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Between sailors and volunteers, some 18 Fireballers took part in a coaching day with Barry McCartin at the DMYC on Saturday writes Frank Miller. The group ranged from class veterans to adult sailors from SID to young sailors taking a break from 420s with an eye to the #Howth2020 World Championships.

McCartin is an experienced coach and also the top Irish Fireballer having notched up a top ten place in the most recent 100 boat world championships in Carnac.

Participants benefited from an initial briefing by Barry on the finer intricacies of boat tuning to maximise boat speed. In particular subtle adjustments with strut or chocks to optimise pre-bend and sail shape for a range of conditions were explored. Sailors were reminded yet again of the infinite tuning capacity of the modern Fireball to match an extremely wide variety of conditions. On a day which featured very light airs, individual boats were examined ashore and tweaked a-la-Barry to remove any excuse for slower than optimum speed. After a short lunch break and a better breeze, the 7 boats plus RIBS took to the water for a range of exercises focussing mainly on boat handling and crew /boat balance with the emphasis on avoiding unnecessary rudder movements. Once ashore the debrief examined and analysed video of the day's activities. Yet again we are reminded that sailing is a life long sport and that there is always more to learn.

The class hopes to lure Barry back for further coaching sessions and reminds young sailors that cheap second-hand Fireballs are available for purchase for #Howth2020 just around the corner! Thanks are due to the DMYC and Irish Sailing for ongoing support.

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The Irish Fireball Class Association marked the close of the summer season with their annual prize-giving dinner at the National Yacht Club on Friday 30th November. There was a good turnout for the dinner with a combination of young and not-so-young, active and retired Fireballers, at least one of whom has been based outside of the country for the recent past. A party of Fireballers from north of the Liffey got through passport control to spend the evening in Dun Laoghaire and were rewarded by taking away the biggest prize of the evening – the Travellers’ Trophy.

Class Chairman Neil Cramer of Skerries Sailing Club opened the proceedings with a review of the season and started that review by noting the passing earlier in the year of the international and domestic stalwart of the class Louis Smyth. Neil noted that Louis had raced his Fireball “Licence to Thrill” into his eightieth year and Neil intimated that this gave the rest of us “no excuse” not to continue racing into our senior years!

He further noted that Louis’ presence in the fleet was being carried on by way of his family’s donation of the boat to a Youth combination to campaign over the 2018/19 Frostbites and towards the Worlds in Howth in 2020. Eight combinations had applied to get the use of Louis’ boat but it had been allocated to the Thompson brothers Daniel & Harry and Neil advised that their commitment to the cause was mirrored by a typical weekend in winter with Saturday and Sunday sailing in Malahide and Dun Laoghaire, from a home base in Wexford.

He provided some report back from the Carnac Worlds (France) where there had been a very positive reaction to the Worlds in Howth in 2020. Possibly influenced by a very generous donation of whiskey from the primary organisers of the event in Howth for the competitors in France, there were lots of undertakings to be in Ireland for this regatta.

fireball 1Hermine O’Keeffe collects the Lady Helm Trophy for Louise McKenna.

Fireball 2Niall McGrotty (L) and Neil Cramer (Skerries) with the Travellers’ Trophy

Fireball 3John Evans (L) & Aidan Caulfield (Sligo) get theior bronze medals for the Travellers’ Trophy from Class Chairman Neil Cramer.

Fireball 4Daniel (L) and Harry Thompson collect the Travellers’ Trophy for the Silver fleet (Daniel) and the India Trophy (Harry) from Class Chairman Neil Cramer.

Winners on the night:

Travellers’ Trophy

1. Niall McGrotty & Neil Cramer; IRL 14938, Skerries Sailing Club
2. Frank Miller & Ed Butler; IRL 14713, Dun Laoghaire Motor Yacht Club
3. Jon Evans & Aidan Caulfield; IRL 14718, Sligo Yacht Club

Travellers’ Trophy Silver Fleet

Daniel & Harry Thompson, Wexford Boat & Tennis Club

India Trophy (Most Improved)

Daniel & Harry Thompson (3rd at Fireball Nationals, Skerries)

Asterix Trophy (Significant Contribution)

Frank Miller – for general promotion of the class and his coaching in Killaloe

Lady Helm

Louise McKenna – for her performance (with crew Hermine O’Keeffe) at the Worlds in Carnac, France

Liam Bradley Trophy

Awarded to Neil Colin for his volunteer efforts on behalf of the Irish Fireball fleet – organising events (Leinsters), hosting training events, organising the Frostbites, enjoying success in the Flying Fifteen fleet (winner Thursday Series overall in 2017) and qualifying for the 2019 Worlds and for recently taking on a fleet role with the Dun Laoghaire FF fleet.

