Just over two weeks ago I was collared by the Commodore in the lower dinghy park. He was there playing with a barbecue and some sausages and I was there, yet again, touching up some errant gelcoat on my 12 year old Winder Fireball.
What was I at at all? Well I was trying to make the boat as presentable as possible for the Fireball Worlds just across the pond in Pwllheli, Wales, i.e. an hours drive from Dublin/Holyhead via a very fair deal from Irish Ferries.
You’ll write some reports for the club he asked? Hmmm I said. I knew that in the red hot competition in Wales there would not be a lot of glory to write home about. That wasn’t why I or the other seven crews were going. We were going to give it our best shot, in a massive fleet consisting of some of the best dinghy racers in the world ourside the Olympics.
I write this note now sitting on the ferry home. Two weeks have passed and we have had some of the most exciting racing of our lives. There was little glory, with our top team a heart-breaking hairs breadth from a top ten finish. Myself and my crew, Ed Butler, just about finished in the top three quarters of the fleet, with Irish boats just ahead and just behind us.
What’s the point some people wonder going to a high level event where you are largely outclassed and your chances of a race win are as remote as the Lotto? The point is that to sail in a huge Worlds fleet is a totally different experience to club, regional or national level racing. The point is that this is racing at its absolute finest in the best dinghy around. It’s exciting, it’s challenging in the extreme and it’s a lot of fun. If anyone wants to learn why Fireballs are the most exciting but managable dinghy you can race give me a shout, the class are keen to get more people aboard, and the Fireball is as good as it gets. Meanwhile below is my account of the last week…
Frank Miller IRL 14713
The 107 boat Fireball World championships concluded in Pwllheli, Wales today with the final two races taking place in winds of circa 22 knots with big seas and impressive waves adding spice to the finale.
After 10 races the World Champions are Tom Gillard and Richard Anderton of the UK. The pair overtook the previous firm leaders Christian Birrell and Sam Breary (UK) by scoring second in each of the two last races races. Judging by prestart manoeuvres their on the water activity may have contributed to the latter’s two 4th places today knocking them back to third place overall. James Peters and Flynn Sterritt (UK) were second.
Earlier races on Sunday, Monday Tuesday and Thursday in the Fireball Worlds series in Pwllheli Wales also took place in stunning if challenging conditions.
With a brace of World and National Champions participating the competition was red hot and in the prevailing conditions even some top sailors were wiped out by an errant wave or a momentary lapse of concentration. The 8 Irish boats here have been fighting for positions throughout the 107 boat fleet. Best in class are undoubtedly Barry McCartin and Conor Kinsella who ended 11th on equal points with Ben Schultz (Aus) who snatched the 10th on tiebreaker.
A broken main halyard in race one today cost the Irish pair dearly. Kenny Rumball and Teddy (Brian Byrne) scored 20th overall and Noel Butler/Stephen Oram were 26th. The Clancy Brothers (Conor and James) were a bit further back in 43rd overall . Jon Evans and Aidan Caulfield sailed solidly in the washing machine seas and lead the rest of the bunch at 75th one place ahead of Frank Miller and Ed Butler who crept ahead of Niall McGrotty and Neil Cramer lying 77th. In racing today the gybe mark at times resembled a graveyard as crews threw the dice to work out on which huge wave they would throw the mainsail across. A bit further back were Louise McKenna and Hermine O’Keeffe. This lightweight woman pairing have been sailing fantasticaly well not to say heroically over the two weeks and have headed out in conditions when a significant number of bigger crews have opted to keep their dinghy boots dry.
There have been a number of minor injuries : Niall McGrotty retired from one race after a cut above the eye, Cormac Bradleys UK helm Chris Thorne injured his hand and was out of action with Cormac taking up position on a mark boat. Everyone is nursing bruises, cuts, stiff backs, shoulders, arms and legs.
Sailing this week was not for the faint hearted : the conditions resembled Dunmore East in terms of massive waves but the wave pattern was frequently disturbed making steering tricky. The waves built steadily throughout the week as 2 depressions delivered South/South West winds sometimes peaking overnight and delivering even bigger waves by the following day. The decision to hoist or two-sail a reach has sometimes been dictated by race officer or a change in wind direction but the knowledge of the huge waves further down the reach has tempered many hoisting instincts.
Race coach Adam Bowers has been videoing the action giving nightly debriefings and advice which has proved very helpful. Notably Adam has advised easing kicker in the really strong stuff and allowing jib cars out and up so that the slot can breathe throughout its length. This combined with a raised centreboard (up to half up in extreme conditions) bar tight outhaul and cunningham has allowed us to keep the boats in balance and to plane over the waves rather than stagger through them.
One of the key challenges has been keeping the crew attached to the boat and not lost to a rogue wave. For everyone at this 107 World Championships sailing a boat as exciting as a Fireball has delivered dinghy racing at its most challenging best. The event will be remembered for a long time to come…