Competitive racer Joe English died Nov. 4 in Ireland at age 58 nearly 10 years after ending his career as a professional sailor because of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
English first competed in the Admiral’s Cup in 1977, 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, according to an obituary in Sailing Scuttlebutt.
Later that year, English traveled to Australia, where he was based in Sydney and competed in major events that included 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. He followed that with a victory in the Two Ton Cup in Sardinia a year later.
After the death of his father in 1980, English met April Murphy and the couple returned to Australia. There he was hired by James Hardy, backer of the South Australia campaign, and he competed in 1987 for the America’s Cup that was won for the United States by Dennis Conner. English and Murphy married that year.
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 adviser 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 sports boat classes aimed at delivering affordable and fun racing for club-level sailors.
Designed by Tony Castro and built by O’Sullivan Marine in Tralee, the 1720 Sportsboat was well received and 115 boats were built. The fleet experienced a resurgence of interest in Ireland in recent times and is actively used in competitive events and training around the coast today.
In 2004 at age 48, a series of tests led to a diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease and English left his position with McWilliam sailmakers.
Determined to fight the disease, he was open about his condition and participated in an RTE Primetime documentary, in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Society, about the lives of sufferers and their families in Ireland.