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As a tribute to the memory of the late veteran dinghy racer Louis Smyth his family have announced that they will support a young team who are interested in trying a high-performance Fireball dinghy.

While full details of the scheme for the next summer season are being finalised as an initial gesture the family, supported by the Irish Fireball Association, will make available a highly competitive top spec modern Fireball to a suitable young team who wish to race in the upcoming DMYC Winter Frostbite Series in Dun Laoghaire.

In addition to providing the boat, the entry fee and dinghy parking for the event will be looked after by Louis’ family. The offer may be of particular interest to young teams who are considering a campaign for the Fireball Worlds 2020 which take place in Howth in August 2020. The qualifying age range for the team is from 13-26 and obviously, they would need to have good sailing ability and racing experience. Realistically the team would need to be of suitable weight (ideally between 120kg-170kg) and strength/fitness to take up the offer. The Fireball is a high performance yet stable centreboard dinghy with trapeze and spinnaker. Every year a healthy number participate in the Frostbite series so good racing is guaranteed with hot competition on the water and friendly support off the water.

The successful team will write a short CV or pitch for the boat for the Frostbite series and the final choice of team will be made by the Irish Fireball Association executive in conjunction with Louis’ family. Expressions of interest should be sent to Frank Miller, hon sec, Irish Fireball Association at [email protected] telephone 087 2584016.

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The renamed or rescheduled Fireball Munsters, cancelled earlier in the year at Killaloe Sailing Club, were reconvened this past weekend at one of the Irish fleet’s favourite locations, Lough Derg Yacht Club. This was our second visit in as many years and as ever the hospitality was at its best with scones and tea/coffee available on the Saturday morning, an excellent meal on the Saturday night, with commensurate bar service and a Race Management Team led by Commodore John Leech that had a relatively easy day on Saturday but a much more stressful one on the Sunday.

Held in tandem with the Mirror Southerns, the event attracted an entry of 14 boats made up principally of the fleet from Killaloe. This was the primary objective of the Irish Class Association – to encourage the KSC fleet to get themselves to another venue in order that they could sample an “away regatta” that their enthusiasm level at KSC warranted. In this regard a huge thank-you and acknowledgement has to go to Stefany Gorski and Philip Despard who delivered on promises made to get the Killaloe fleet to Dromineer. Jim Ryan also helped significantly with getting boats derigged for the road trip and re-rigged at the Lough Derg end. Eight boats made the trip with one of these claiming KSC and LDYC duality and with Skerries, Sligo, Wexford and Dun Laoghaire entries a 14-boat entry was assembled.

fireball secondAidan Caulfiedl (left) and Jon Evans of Sligo Yacht Club were second Photo: Frank Miller

The Wexford Harbour Boat & Tennis Club took the form of Daniel & Harry Thompson sailing Ed Butler’s 14990. Daniel sailed the Fireball Nationals in Skerries earlier in the season so obviously enjoyed himself enough to come back with his brother. While many of the KSC entries are new to Fireballs, it was great to see one of their more senior combinations, Jim Ryan and David Tanner (14584) back in the competitive saddle!

Racing on Saturday was on an Olympic course with the Mirrors having a triangle set up inside an outer triangle for the Fireballs. Thus each fleet had their own windward, gybe and leeward marks which minimised even further the interaction of the two fleets. The Fireballs had first start in a breeze that oscillated to a significant degree in strength on a race area immediately in front of and slightly to the left looking out from the clubhouse.

fireball thirdConall Holohan, Grattan Donnelly and Frank Miller of the DMYC were third with Lough Derg's John Leech (right)

First blood went to Niall McGrotty & Neil Cramer (14938), sailing out of Skerries and fresh back for the Fireball Worlds in Carnac, France. Frank Miller & Grattan Donnelly (14713) finished second, with the young men from Wexford third. KSC took a well-deserved 4th place with Jim & David, while behind them the pecking order was Jon Evans & Aidan Caulfield (14748). This was to be their worst results as they were never outside the top three thereafter. Indeed after winning the second race, they led the third until the Skerries combination stepped up a gear to take the final race of the day. The KSC fleet competed manfully with seven of their number finishing the first race and 6 finishing each of the latter two. Another KSC crew, Brian Keana, sailing with Neil Colin (14775) enjoyed a third place in the middle race.

