Noel Butler and Stephen Oram were crowned Fireball Munster Champions after six hard-fought races at Killaloe Sailing Club at the weekend. Fifteen Fireballs competed in the two-day event at the completely re-modelled club on the shores of Lough Derg. The class were greatly honoured to be the first class hosted by KSC since the completion of their brand-new clubhouse. On the Saturday night the class sat down to a terrific meal hosted by club volunteers in its function room, the first meal in the newly built room. The area around the club has been completely remodelled with greatly improved boat and vehicle parking, and room for tents and camper vans. All in all, the completion of the works is a huge achievement and the Fireball class were delighted to be the first customers. The event itself was a tale of two halves. The forecast for day one was to be breezy, shifty and exceptionally gusty and for once the forecast was 100% accurate. With the conditions just seven boats launched initially to test the waters, in every sense. As the morning wore on that number increased to ten as conditions eased somewhat. Race one was a windward-leeward affair and in fact principal race officer Doireann Kennedy, mentored by Geoff O’Donoghue, wisely stuck to windward-leeward courses for the day, giving sailors the choice of angles downwind, and allowing the race team to quickly re-configure the course for big shifts. And it was those big shifts which provided the greatest challenges during racing, with stinging gusts striking at unexpected angles leading to that water sampling mentioned earlier. Butler/Oram won races one and three, but didn’t have things their own way by any means. They were frequently beaten to the weather mark and it was their brave/inspired choice of downwind angles where they pulled back places. While most of the fleet tried to follow the gusts downwind Butler/Oram took off in frequently extreme directions, seeking out more pressure and high-wiring down the runs to take places and get back into contention. Race two was won by Ed Óg Butler and Sean Collins who were fast throughout the entire event in all conditions, and were especially sharp upwind. Frank Miller and Hugo Mickova sailed consistently on day one, posting three third places in the breezy stuff. Josh Porter and Cara McDowell, being lighter, were a bit behind on day one with two fifths in the first races but a second in the final race of the day when conditions had lightened somewhat. Before the meal on Saturday night the class had an open forum meeting to get views on the season ahead and in particular to get views on the racing calendar for 2023. It was especially heartening to see so many young faces at the meeting and get feedback for the next season. Since many Fireballers also sail other classes balancing the racing calendar is never easy. After the meal and some libations, the sailors crawled back to their various tents, vans, hotels and apartments.
Sunday dawned as expected with little wind but by the time the sailors convened at the club there was a very decent land breeze. However, by the time boats launched that breeze had considerably reduced and then disappeared. Consultations with Geoff O’Donoghue led to the prediction of a thermal wind filling from the opposite direction and so it proved, allowing three “Olympic Triangle” races to be sailed in a fair breeze. Race four was won by Porter/McDowell, leading Butler/Oram and Thomas Chaix/Conor Flynn across the line. Porter/McDowell took the gun again in race five from Butler/Oram and Butler/Flynn. The final race was a fraught affair with a port/starboard incident leading to Porter/McDowell doing turns, and a very interesting gybe mark situation where Butler/Oram went on what seemed like a gybing dance to attempt to get the inside overlap at the mark in very thin air. We can’t report whether they legally acquired that overlap as it looked distinctly hairy from our viewpoint but they emerged with the inside berth. It was a very noisy affair but Ed Óg did not follow through with a protest. We don’t know if that’s because he is a gentleman or if he conceded that an overlap was established in time. If it was the former his good sportsmanship was rewarded because he and Sean Collins won the final race, with Butler/Oram relegated to fourth through some shifts and light patches approaching the finish. Butler/Oram were able to discard that race to take the overall with a three-point lead, and Porter/McDowell took second on equal points with Butler/Collins who finished third overall. Miller/Mickova took fourth place overall. Special praise has to go to Jakub Ozarek and Lara Killen from East Down who showed great boat handling ability in all the conditions and went on to win the silver trophy at their first ever Fireball event. And a round of applause for Lara’s dad Paul who drove from East Down and organised the camping and feeding of the youth team. Second Silver were Richard Street/Ollie Lloyd and third were Brenda Nash and Glen Fisher. Another youth team took the classic trophy, carried off by Sam Street and Denis Cully from Blessington SC, with Sam’s father the indefatigable Richard Street as logistics manager and master chef, as well as sailing the event himself. At the prize-giving ceremony led by main organiser Jim Ryan much thanks and praise went to the club and its volunteers and small gifts were presented to the race officers. It is fair to say that this was an extremely successful event, capping off a remarkable season for the class in Ireland. Despite the effort and time which went into the recent Worlds just a few miles up the lake at LDYC the class is energized and rejuvenated and very much looking forward to the winter DMYC Frostbites series, to the summer 2023 season in Ireland, to the French Nationals in nearby Brittany and to the Europeans in Slovenia next September.