The Rolex ISAF Sailors of the Year awards were announced during the 2011 International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Annual Meeting in Puerto Rico. With five male and four female nominees, the initial lists provided a who's who of sailing accomplishments in the last twelve months. Best of all, the winners represent a range of talents too.


Team Maclaren (Tunnicliffe/Vandemoer/Capozzi) hoot and holler their way downwind during the first event of the Women's Match Racing Olympic Trials. Photo: John Payne/USSailing

Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez were recognized for their prowess at two ends of the sailing spectrum. What other duo can say they’ve finished second in both a non-stop race around the world and a 49er Olympic Test Event—especially in the same season? These two are truly versatile sailors, and they obviously bring out the best in one another after twelve years as a team.


Iker and Xabi accept the award from afar, during leg 1 of the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12. (Credit: Diego Fructuoso/Team Telefonica/Volvo Ocean Race)

It’s too bad Iker and Xabi weren’t on hand to celebrate with the crowd, but even their excuse for missing the party is impressive. They’re currently onboard Team Telefonica, battling toward Cape Town on the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race. In an onboard video, they promised to celebrate “here on board.” (The video also provides a stark contrast between the glitz of the ISAF Awards dinner and the nav station of their current ride).

Next up, Anna Tunnicliffe—who these days can’t be separated from Team Maclaren and her two mates, Molly Vandemoer and Debbie Capozzi. After winning a gold medal in 2008 in the Laser Radial, Anna made a transition to the all-new Olympic triple-handed Women’s Match Racing discipline. She was the first of several top US sailors to sign on two teammates, and the three won several championships together in 2011. Most recently, they won the 2011 Women’s Match Racing U.S. Olympic Team Qualifying Regatta. That victory names them as one of four teams that will compete for the final chance to represent the US at the 2012 Olympics.

All of these sailors have some big challenges over the next six to nine months. Iker and Xabi will once again race around the world, this time with eight other teammates and several pit stops. Anna, Molly, and Debbie will try to qualify their country—and, next spring, themselves—for the 2012 Olympics.

It’s too bad these five sailors couldn’t all be present on the same stage for this award. But if they all continue to work so hard and excel in such a variety of arenas, I’m sure there will be another chance for that.