Fireball youthDaniel & Harry Thompson, Wexford Harbour Boat & Tennis Club, were Silver Fleet winners Photo: Frank Miller

While the conditions weren’t extreme, the halt to sailing was welcomed by all. A definite 1-2-3 was in place with McGrotty & Cramer on 4pts, Evans & Caulfield on 8pts and Miller & Donnelly on 11pts. Thereafter the scores were the Thompsons on 12pts, the all-lady team of Louise McKenna & Hermine O’Keeffe (14691) on 15pts and Colin & Keana on 17pts. Philip Despard & Stefany Groski led the KSC contingent in 7th place.

Sunday morning saw a changed “lake-scape” with white horses in the area in the middle of the race area in front of the clubhouse and flags flying as stiff as boards. After taking some individual soundings, Race Officer John Leech conducted a short briefing to advise the assembled fleet of his synopsis of the weather and the likely conditions crews would encounter in the new race area that the wind direction warranted. His recommendation being that those who had struggled the day before might want to consider their options. Consequently, a reduced fleet took to the water (from both fleets), but those who did go out enjoyed exhilarating conditions, even under white-sail reaching.

The “Skerries Scorchers” consolidated their lead at the front of the fleet with another two race wins while Miller & Donnelly and Evans & Caulfield shared the seconds and thirds. Despard & Gorski really acquitted themselves well by scoring a fifth in the final race, while Louise & Hermine also sailed well in the prevailing conditions to score two race finishes with a 5th and a 6th. Race Officer had problems with anchoring marks in very substantial depths of water which combined with the strong breeze made for some interesting interpretations of the course by the fleets. Still, everyone who came ashore attested to the exciting conditions.

The Thompson brothers also acquitted themselves well on both days in the very contrasting conditions.

The Classic Trophy was won by Jack Pinson & Anne Gleeson, while the Silver Fleet was won by the Thompson brothers.

All in all this was a very enjoyable weekend which achieved its dual purpose of completing a Munsters and getting the KSC fleet to a new venue. Thanks are due to all those KSC Fireballers who “put their toes in the water” at an away venue. We hope you enjoyed the weekend (the smiles suggested they had).

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Matt Burge and Daniel Schrieber were winners of the Fireball Worlds in Carnac after 9 races yesterday. 

Best of the Irish with a 10th place overall was Barry McCartin and Conor Kinsella of the Royal St. George Yacht Club.

Full results downloadable below.

Mathematically, any one of the top 4 boats could have won the overall title on the final day of the 2018 Gul Fireball World Championships in Carnac.

A weak forecast with clear skies and a glass calm sea meant there was a tense wait ashore before the fleet was finally released into a light southerly breeze. On arrival at the race area it was obvious they were going to wait some more as the unstable breeze hovered around 3-5kts. As time ticked there was only going to be time for one race, bringing in the crucial second discard for many and leaving a podium shootout for only the top 3.

Patiently the race officer waited and as soon as the reliable westerly sea breeze arrived at a steady 8kts a course was set and the sequence was underway.

Remarkably the fleet started at the first attempt under the U flag for the first time this week, however there was one major casualty in the battle for the podium positions with Ian Dobson and Richard Wagstaff classified UFD. Sadly they found out as they crossed the finish line in first place.

Behind them the title fight was well underway. Tom Gillard and Geoff Edwards, lying third overall, were buried off the start line leaving Matt Burge and Dan Schieber free to match race class newcomers Penny and Russ Clark for the title. Neither boat had a second discard worse than 6th so provided Matt and Dan kept Penny and Russ behind them the title was theirs. As the two boats crossed for the first time up the beat, Matt and Dan were ahead by 3 lengths. A tacking duel ensued all the way to the top mark with Matt and Dan staying far enough ahead of Penny and Russ so that the latter pair were left fighting to stay in the top 10.

The lighter winds brought some familiar faces into the top ten and Race 9 was won by the experienced Australian duo of Heather Macfarlane and Chris Payne to round off their summer in Europe in style. David Sayce and Nick Rees finished second with Martyn Lewis 3rd.

Overall, from a truly international fleet of 101 boats, Matt Burge and Dan Schieber are the deserving winners of the 2018 Gul Fireball World Championships, winning by 3 points from Penny and Russ with Tom and Geoff finishing off the podium in 3rd. 4 nations completed the top 10.

During the prize giving thanks were given to the 45 volunteers from YC de Carnac, the international jury and the Race Officer for making the Gul 2018 Fireball World Championships a superb event. The bay of Quiberon proved to be a great venue with some fantastic racing in a range of conditions from 5 to 25kts. What more could you ask for? Draycote Water in October for the Inlands I hear you cry!

