Josh Porter and I represented the Irish Fireball Association at the GUL UK National Championships held over the four-day British jubilee holiday weekend. The Fireball UK Nationals is one of the most competitive on these islands and 2022 was no exception. Thirty-four Fireballs made the trek to Brightlingsea on the east coast of England. This was a double National championship, shared with the Contender class who had similar boat numbers. As always, the event was extremely well organised with food, entertainment and daily prizes most evenings. A feature of UK Nationals is the daily prize-giving and generous spot prizes were presented by main sponsors GUL, by North Sails, Pinnell and Bax, Allen Brothers and West Systems. The regatta team, led by regatta chair Fiona Brown, made a special arrangement with the local council to use an adjacent field for tents and campers with access to the scouts’ den for kitchen and loos. This, coupled with the cosy atmosphere of the little seaside town meant that sailors were sited close together adding a friendly and intimate feeling to the championship.
With measurement checks out of the way on the Wednesday the event kicked off in earnest on the Thursday. Launching was interesting as the curving slipway leads at low water to a gravel oyster bed. An extremely strong tide runs across the route out so a special nod of admiration must go to those sailors who have fixed rudders and manoeuvred rudderless for first several hundred metres out through the narrow-marked channel. Out in the wider estuary the first courses were set and the Fireballs got away on mostly two round Olympic Triangle type courses. Day one saw light to moderate winds increasing as the day wore on. We had a reasonable start in race one and a reasonable mid-fleet result. Conditions for the day were choppy but with enough wind to get through the slop. The wild card was the tide. With two rivers flowing into the estuary and an extremely strong tide even the locals admitted they found it difficult to decide a strategy in the wider estuary when these factors combined – or didn’t ! Certainly, team Ireland were as perplexed as most of the sailors and mainly played shifts upwind while tending to go inshore as this appeared to be the favoured side – except when it wasn’t. Race two saw me make a dog’s dinner of the start and we had to tack multiple times to clear our air. By the time we reached clean wind it was a game of catch-up and an appropriate result followed.
Day two was an entirely different kettle of fish as winds far stronger than forecast competed against tide giving a very lively and disturbed sea. The wind increased a couple of notches to 18-25 knots by race four delivering champagne conditions to be enjoyed by those who managed to stay upright. We achieved that critical task and had two fairly decent results posting a 15th and 14th. Special praise here for stand-in crew Josh who normally holds the tiller but donned the trapeze harness for this UK adventure. He stepped into the breach at short notice when regular sailing partner Ed Butler suffered a cycling injury. Josh made nearly all the good calls during the event, especially in careful positioning relative to the fleet for clear lanes, excellent boat tuning and active dynamism on the windier downwind legs which gained us numerous places.
Even stronger winds were forecast for day three and sure enough our tents rocked during the night. By morning the winds were such that our PRO, International Race Officer Paul Jackson checked out the “horrible” sea state and made the early call to abandon racing for the day. There were no complaints. This gave us the chance to relax and catch up with friends in the club bar, and to take a gander around the town. Given that the jubilee weekend was in full flight the town was an interesting sight with a plethora of union jacks and window displays of royal memorabilia, some of which would fetch high valuations on the Antiques Roadshow. We were especially taken with the knitted crown atop the Royal Mail post-box outside the local Tesco. To my eyes however the most fascinating sight was the rows of seaside huts, each uniquely decorated and distinctive. Several were festooned with bunting and hosting Jubilee parties. These quirky gems do not come cheap. A nose in the windows of local estate agents showed prices between 25 and 35k. Not cheap, especially when you consider that the town doesn’t really have a proper beach. And not cheap either when you see that pretty little redbrick houses dating from the late 19th century can be had from about 200k upwards.
Saturday night saw the main championship dinner at the club. This was a terrific social evening with lovely food cooked and served entirely by volunteers from Brightlingsea Sailing Club. A highlight of the evening for me was meeting Bob Fisher’s daughters Alice and Carolyne. The legendary sailor and columnist was born and raised in Brightlingsea. Fisher, who died in 2021 has his name engraved above the bar marking his Fireball World championship title in the 1960s. The sisters posed with chair of the UK class Derian Scott beside a special cake commissioned for the event marking the 60th anniversary of the Fireball. Before the Jazz band struck up for the evening, I had the opportunity to do a quick presentation for the Fireball World Championships in Lough Derg YC this August. With 19 British entries so far amongst competitors from as far away as Australia and South Africa the UK fleet are strongly supporting the upcoming Irish Worlds. And with an attractive ferry discount thanks to Irish Ferries, we expect that number will increase before the cheaper entry closing date at the end of this month. Currently there are 55 teams entered and the class now expects boat numbers to top the 60 mark.
