With a Worlds coming up in Montreal Canada in August 2019 and Ireland hosting the Worlds in August 2020 in Howth, as part of their 125th Anniversary celebrations, the Irish Fireball Family had their first outing of the regatta season with a trip to Newtownards on the Ards peninsula, at the top end of Strangford Lough.
We last visited the venue in 2006 and since then the club has had a major extension added on to give them a substantial two-storey building with an upstairs bar and view from Scrabo Tower to the right all the way to the Mournes and the lower reaches of Strangford Lough on the left. At ground floor, there is a substantial function room, an office, two kitchens and roomy changing rooms. And in a nod to sustainability, they have solar panels on the roof to provide hot water with excess electricity sold off to the grid! Well, sustainability is in vogue! In 2006, we were blown out with only one race on the Saturday and five on the Sunday – an abiding memory!
A small number of Fireballers made the trip up on the Friday night and were rewarded with a relaxed start to the Saturday morning. The balance of the nine-boat fleet arrived on the Saturday. The host club provided two boats in Conor Twohig (Sutton) and regatta organiser Josh Porter (14695) and Michael Cox and John McArthur (14721). This is a former Clontarf boat campaigned by the Clarke brothers that has been un-sailed in N Ireland for a few years.
Noel Butler, “fresh” from the Dun Laoghaire to Dingle Race teamed up with well-known globetrotter Ismail Inan in 15061, and other Dun Laoghaire Fireballs were Frank Miller & Ed Butler (14990), Louise McKenna & Grattan Donnelly, in Louise’s new boat 15016 and Glen Fisher & 16-year old daughter Clodagh (14691). From Skerries we had Niall McGrotty & Neil Cramer (14938), from Wexford we had the Thompson Brothers, Daniel & Harry in Louis Smyth’s former boat, re-numbered as 15156, having made their UK Fireball Nationals debut in Torquay a few weeks previously, finishing 27th in a 42-boat fleet. And all the way from Sligo, on the west coast we had Jon Evans, crewed by Dublin’s Aidan Caulfield in 14748. Another debut was made with former Class Chairman, Cormac Bradley, being invited to be the Race Officer – his first regatta in Ireland outside Dun Laoghaire Harbour and the 2018/19 DMYC-hosted Frostbites.
The forecast for the weekend had changed throughout the days preceding the regatta and by Saturday morning the forecast was for a maximum of 13 knots out of a variety of southerly directions.
Race 1 started in a light breeze from the SE that allowed the weather mark to be what is was designated to be – a weather mark. Even the gybe mark got to play its role! But after the leading boat went around the gybe mark, the wind went skewwhiff with the chasing boats beating to the gybe mark and the lead boat reaching under spinnaker back towards the gybe mark. Shortly thereafter, the wind disappeared, and three signals were sounded to abandon the race.
Three Olympic course races were then sailed in a breeze that developed from the East after a short interlude to let it establish itself. The local knowledge was that the wind would be reasonably stable direction-wise and so it proved. In the middle race the strength got up to about 16/17 knots but the first and third races were sailed in slightly more benign conditions. Race wins were shared between McGrotty/Cramer (R1), Butler/Inan (R2) and the Thompson brothers (R3). A general recall was required in the second race to get the fleet away and in the first race the Thompson brothers were very close to being OCS. In the last race of the day Miller/Butler had a pearl of a port-tack start on the pin to steal a march on the whole fleet. Regrettably, they were also a significant distance over the line at the start.
On Saturday evening there was a two-way tie at the top of the fleet between Butler/Inan (3,1,3) and the Thompsons (2,4,1). And in second place (or third) there was another tie between McGrotty/Cramer (1,3,8) and McKenna/Donnelly (4,6,2). McGrotty’s eighth was due to an errant spinnaker halyard that would allow the spinnaker to go fully up or be brought down.
Newtownards provided supper and entertainment for all on Saturday night with a meal in the downstairs function room that had a main course that catered for all tastes, meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans, followed by apple pie and ice-cream. Music after dinner was provided by two of the NSC Fireballers – Josh and Michael – with a wide repertoire of songs.
On Sunday morning we were greeted with sunshine and a southerly breeze that started at about 6 knots and built to a high of 17knots during the racing. Again, the local knowledge was that this was a direction that could be relied on!
A sounding of the fleet suggested that windward/leeward courses would be acceptable, and the first two races of the day were of that type. The first was too short, prompting the RO to extend the beat by a further 150 meters. Despite the modest size of the fleet, there was competition for places at the front and while Butler/Inan swept the board in terms of finishing positions, they had to come from behind on at least two of those occasions to take the gun. The Thompson brothers had a good day with a 2,3, 7 and the fresher breeze also suited Miller & Butler who scored a 5,2,3. Indeed they led one of the races for a period, before they were passed out by Butler & Inan. Twohig & Porter also improved from the first day, ultimately being rewarded with a second place in the last race. The last race was led initially (and convincingly) by the Thompson brothers until spinnaker complications relegated them to a seventh place.
While Butler & Inan’s winning margin was 5 points, Noel was quick to point out in his acceptance speech that the Thompsons were a lot closer to him that the points suggested and that it took him until the fifth race to secure his win. He also commended 16-year old Clodagh for her efforts over the weekend – a first time session in the Fireball with her father on the trapeze. We were all agreed that she had fared exceptionally well.
It was great to be back in Newtownards Sailing Club where we enjoyed fantastic hospitality and a warm welcome. We would strongly recommend it to other classes.
Our next event is the Nationals in Howth – a precursor to the Worlds at the same venue next year! See you there 19 – 21 July.