Overall results:

1st 17pts GBR15123 Matt Burge & Dan Schieber

2nd 20pts GBR15096 Penny & Russ Clark

3rd 30pts GBR15127 Tom Gillard & Geoff Edwards

4th 41pts GBR15141 Ian Dobson & Richard Wagstaff

5th 61pts GBR15122 Dave Hall & Paul Constable

6th 63pts GBR15112 David Sayce & Nick Rees

7th 65pts CZE15131 Milan Cap & Filip Prochazka

8th 70pts SUI14799 Claude Mermod & Reudi Moser

9th 71pts GBR15143 David Wade & Richard Pepperdine

10th 83pts IRL15114 Barry McCartin & Conor Kinsella

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Three races were sailed yesterday Thursday at the Fireball Worlds in Carnac, France resulting in big changes in the pecking order. Matt Burge and Daniel Schrieber now lead the pack after an exciting day's racing which saw overnight leaders Ian Dobson and Richard Wagstaff relegated to fourth place. The day started with a planned earlier start time but the fleet was kept ashore in bright sunshine with the forecast breeze feeble and fickle. Finally, around lunchtime, the sailors were sent out as the breeze improved. Starts were under the U flag followed by a black flag for the day. In race one, the wind was good enough to allow trapezing and this breeze built throughout the afternoon. Race one saw a biggish shift to the right which caught out several of the front row sailors overnight leaders Ian Dobson and Richard Wagstaff ended up in 21st while Tom Gillard and Geoff Robinson won the race.

This was followed by a race win for Gillard/Robinson in the second race of the day just ahead of Dobson/Wagstaff. In that second race, Burge/Schrieber got a solid fifth while the extremely consistent team of Penny and Russell Clarke got 6th. The wind had pipped up nicely by race two with flat-out trapezing and terrific reaches with some good waves but the day had more to give and counter to most forecasts race three saw things ramp up further with winds in the 15-knot range and gusts touching 20 knots. In that final race of the day Dobson/Wagstaff ran into difficulties, reportedly a messy capsize, and scored a DNF while Burge/Schrieber won the race and took the overall lead by two points over the Clarkes with Gillard/Edwards in third and Dobson/Wagstaff fourth. Top Irish boat Barry McCartin and Conor Kinsella are now lying in 12th position squeezed out of top ten though on equal points with 10th and 11th position boats.

The pair were amongst several top boats caught out by the right-hand shift in race one scoring a 33rd with a 9th and a 6th in subsequent races. McGrotty/Cramer still lead the rest of the Irish with Miller/Butler just behind them after an improved days work and McKenna/O'Keeffe a few places behind having suffered a black flag in race one. Today Friday is the last day of racing - with thin winds forecast and a cut off of 3 pm it will be a nail-biting morning for those on the top of the leaderboard with just 2 points separating Burge/Schrieber and the Clarkes.

Additional report by Fireball Int

Gul Fireball World Championship at Yacht Club de Carnac - day 5 ( Thursday)

The International Fireball fleet got down to the boat park after their lay day early this morning in preparation for a 3 race day. However, they were greeted by a fickle offshore breeze and a pessimistic forecast that caused many a Gallic shrug. But the sun shone and the temperature rose so much that even Geoff Edwards took off his puffa jacket.

The breeze flicked to the west, strengthened and the fleet were released. The first race started after the obligatory 3 attempts and six boats (including your author) in the black flag sin bin, although all the big names escaped censure. It did at least give us a chance to spectate an interesting race, dominated by Tom Gillard and Geoff Edwards, but with most of the contenders relegated to mid-fleet by an almighty shift on the first beat. That did give a few unfamiliar faces the chance to shine and Frederic Le Bas and Ludovic Collin (FRA 15053) wore the biggest smiles after hanging on to a well deserved 2nd place. Race 2, and by now the wind was blowing F4 and Fireballs were raking their rigs and stretching their legs. Gillard and Edwards won again closely pursued Dobson and Wagstaff and Penny and Russ Clark. Dave Sayce and Nick Rees had their best race so far with a 4th.

The final race and whitecaps were present and correct across the bay. Penny and Russ shot out of the start and into the lead, harried by Dobson and Wagstaff, but their bid for the lead was halted by a kite-up capsize and subsequent tangle at the gybe mark. Burge and Schieber chipped away (probably, I was far too far back to see) and wrested the lead from the pacey Clark’s, to go on to win. These results puts the Burge and Schieber boat into pole position leading into the last day, but assuming we sail tomorrow (and the forecast isn’t good) and get a second discard then it all tightens up with Burge, Clark and Gillard all within a few points of each other. Bring it on.

Results here

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Ian Dobson and Richard Wagstaff still lead the 101 competitors with 7 points after 4 races by the end of say 2 of the 2018 Fireball Worlds in Carnac, France.

