You might imagine that an event with over forty knots of wind recorded on the racecourse and with only nine Fireballs entered would be a disaster writes Frank Miller. In fact you would be wrong.
The Irish Fireball Open event hosted by Killaloe SC at the UL Activity Centre on Lough Derg was memorable for all the right reasons. From the moment we arrived in the beautiful village of Killaloe a sense of holiday and fun pervaded. Boats were rigged at the activity centre in near calm while a young swan paraded nearby and mallards flew overhead. The venue for activity then switched to Goosers pub where really excellent food was had, washed down by a few pints. Stragglers left by the back door at about 1am, several heading for John Bolger's home where he hosted wayward Fireballers. John, of whom more later, surely went above and beyond the call of duty by evicting wife and child for the weekend to provide more room for waifs and strays.
Saturday saw the dawn of a beautiful but blustery day. From our perch in John's surrendered bedroom we watched as everything in sight flattened in gusts. Undaunted the fleet gathered it's sandwiches and drinks and headed for the venue. The official forecast for the lake gave a force 4-6 with gale gusts but PRO Geoff O'Donoghue cautioned that with the wind direction there would be some funnelling and gusts could be higher. The fleet took to the water, launching between squalls. The squalls were now coming through with monotonous regularity, about ten minutes apart, almost like clockwork. A dragging boat anchor and ground tackle made setting the course difficult and the start was delayed for over an hour as crews screamed around the lake trying to get used to quite odd conditions. If you set up for the squalls you were a bit underpowered in the lulls but there were no settings available for the extremes of the windiest squalls.
Finally the race course was set and a start sequence initiated. About two minutes before the start gun however almost the entire fleet was flattened by a gust. The postponed flag was raised while crews recovered their dignity. A few minutes later and the fleet finally got away cleanly from the line. We reached the windward mark as a bunch, water being given without complaint in the extreme conditions, safety now being as significant a factor as the RRS. Looking over their shoulder at another black squall approaching at least one boat kept sailing on for shore. Those of us who rode the 30 knot plus squall downwind had the ride of our lives, mainly under two sails though at least one boat carried a kite. Regardless of the sail-plan there was absolutely no prospect of gybing, tacking or changing course in any way during this squall. Happily there was plenty of lake and everyone rode the squall downwind well past the gybe mark, towards the village. Only when the pressure dropped for a minute did anyone attempt a tack. Almost everyone capsized. Those who recovered quickly continued to race, others more winded headed for shore.
When the spray finally settled three boats had remained upright long enough to complete the course. Noel Butler and Stephen Oram won the race, having clawed back the lead from Gavin Doyle and Dave Sweeney who were second. Third place went to John Bolger and his crew Serguei Belochapkine, a fantastic result for the local team who normally sail in the silver fleet. With conditions showing signs of increasing rather than abating the PRO called it a day. Thus the one-day Open event came to an end with that one race determining the result. While Noel Butler and Stephen Oram carried away the main prize hero of the day was surely event organiser John Bolger with Serguei winning not just third place overall but the silver fleet and also the classic trophy.
That evening the fleet gathered at the Cherry Tree restaurant, availed of it's great early bird menu, and then repaired to Flanagan's for a glass. When a local band arrived to set up there were groans but we were wrong. The band proved brilliant, especially it's female lead singer, and led by dance queen Marie Barry the fleet took to the floor until well past midnight.
The following day conditions had not changed enough to go ahead with the mixed fleet Killaloe SC Spring Challenge so we packed up exhausted but definitely happy with as good a weekend as you could possibly have with so little sailing. Thanks are due to all at Killaloe SC for their terrific welcome, to race officer Geoff O'Donoghue and his team, augmented by visiting Fireballer Dave Coleman, to KSC's Jim Ryan, Suzie Coote and all the other club volunteers who stretched the resources of their small club to make this event happen against all the odds.
Fógra – the next Irish Fireball event is our Ulster Championships at Killowen (north side of Carlingford Lough) 15th & 16th June. It has always proved a brilliant venue with a great welcome, free camping and use of loos and showers on site so a very affordable weekend with great racing.
Please get the credit card out also and enter the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta July 11-14th. While it doesn't count towards the Fireball Travellers Series it is a great event with four days of solid racing. Be there or be square.