years were no different from the average youngster/teenager dodging bullets and bonfires; Northern Ireland was not a comfortable place during what was termed 'The Troubles'. Educated at the Antiville Primary School and Larne High School, academia was not something he craved. He was very much hands-on. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work in the marine trade, which saw him departing County Antrim’s shores.

Tom Gillard (left) and Andy Thompson on their way to the world championship title on Lough DergTom Gillard (left) and Andy Thompson on their way to the world championship title on Lough Derg Photo: Oising Higgins

At Pinnell & Bax he learnt his craft as a sail maker, rigger and GRP boat builder. But another opportunity had emerged; to work, watch and learn from the legend that was Richard Estaugh was too good to ignore. Richard took Andy under his wing and their relationship – both ashore and afloat – culminated in Durban, South Africa, when 'the big lad' from Northern Ireland followed his East Antrim BC co-members, the Fekkes brothers, with a World Championship title. EABC Commodore Lucy Whitford said. "There's not too many clubs that can count three world champions among its membership”.

Speaking on behalf of East Antrim BC, she said “We're very proud of our Andy. Although his life is across the water now, he continues to sail under the EABC burgee, regardless of where in the world he's racing." And the final word is from Dot, Andy's proud mother, who remarked:

"If he keeps his winning streak up, I'll need a builder to extend the already cluttered 'trophy room' at Coastguard Road. Yep, that's my boy."

2022 Fireball World Champions Tom Gillard (left) and Andy Thompson lift the trophy at Lough Derg Photo: Frank Miller2022 Fireball World Champions Tom Gillard (left) and Andy Thompson lift the trophy at Lough Derg Photo: Frank Miller

WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

Email The Author

William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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