Lying second are Penny and Russell Clarke just 2 points behind while Matt Burge and Daniel Schiber are still third with 12 points. Conditions today Monday featured pleasant medium winds allowing trapezing up the beat with wind about 8-10 knots average.

The wind clocked slightly right for race one and more or less stayed there though there was slightly better breeze for race 2. Barry McCartin and Conor Kinsella were black flagged in the first race of the day and had a 24th in the race 4 of the series pushing them back from 8th to 24th overall.

Niall McGrotty and Neil Cramer suffered a broken trapeze ring (as did Tim Saunders) but sailed solidly and are now 52md overall.

Louise McKenna and Hermine O'Keeffe had an excellent first race getting off the line cleanly and scoring a 42nd bumping them up to 55th overall. Frank Miller and Ed Butler had a poor start in race one and are now 75th overall.

Tuesday's forecast looks tricky with light shifty winds.

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The 101 boats at the Fireball Worlds in France had an exciting day on the water with wind strength of the order of 16 – 22 knots and good waves to negotiate upwind and enjoy downwind writes Cormac Bradley.

A “three-committee boat” arrangement was put in place for the starts with the middle boat making the starting signals. The first start had a slight starboard bias and with the wind clocking right, a huge bunch assembled at the right hand side leading to U-starts and black flags. Five attempts at starting were made before the fleet got away. Facebook reports suggest that the recipe was repeated in the second start, except in this instance the favoured end was the pin.

Course symmetry was reported as being exemplary, giving very exciting reaches but still allowing spinnakers to be flown.

The attrition rate in the second race was more pronounced with a wooden French boat having to be towed ashore when its tanks filled and a number of retirees after “fun and games” at the gybe mark.

2018 Fireball Worlds, Carnac, NW France
Day 1; Sunday 26th August 2018.
Helm & Crew Sail No. R1 R2 Tot.
1 Ian Dobson & Richard Wagstaff GBR 15141 2 2 4
2 Penny & Russell Clark GBR 15096 4 1 5
3 Matt Burge & Dan Schieber GBR 15123 3 3 6
4 David Wade & Richard Pepperdine GBR 14143 6 4 10
5 David Hall & Paul Constable GBR 15122 7 5 12
6 Tom Gillard & Geoff Edwards GBR15127 1 14 15
7 Barry McCartin & Conor Kinsella IRL 15114 10 6 16
8 Paul Cullen & Simon Forbes GBR 15147 9 7 16
9 Milan Cap & Filip Prochazka CZE 15131 11 8 19
10 Peter & Tom Kyne GBR 15124 13 9 22

The leading French combination, their 2018 National Champions, Ludovic Alleaume & Loic Bertholet, are in 13th place with a 16th and a 15th. The solitary Aussie entry, Heather Macfarlane & Chris Payne are in 18th, counting a 22 and a 18. A number of high profile combinations find themselves in the latter pages of the results by way of carrying a Black Flag score in the second race.

Of the balance of the Irish, the best are Niall McGrotty & Neil Cramer in 42nd (54,39), followed by Louise McKenna & Hermine O’Keeffe in 59th (69,52), while Frank Miller & Ed Butler had a more trying day counting a 61 and a DNF when their spinnaker got wrapped around the spreaders after a gybe/capsize!

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An Irish team of four boats departs these shores today for the French Fireball Nationals and Fireball Worlds in Carnac, north-west France writes Cormac Bradley. The combined regatta, with the French Nationals acting as a warm-up for those who want to familiarise themselves with the venue, begins on the 22nd of August (Wednesday) and runs through to the Friday of the following week, the 31st. 

Three of the Irish entries will sail the French Nationals which boats a 68-boat entry with eight countries represented – Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, Kenya, South Africa and Switzerland. Names to watch out for in this fleet will be current World Champion Helm, Tom Gillard, sailing with Geoff Edwards (GBR 15127), current UK National Champions, Ian Dobson & Richard Wagstaff (GBR 15141), the Australian couple Heather Macfarlane & Chris Payne (AUS 15152) who finished 2nd in the recent UK Nationals, the Swiss combination, Claude Mermod & Reudi Moser (SUI 14799), the 2016 European Champions, David Hall & Paul Constable (GBR 15122) and the Czech combination Pavel Winkler & Jaroslav Verner (CZE 15110). If conditions suit them, Derian and Andy Scott (GBR 14941) will also be in the frame. After taking a break from sailing Fireballs, due to a knee operation and other bigger boat distractions, Barry McCartin & Conor Kinsella (IRL 15114) got back into Fireballs in 2018 to sail the regatta circuit and will have ambitions to do well in France.

As recently as Saturday past, they were out sailing in Dublin Bay as a preamble to the French Nationals.