Rested after our day off as tourists and our championship dinner we launched next morning for the final day of racing with three races planned. The forecast promised medium winds, declining to light and clocking left as the day progressed. And so it proved. We had a fairly decent start for race five, lining up well for the gun only to have event leader and multiple world champion Tom Gillard, with crew Andy Thompson, shoot out over us like a rocket. We bore off for clear wind and for a few minutes at least had a good view of Tom’s technique – hiking aggressively and dynamically in any puffs to power past adjacent boats before settling into loose covering control of the main competition. Gillard is a multiple world champion and arguably favourite for this year’s Worlds although the Swiss and Czech teams could well prevail due to their lake sailing experience. This race gave us our best result, keeping left on the first beat put us in good position at the top mark and we held our place for the race to finish 7th. Race six was for us was a bit of a disaster. To keep manners on the fleet a U flag was flying for the off. I opted to start somewhat down the line where there was more room but a classic situation emerged whereby a single boat to weather of us seemed to me well forward of the line so I held back to avoid an OCS at all costs. This was a fatal mistake as they had judged the line perfectly and were away in the clear at the gun. We were overrun and found ourselves in poor air and chopped up sea for the entire beat. We fought hard and tried various options but never really got back into any kind of decent position. With the clock running down to the 3.30pm cut-off the race officer took the pragmatic decision to get a last race in despite a slightly skewed course favouring a long port tack to the weather mark. This saw us line up for a pin end start only for the breeze to head further preventing us and those around us from crossing the line. Luckily, we managed to tack onto port and slip through a gap into clear air. We settled into the long and favoured port tack and concentrated on boat speed, helped by a lee-bow tide effect. We arrived at the weather mark in good shape and managed to hold onto most of our advantage around the course to finish in 14th.
When the dust settled and the scores were counted, we finished 16th overall in the 34-boat fleet and managed to get the 2nd silver fleet prize for the event so no complaints from this North-South Fireball team sailing together for the first time. The team of Russell and Ali Cormack who took the top silver prize on equal points to us deserved every bit of their prize as they managed to pull off a second in the same race which was our worst. We salute them! Unsurprisingly North Sails’ Tom Gillard with Andy Thompson won the event but they didn’t have things entirely their own way as Peter Gray and Simon Foskett posted some great results including two wins on the last day to come second overall. The young and fast improving P&B team of Isaac Marsh and Ollie Davenport posted a win, a second and two thirds to come third overall. In summary the UK Nationals is always a brilliant event and this was no exception, worth every bit of the long trek across the UK to take part.
Next up on the Irish Fireball circuit is the DMYC regatta this coming weekend and the Ulster Championship the following weekend. This year’s Ulster’s is being staged just North of the Liffey as the class looks forward to returning to Sutton Dinghy Club for the first time in many years. The Fireball class loan boat is now booked for the Sutton event but available to a responsible team for the Leinster Championship in Blessington SC in July. Interested teams should contact class chairman Neil Cramer or secretary Frank Miller.
The International Fireball World Championship takes place from August 21st – 27th at Lough Derg YC in Dromineer with Con Murphy as PRO. The event is supported by Tipperary County Council and also by Carrickcraft, who are offering sailors special rates for cruiser hire during and after the championship. The Worlds are preceded by the Irish National Championships on August 18th and 19th which doubles as the warm-up event. Currently 55 boats are signed up for the worlds and with a cheap entry cut-off of the end of June that number is expected to reach 60 plus. The class are encouraging inactive Fireball sailors to pass on their boats to new teams and the class website has seen many boats change hands in recent weeks. The countdown to the Worlds in Dromineer is ticking but it’s not yet too late to get hold of a Fireball and join the fray…
Link to final results – https://www.sailwave.com/
Article by Frank Miller
Winners photo by William Stacey