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Fireball Worlds update: Postcard from Barbados

6th May 2010
Fireball Worlds update: Postcard from Barbados

Irish Fireball sailor Frank Miller writes from the beach in Barbados where 70 fireballs are battling each other and some Caribbean sunshine for their world championships.

"Greetings from Barbados," starts Frank "it’s pretty rough out here"

Well, only kidding. We’re having a great sailing event, though the sailing is genuinely tough and challenging – guess that’s exactly wha tone should expect from world championships. I can only offer a personal view from the perspective of 49th place in a 70-boat fleet but here goes:

The gun is at 12.30 daily, with the racecourse about 20 minutes sailing, straight out from the club. Rigging the boat is genuinely hard work in the extreme heat and humidity of the beach, with the light and sun reflecting back up at you off the sand. Several of us found the first few days quite hard to acclimatise. On paper temperatures are about 31 degrees but the 74 per cent humidity factor makes it seem a lot hotter and saps energy and concentration fast. I’m taking oral rehydration powders made up into a drink every day and that really helps, otherwise you simply can’t, if you’re fair skinned, drink enough water. Factor 50 sunscreen is the order of the day and you do need zinc for nose and stick-yout bits. Almost everyone is wearing a broad-brimmed hat with a handkerchief sewn on to protect the neck.


For the pre-event we had real problems launching in the surf, it was very tricky and you could be just unlucky and find yourself underneath your surfing boat while launching. There were a few spills though no major damage to boats; Dave Wade, however, broke his toe in a launching incident. And a thought should be spared for Dave Mason, one of the great characters of the UK scene who was rolled while swimming in the surf of the more windy east side of the Island and did serious damage to his vertebrae and has been air ambulanced to Miami. The most recent reports suggest that he is making good progress. The surf this week however has been tame at Bridgetown and launching is not a problem.


We’re racing off the beach, just outside the capital Bridgetown, from Barbados Yacht Club. The club is excellent with good facilities, lots of space, a great atmosphere, an excellent bar and good affordable bar food. The system here is that everyone signs up for a club card, based on your credit card/cash deposit – everything is cashless after that with all food and drink being charged to your club account…Beers are about 2 Euros a bottle and a very good main course meal – my personal favourite being Fish Caesar - is about 12 Euros. Happy hour from 6-7 is a two-for-one drink deal… and there’s a free beer after racing, just to calm the nerves, all thanks to Banks Beer, one of the sponsors.


Overall it has to be said that the atmosphere is absolutely exceptional, there is a real buzz when you come in off the water and chill out and swop tales of woe with fellow sufferers, all helped by that first ice-cold beer as you sign out.


On the water the sailing is challenging and we’ve by now experienced a wide range of conditions. In the worlds (we’ve just finished day three, six races under thebelt with the lay-day tomorrow) the first day was quite windy, up to 23 knots. But the weirdest thing is that for such frequently windy conditions there are huge holes, and I mean real capsize-backwards holes. There are also quite big shifts, some of them velocity shifts but there also seems to be a shore breeze and an offshore breeze competing. Finally there is a permanent current, whichwhen the tide is behind it is very strong. Figuring all this out is not easy but a small handful, perhaps five boats, are storming away at the front. Next there is a “top-twenty” bunch who are right up there but some distance, perhaps fifty boat-lengths, behind the leaders. Then there’s a middle bunch which I’m happy any time I get into, and then there’s the rest, which often includes myself and Marguerite scrapping hard to record a reasonable finishing position and avoid embarrassment. I’m inclined to think of John Lennon out there; one man’s ceiling is definitely another man’s floor….  I think unless you’ve sailed a worlds it’s hard to understand just how even the smallest mistake costs up to ten places –there just isn’t any room for error. A good start is absolutely vital but is far easier said than done. Almost all starts are getting away under black flag soyou really need to push it - but not too far. The top guys shoot out from the start line with great speed and height, and you just don’t see them again. Many of the rest of us get spat out the back. If you do manage to get away cleanly inthe front row it’s quite a struggle to hold your lane, your speed and height, and not get rolled by some footing speed merchant, or squeezed off by some demon pincher who has found that special groove of speed with height.


There are some challenges making life difficult for the race management team. The seabed, by all accounts, resembles the surface of mars and drops away toridiculous depths less than a mile offshore. Thus laying marks is a major ordeal and we have had to live with some less than perfect angles. Some of the reaches have been two-sail jobs and many have involved two-sailing high for two thirds of the leg and setting close to the gybe mark, if at all. Having said that everyone is sailing the same course and the top guys are giving free lessons in spinnaker handling… if your eyesight is good enough. Winds have been about 14-23 knots (Sunday); 10-18 knots (Monday) and about 10-14 knots Wednesday.


The beats are tricky; typically the right side of the course has more wind but large confused waves. It hasn’t always paid off to go slamming away through them..The left hand layline sometimes produces a nice band of wind and even a lift up to the weather mark; then again sometimes the left corner just laughs at you. A distraction to weather is the flying fish which can astonish; it’s really hard to believe they aren’t birds because they can change direction at will, an entire flock, nay, shoal changing direction in mid-air. The tide is very hard to figure out; I know that because I haven’t figured it out yet….

I could go on but I think by now you get the drift; challenging, frustrating but a lot of fun and a great après-sail atmosphere.

Keep an eyeon the results; and some pretty decent pictures, on the Fireball Worlds website– http://www.fireball-worlds.com/results

Published in Fireball
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At A Glance – Fireball Dinghy Specs

Crew 2 (single trapeze)
LOA 16 ft 2 in (4.93 m)
Beam 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m)
Hull weight 175 lb (79 kg)
Mast height 22.3 ft (6.8 m)
Mainsail area 108 sq ft (10.0 m2).
Jib / Genoa area 35 sq ft (3.3 m2).
Spinnaker area 140 sq ft (13 m2).

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