After the shake-down of a French Nationals, the focus will turn to the Worlds which have attracted an entry of 101 boats and another country entry in the form of a solitary Italian boat. The Worlds has also attracted a much bigger GBR contingent of boats with the likes of Immediate Past Commodore Steve Chesney, sailing with Angus Cummings (GBR 15150) and another former FI Commodore, Russell Thorne, teaming up with Kevin Hope (GBR 15133) joining the fray.

Current Commodore Christina Haerdi-Landerer will sail with Cedric Landerer (SUI 14859) in the Worlds, while another former Commodore, Joe Jospe of Canada will make his near-annual trek across the Atlantic with regular crew, Tom Egli (CAN 15024), but they will sail both events. Rear Commodore Africa, David Laing of South Africa, will also sail both events with Mark Dee (RSA 14877).

While this scribe is not “au-fait” with the strength of the French Fireball fleet, the fact that this regatta is in home water must surely guarantee that French combinations will be vying for top ten places.

Of the remaining Irish entries, Louise McKenna & Hermine O’Keeffe (14691), Frank Miller & Ed Butler (14713) and Niall McGrotty & Neil Cramer (14938), none are “first-timers” to international Fireball regattas so they will be looking to get into the upper echelons of both fleets.

The Irish contingent will also be starting the “awareness campaign” for the 2020 Fireball Worlds which will be hosted by Howth Yacht Club and members of Howth’s organising committee will also be in Carnac to observe proceedings. While it won’t be a hard-sell just yet, in respect of the preceding Worlds in Montreal next year, there is a requirement for the host country in two years’ time to do a soft sell at the Worlds. Of the eight Irish Fireballers sailing in France, four are on the national committee; Neil Cramer (Chairman), Frank Miller (Secretary), Hermine O’Keeffe (Dun Laoghaire Class Captain) and Louise McKenna (Committee Member).

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With 178 Optimists racing in the Irish Nationals at Kinsale, and Ireland’s GP14 dinghies in fine form after the massive Worlds in England as they gather for their own Nationals in Sligo this weekend through to Monday, there’s much to be hopeful about even as our cruiser-racers deal with the fallout from the multi-gale depredations on the programme in the ICRA Nationals at Galway, and the damage-forced retirement from the Round Britain & Ireland Race of Conor Fogerty and Simon Knowles in Bam! W M Nixon hopes to brighten the mood.

The remains of Subtropical Storm Ernesto could not have chosen a more inconvenient time to swing by the west coast of Ireland and the Outer Hebrides of Scotland than during this past week.

For meteorologists, one of the curiosities was that Ernesto was so all-encompassing that he included in his swirling airmass not only an enormous long plume of smoke from the wildfires in California, but dust from the Sahara. That’s globalisation, and no mistake.

Subtropical Storm Ernesto

And he also brought us in Ireland far more than our fair share of extremely humid and unstable air, lots of it moving at near gale force, with all of it very dense to exacerbate the effects of wind speed. With its added ingredients of smoke and dust, it was not only humid – it was arguably putrid.

optimists kinsale sunshine2Somewhere, the sun is shining……this was the Optimist Junior Fleet in action off Kinsale on Thursday. Photo: Robert Bateman

Seen from a lee shore, the Ernesto Effect produced unspeakable sea and sailing conditions which made race cancellations in Galway Bay inevitable. And for those already out at sea and racing in the RB & I marathon, the endlessly varying wind strengths and its many weaving directions led to widespread damage in the Sevenstar fleet, and several retirals to ports along Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard.

Up to a point, we could take it all in our stride. But when Bam!’s dejected crew were forced to pull out on Thursday morning, it was time and more to look elsewhere for signs of encouragement in the Irish sailing scene, news and stories to remind us that, until a week ago, the season of 2018 was going very well indeed, and it will soon be back on track again.

178 Optimists at the Nationals in Kinsale

So that figure of 178 Optimists at the Nationals in Kinsale is hugely encouraging, particularly when we remember that the Irish Optimist racing scene is so highly regarded internationally that teams from six other nations have come to Kinsale to race as Open division entries.

Because it’s children’s sport, some limits apply in reporting Optimist success. But when new stars such as Justin Lucas of Clonakilty and more recently Rocco Wright of Howth emerge with brilliant performances, the news gets out.

Optimists Kinsale Senior fleet3Rising star. Justin Lucas of Royal Cork & Tralee is one of Irish sailing’s most successful youth helms
And living as I do in an Optimist neighbourhood (half the houses in our road seem to have evidence of at least one Optimist dinghy in the family), part of the fascination of Optimist campaigning is its entertainment value for the rest of us. When you see an entire family (including the pooch) heading off for a championship with the total package of support RIB, several Optimists attached here, there and everywhere - with the roof-rack of the SUV also utilized – then you’re really looking at something special, yet we take it for granted.

