Chris Bateman and Conor Flynn are the new Fireball Ulster Champions after six hard fought races in lively conditions at Sutton Dinghy Club last weekend. The young team, who also took the youth prize, counted two wins, a second and two thirds to win the trophy by five points over Ed Óg Butler and Fionn Conway. Third overall were Niall McGrotty and Neil Cramer. The event was one of the most exhilarating and competitive Fireball regional event for several years. Several new teams were afloat testing their skills and their boats against more experienced opposition in conditions which ranged from medium to very strong North-Northwest winds. Saturday saw good medium breezes, mostly from the northwest, with testing shifts and light patches. Every race saw multiple place changes over the various legs with no one team dominating. Frank Miller and Grattan Donnelly pulled off a win in race one by going slightly further inshore on a beat and finding better wind and a lift to the weather mark to take them from fifth to first and holding on to the finish. Race two saw Bateman/Flynn take the bullet from the highly experienced team of McGrotty/Cramer in second. Race three saw Butler/Conway prevail. Race four saw McGrotty/Cramer squeeze inside Louise McKenna/Hermine O’Keeffe at the final leeward mark to take the win, and the overnight lead on points over Bateman/Flynn. Courses were the of the preferred triangle-sausage variety leading to some great reaches thanks to the skill of race officer Scorie Walls and her team. What was really remarkable about the weekend’s racing was the level of competition. New sailors quickly found their feet in the Fireball and gave plenty of challenge to the more experienced, often emerging on top. Whoops of delight were heard on some of the windier reaches.
Day two dawned with a slightly ominous forecast. Slightly different forecasts were on offer from Wind Guru, Windy and Met Eireann. The bottom line suggested possible breezes of up to thirty knots. After consulting the thirteen-boat fleet and taking in to consideration the flat sea conditions and the ability of the Fireball to be tuned to sail comfortably in very strong winds racing went ahead in a building breeze which ultimately saw some gusts reach 27 knots. Special mention here for Paul Ter Horst, who with his son Maurice were probably the only true “silver” fleet sailors afloat. The pair took to the conditions and finished every race but the last when the wind was very clearly on a steep upward trajectory. On the course there were some very strong veins on wind, most coming over the hill from due north, with some great lifts, and also some great headers. Racing was a game of making the most of these patches and lifts while staying upright and flat. This is probably where Bateman/ Flynn really excelled, sailing “bow down” for maximum speed and crossing ahead on the big shifts. The pair won race five and were second in the final race to Butler/Conway. Their victory in the event is all the more remarkable because this was Bateman’s first competitive outing in his Fireball. The silver fleet prize was won by Conor Twohig and Matthew Cotter. The very fast team of Josh Porter and Cara McDowell had been leading the final race and heading for their best result when a strong gust wiped them out at the final gybe mark. Equally McGrotty/Cramer went down to a strong gust in race six but their overall solid scoring saw them take third overall by a point from Miller/Donnelly. Special mention too for Fionn Conway who crewed for Ed Óg – the highly skilled Laser and Moth sailor was trapezing and flying a spinnaker for the first time.
This was a tremendous weekend at Sutton, who led by event organisers Andy Johnson and Jim Lambkin, stepped up as an unlikely but terrific venue to host the Ulsters, just North of the Liffey when other venues and dates fell through. The club, which has just finished a major renovation, provided exemplary race management and extremely warm and open-hearted hospitality to the class to mark it’s return to the spiritual home of the Fireball in Ireland. It was from Sutton in 1962 that the first Irish Fireball was launched by Roy Dickson. This year is the 60th anniversary of the class, a landmark being celebrated at a special event at Hayling Island in the UK and at the World Championships at Lough Derg YC in Dromineer this August. Appropriately enough numbers for the Worlds at 58 are now close to that 60 mark. The event in Sutton last weekend showed clearly that there is new Irish talent entering the fleet ready to take on the best the world has to offer.