Sophie Dingwall is the first winner of the Brian Black Memorial Award for marine environmental journalism, launched in memory of Brian and Lesley Black

The winner of the first Brian Black Memorial Award has been announced.

Sophie Dingwall’s article, Polluted Paradise examined ocean plastic pollution and its devastating effects on Caribbean island communities.

The judges, which included round the world race winner, multiple world champion Mike Golding OBE, six-time circumnavigator and Volvo Ocean Race skipper Dee Caffari MBE, and Brian and Les Black’s daughter Sarah Brown, enjoyed her writing style and her eye-catching, evocative photos which illustrated the crisis facing the people of the San Blas islands. While the competition initially focused on Europe and the Arctic, the judges felt Sophie’s “engaging writing, stunning photos and clarity of focus on one environmental issue” made her entry the standout winner.

Sophie was presented with her award – a cash prize of £2,000 and a donation of £1,000 to an environmental project or charity of her choice, as well as a trophy and commemorative handmade pen – at the Southampton Boat Show on 10 September 2021.

She has named Surfers Against Sewage as her chosen charity.

‘Surfers Against Sewage is proactive and cover so many fundamental areas in tackling climate change and protecting our oceans. I particularly like their dedication and involvement with children and schools – giving the tools to create plastic free schools and now communities. I realise this isn’t a sailing specific charity but I’m sure all lovers of the ocean will appreciate the work and difference they are making, that undoubtedly impacts everyones experiences on and off the water,’ explained Sophie.

Sophie Dingwall - Brian Black Memorial Award winner 2021

Sophie Dingwall has dedicated her life and career to the water, focusing in recent years on the environmental impacts affecting the oceans by taking part in scientific research programmes around the world. Credit: Sophie Dingwall

The 28-year-old began sailing as a child and was part of the Team GB Cadet team. She has sailed the UK, Europe, Atlantic, Caribbean, Hawaii and Mexico, and writes for sailing publications and charities as well as taking part in scientific research programmes around the world.

On winning the award, Sophie said: ‘Submitting something so heartfelt was daunting but it was important to me to convey the right message, I’m honestly chuffed to have my story recognised and been given the opportunity to share it.

‘Winning an award with such a prestigious panel of judges and in memory of Brian Black is a privilege and gives me the confidence to continue with my muse to protect our oceans,’ she added.

Read Polluted Paradise by clicking here

The Brian Black Memorial Award, which is sponsored by the marine electronics company, B&G, was established to celebrate sailing adventures which shed a fresh light on marine environmental issues through inspiring journalism.

It was launched as a memorial to former Yachting Monthly contributors Brian and Lesley Black. Brian Black was as passionate about the marine environment as he was eloquent in his writing and filmmaking about the crises facing fragile Arctic ecosystems.

Brian and Les Black with daughter Sarah Brown

Brian and Les Black with daughter Sarah Brown. Credit: Brian Black/Sarah Brown

A television journalist for RTE in Ireland, UTV in Northern Ireland, and later through his own production company, he was also a lifelong sailor and contributor to Yachting Monthly.

His wife Lesley was a sailor and author in her own right, becoming Northern Ireland’s first female yacht club commodore, blazing a trail for women in sailing. Both passed away recently.

Brian and Lesley’s daughter, Sarah Brown, who was part of the judging panel, said: ‘In setting up the award I wanted to do two things. Honour mum and dad’s memory and recognise and reward new talent. I am so happy that we have achieved both those things.

‘Reading the articles reminded me of how much people care, and it has given me a renewed feeling of companionship with fellow environmentalists. Sophie’s piece stood out to the whole panel. Dad would have loved her clear communication and beautiful images and I know the intensity of her writing would have got to mum as much as it did to me,’ she added.