It’s very much a combined effort, and that is something which we see manifested in other successful classes such as the close-knit Flying Fifteens in Dun Laoghaire, and the GP 14s nationwide.

GP14 Worlds 2020 at Skerries

In an era when novelty and innovation seem to be the priorities that we seek in vehicles and equipment, the GP 14 is a real curiosity. She goes all the way back to 1949 – yes, she’ll be 70 next year – and her original purpose was that, as a hard-chined boat built in marine plywood, she could be home-built by any reasonably competent Do-It-Yourself enthusiast at a time when DIY was widely popular.

She was called the GP as it meant General Purpose and most assuredly not Grand Prix, with day cruising or even longer non-racing ventures considered an option. But soon, the new boat had acquired a spinnaker, and racing was on the agenda and moving rapidly towards the top. It has stayed there ever since as the GP 14’s main purpose in life.

andy davis shane maccarthy4Andy Davis (left) and Greystone SC’s Shane MacCarthy on their way to winning the GP 14 Worlds 2016

Many new dinghy designs have appeared since 1949 to promote fresh classes, yet the GP 14 continues to trundle successfully along – more than 14,000 have been built worldwide. And though glassfibre construction has been used in some cases – Shane MacCarthy of Greystones won the GP 14 Worlds in 2016 in Barbados in a GRP GP14 – wood construction continues to be much favoured, and one of the very best builders in the world is Alistair Duffin of East Belfast, who succeeded his father Gerry in the business of creating exquisite wooden boats which are also race-winners.

duffin hull5The unmistakable look of a Duffin GP14 hull – this one won the Worlds in 2012

His boat-building skills are such that other classes try to avail of his services when there’s the tiniest gap in his GP 14 orderbook – at the moment he’s putting a new deck on a Dublin Bay Mermaid, evidence of another of Ireland’s much-loved older classes finding itself with a new lease of life.

One aspect of such classes is that they give you the feeling of being in one great big family, and certainly in the GP14s in particular, the family thread runs strong, with parents as readily crewing for children as the other way round.

The class is renowned for its provision of good value for its members. This was particularly apparent when the GP 14 Worlds of 2014 was held at East Down Yacht Club on Strangford Lough. The renowned Norman Lee of Greystones was among those taking part with his impressive compact largely self-created equipage of campervan-cum-workshop with boat and gear and spares, all of it on site and typical of a class where a monumental yet quietly effective community effort was needed each day to get the fleet – almost exactly a hundred in all – neatly away for each day’s racing.

launching at edyc6Fleets at most of the biennial GP 14 Worlds are so large that a convenient beach can be very useful, but in 2014 at East Down YC on Strangford Lough, they had to rely on a well-organised routine down a long slipway. Photo: W M Nixon

This sense of readily-supported group effort within GP 14 Ireland reached a new level in 2016, when the Worlds were set for Barbados in March. The prospect of Caribbean sailing at the tail end of the Irish winter was a mighty attraction, but the logistics of it would have been beyond most classes. Yet the unrivalled community spirit within the Irish GPs saw 22 boats being taken Transatlantic in a well co-ordinated container movement combined with an affordable travel and accommodation package which was negotiated though sensible group action, and planning well ahead.

The fact that in some magnificent racing the new GP 14 World Champion was to emerge as Shane MacCarthy of Greystones, crewed by Andy Davis, was the perfect finishing touch to a great adventure, and a timely reminder that the Irish GP 14 class has had its World Champions in the past, with Bill Whisker and Jimmy McKee of Ballyholme winning in 1975, while Mark and Paul Fekkes from Larne won in 1991.

Thus the main international focus for the Irish class this season has been the recent GP 14 Worlds in southwest England at Mounts Bay in Cornwall, where a convenient gently sloping beach provides the exceptional launching facilities required by a fleet of 117 boats, for which 17 travelled from various Irish centres, while total Irish participation was pushed above the 20 mark with our GP 14 sailors who currently live in Britain.

mounts bay racing7The distinctive shape of St Michael’s Mount dominates the race area during the recent GP14 Worlds at Mounts Bay in Cornwall. Irish helms took second and fourth in the 117-strong fleet.
Inevitably, defending champion Shane MacCarthy was something of a marked man, and going into the final race he seemed assured of the bronze. But he was pushed into fourth, and the best of the Irish was Ross Kearney with the Silver, sailing under the burgee of the Royal North of Ireland YC at Cultra, and crewed by Ed Bradburn of South Staffs SC.

