Just before the presentation of prizes got underway yesterday at the Fireball Ulster Championships in the Royal North of Ireland Yacht Club at Cultra the race officer Alistair Hunter asked to say a few words. It was one of those odd moments, nobody knew what was coming.. In the event he paid the fleet a huge compliment by declaring the Fireball racing at the Ulsters amongst the most competitive he had ever seen. He went on to say that he was astonished that there wasn’t a one recall over the six race event and yet about half the fleet shot through the start line at full speed bang on the gun every time.
The level of competition was remarkable given that a relatively small ten boat fleet made it up to the Ulsters. The event was dominated by Noel Butler/Stephen Oram who won five of the six races, and by Conor and James Clancy snapping at their heels with one bullet and a string of seconds. But the rest of the fleet immediately behind enjoyed extremely close racing. It was nip and tuck throughout the event with places changing on each leg of the courses and several finishes with a second or two between a string of finishers.
After a shaky start on Saturday the weather gods looked kindly upon the fleet – the first race took place in a very light westerly in an odd breeze which had all the hallmarks of a light thermal fighting a light gradient wind. It was snakes and ladders all the way up the beat until suddenly a Northerly kicked in. Spinnakers were hoisted and as the fleet converged on the mark from all directions a rib came charging down to declare the race abandoned. Quickly the PRO reset the course and the fleet got three decent races in, with enough pressure to allow trapezing on the beats. With a filling tide on Saturday most boats headed inshore to the shallows but the usual play-off between pressure, wind-shifts and tide applied so there was plenty to think about.
On Sunday with an earlier kick-off three races were sailed in a strong Northerly and an ebbing tide, and getting out into deeper water and a better tide was the way to go, except of course when it wasn’t! Again there were options, the chop in the middle of the course was hard work and by the second race in particular the breeze in the middle had gone patchy while there was a decent vein of wind to be harvested on the southern shore. By race three the tide was flat but pressure had improved again in the middle, proved by Louise McKenna/Hermine O’Keeffe who took out three boats by a foray to the left, and bagging a fourth place finish into the bargain.
Second overall in the event were the Clancy brothers with Niall McGrotty/Neil Cramer a deserving third with consistent third and fourth place finishes in most races. Behind them Michael Ennis/Marie Barry had a very good event at 4th overall in Ennis’s old home waters, and Alan Henry/Simon Revill on equal points showed that though relatively new to the fleet they are very quickly working their way up through the ranks. Frank Miller/Grattan Donnelly showed early promise with a 3rd place finish in the first race but had a mixed second day which left them in 6th overall. Neil Colin/Margaret Casey were 7th, Louise McKenna/Hermine O’Keeffe 8th and Dara McDonagh/Neil Duke took the silver trophy over Ulster sailors Brian O’Neill/Craig Ossler, both sailing classic Fireballs.
Overall this was a superb event – the race officer delivered the fastest race turnarounds the class has ever seen, and his proactive management of the marks for wind variation between rounds and his time management was superb. One race came in at exactly the suggested 60 minutes, another at 57! The club itself delivered warm and efficient hospitality under event director Fenton Parsons. On the Saturday night the class sat down to a fine curry in the private dining dining room followed by entertainment by the Pikestone Preachers , with Fenton double-jobbing as drummer with his band. The next regional event is the Open event in Wexford on July 3rd/4th, but club racing continues in DBSC and in Killaloe and a scattering of Fireballs are expected out in the Dun Laoghaire regattas.
(above) Race officer Alistair Hunter gets his just reward from class chairman Marie Barry; and (below) second and third overall with event director Fenton Parsons. Photos: Frank Miller