B&G’s chief sustainability officer (CSO) Tara Norton said: ‘B&G would like to congratulate the Brian Black award winner, Sophie Dingwall. This work exemplifies the passion, dedication and effort that is needed to address some of the most pressing challenges facing our oceans. As said so well in the article, “without the ocean, life simply wouldn’t exist.” We believe this can help inspire all of us to do more.’

There were four runners up in the competition: Jon Amtrup, Genevieve Leaper, Nicholas Hodgson and Sam Shrives.

Jon Amtrup

Norwegian Jon Amtrup has been sailing high latitudes and writing for most of his life. His article focused on a four day cruise around Bear Island, Svalbard collecting marine litter from beaches and taking samples.

Jon Amtrup has been sailing high latitudes for decades.

Jon Amtrup has been sailing high latitudes for decades. Credit: Jon Amtrup

Amtrup has written High Latitude Sailing: Self-sufficient sailing techniques for cold waters and winter seasons, Sail to Svalbard and a number of other books.

He is also the co-founder of the environmental ocean non-profit Gate to the Arctic, and a member of The Explorers Club.

Genevieve Leaper

Genevieve Leaper has been sailing all her life and interested in marine wildlife from an early age.

She has a degree in Zoology and has worked on seabird and marine mammal surveys, also as a fast rescue boat instructor, and for many years has been freelancing as a photographer, writer and environmental consultant.

Genevieve Leaper

Genevieve Leaper. Credit: Genevieve Leaper

She owns a 17ft trimaran but currently mostly sails with her partner on his Nicholson 32 in Greece and also on the west coast of Scotland.

Although she most enjoys photographing beautiful animals and seascapes, she also feels the need to document the increasing damage and threats to the marine environment and wildlife.

Genevieve’s entry for the Brian Black Memorial Award focused on the death of an endangered monk seal in the Mediterranean, and her search to find out what had caused it demise.

Nicholas Hodgson

Nic Hodgson wrote about the launch of his Trash Tuesday Initiative, encouraging cruisers to do that bit my picking up litter from the sea and coast on a weekly basis.

He and his wife Catherine are from Cape Town, South Africa.

Nicholas and Catherine Hodgson. He is a runner up in the Brian Black Memorial Award 2021

Nic and Catherine Hodgson. Credit: Nic Hodgson

Wanting to double their summers, they spend part of the year living on their Fountaine Pajot Saba 50, Lady Roslyn, which is currently based in the Mediterranean.

Sam Shrives

Having been born into a naval family Sam developed both the travelling and sailing bug from an early age.

Over the years these passions have taken him across all seven continents, including sailing a yacht to 80 degrees north above Spitzbergen and working on the Halley VI research base in Antarctica.

Sam Shrives. He is a runner up in the Brian Black Memorial Award 2021

Sam Shrives. Credit: Sam Shrives

Most weekends you’ll usually find him racing on various sized boats along the UK’s south coast.

After various jobs within the marine industry he’s now working for a local maritime charity and eagerly planning the next adventure.

Sam wrote about his voyage to Spitzbergen for the Brian Black Memorial Award.

Read all the shortlisted articles

All the articles by the runners-up will be published in Yachting Monthly magazine and on the website at a later date.

Sophie’s winning article – Polluted Paradise – will feature in the November 2021 issue of Yachting Monthly.

The Editor of Yachting Monthly, Theo Stocker said it has been “enormously exciting to establish an award that recognises both brilliant writing and sailors who are passionate about the marine environment.”

“We miss Brian and Les Black, in whose memory this award was set up. It feels like a fitting tribute to them to celebrate the causes they cared about so much being picked up by a new generation of adventurers and story tellers.

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“The sea and its inhabitants can’t speak for itself, so it is vitally important that we use the platform of Yachting Monthly to raise awareness of and engagement with environmental issues that may otherwise remain hidden until it’s too late. We are grateful to B&G for supporting this award and making it possible.

“As a company, it is encouraging to see the steps B&G are taking to address their own environmental impact, and facilitate others to do the same. It has been a good fit to have them on board as sponsors of this award,’ he said.