After Shane MacCarthy in fourth, next best of the Irish was Ger Owens of Royal St George YC at 9th. He is one of those leading Irish dinghy sailors who is equally renowned for his successes in other boats, most of them of more modern type, yet he reckons that for sport and value, keeping a GP 14 in trim and having someone as able as regular crew Melanie Morris to campaign with makes it well worth the effort.

In a fleet of this size, everyone will have found their level where the sport is at its best, and age is no barrier. We wouldn’t dream of even guessing at the age of Curly Morris of Larne, but he has been sailing GP 14s for as long as we’ve known him, which is very far back into the previous millennium. Yet there he was at Mounts Bay, merrily sailing around with all his replacement joints in reasonable working order, and taking 19th overall with Laura McFarland of Newtownards SC as his crew.

curly morris8Supersenior Sailor – veteran Curly Morris is as keen as ever. Photo: Robert Bateman

As for top all-women crew, that went to Katy Dwyer and Michelle Rowley of Sutton Dinghy Club, who were comfortably into the top half at 41st, which gave them a solid fifth in the Silver Fleet.

With full-on across-the-board participation by the Irish entries as events concluded at Mounts Bay in the first week of August, there’s been little enough time to re-charge batteries before this weekend’s Sligo gathering. But with GP 14 Ireland in the build-up to another big one on the home front within two years, the momentum is on, with the count-down already under way towards the GP 14 Worlds 2020 at Skerries, where this year in July they’ve already staged the Leinsters, won by Shane MacCarthy with Ger Owens second and Alan Blay and David Johnston of Sutton third.

This will put a double-focus on MacCarthy at Sligo, as he’s defending National Champion, having won at Ballyholme last year. So all that’s needed in Sligo is a relenting of the weather to set the stage for the sort of racing the GP 14s relish.

It speaks volumes of a class in good heart, and with GP14 Ireland now having David Cooke of Skerries as President, there’s a strong home team in place to provide a World Championship worthy of the competitors, while on the boat front, the word is that Alistair Duffin’s order book for new GP 14s is well-filled to 2020.

World Sailing Championships on the Fingal Coast

It all means that 2020 is going to be quite a year for World Championships on the Fingal coast, as fourteen miles to the south at Howth, one of HYC’s main events for 2020 will be staging the Fireball Worlds.

john lavery david obrien9The National YC’s John Lavery on the helm and David O’Brien on the wire, on their way to winning the Fireball Worlds 1995 in Dublin Bay. The Fireball Worlds 2020 will be staged at Howth. Photo: Shane O’Neill

While the Fireball Class doesn’t have the same national coverage in Ireland as the GP 14, it continues to be a significant international force, and of course Irish faith in the Fireball is still sustained by memories of the World Championship in Dublin Bay in 1995, won by John Lavery and David O’Brien of the National Yacht Club.

The very idea that the coast of Fingal would be hosting two world championships at two different venues within the county in 2020 would have been seen as far-fetched back in 1995. But population growth has seen club development across the board in the north county – think, for instance, of the remarkable growth of Rush Sailing Club’s success – and the area’s lack of commercial shipping is a real boon when Dublin Port’s increasing activity keeps the Bay’s shipping lanes busier than ever.

Then, too, when the Atlantic weather is excessively flexing its muscles, the well-islanded coast of Fingal’s great sailing water has all of Ireland to provide a lee when the big westerlies roar across country to make racing events impossible on open water on the Atlantic seaboard.

Half Ton Classics Worlds at Nieuwpoort

So between Optimists and GP 14s and Fireballs, there is much to cheer us in the current and future scene. And as for cruiser racing, there may have been a glitch, but in the Irish Sea ISORA soldiers on, and we’ve two Howth boats – Dave Cullen’s Checkmate XV and Jonny Swann’s Harmony – in with a shout in next week’s Half Ton Classics Worlds at Nieuwpoort in Belgium. Life goes on.

checkmate xv10All packed up, and ready to go….Dave Cullen’s classic Half Tonner Checkmate XV road-ready at Howth for departure to Nieuwpport in Belgium and the Half Ton Classic Worlds which start on Monday. Photo: W M Nixon

checkmate xv11No, you weren’t seeing things – Checkmate XV travels with five crew bicycles, as getting around some yacht harbours takes longer than you think, and the exercise is good for them. Photo: W M Nixon

harmony running12Jonny Swann’s Harmony, overall winner of the all-comers Harbour Race in Volvo Cork Week, will also be representing Howth in the Half Ton Championship in Belgium. Photo: Robert Bateman

Published in W M Nixon
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