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Irish Fireball Leinsters at Skerries Sailing Club

by Cormac Bradley on 17 Jul 15-16 July 2017
Winning helm – Noel Butler (centre) with Neil Cramer (Fireball Class Chairman & Skerries SC Treasurer) and Skerries SC Commodore Kieran Brannagan at the Irish Fireball Leinsters © Frank Miller

A variety of headlines could be given to this regatta report: "A regatta of two halves", "Consistency pays", "Minimal mistakes pays dividends", "Fireballs survive Mother Nature", "Happy return to Skerries", "17 tired bodies enjoy Fireball sailing at its best".

The Irish Fireball Leinster Championships were sailed in Skerries just north of Dublin on the East Coast this past weekend. As one of the spiritual homes of Fireball sailing in Ireland it is a club that we always enjoy returning to – the welcome is warm, the hospitality is great and it is a club that always acknowledges the Fireball fleet. As befits our current numbers we sailed the Championships as part of the Skerries Sailing Club Regatta that had a very healthy turnout of Mermaids (18), a small keelboat class (E-Boats and a Ruffian), a large keelboat class and a PY Class made up of Wayfarers, GP14s, Lasers, Laser Radials and 2 RS600s.

Even though we were not the largest class, at eight boats, we were afforded the first start under Race Officer Liam Dineen. The forecast for the Saturday had been for offshore winds in the 16-18 knots category with gusts going up to 25 knots. While the strength would be a challenge in the gusts, the advantage of the direction was that it would mean flat water. Despite being a small fleet the starts were competitive and the first one warranted an individual recall which was responded to but by the wrong boat. Every start thereafter was clean.

The forecast was accurate and in the three Saturday races Noel Butler & Stephen Oram (15061) gave a master class in how it should be done – except they were so comfortably ahead of the rest of us that we couldn't benefit from seeing it at close hand! At the end of the day, their score was 3 x 1st places and "half a capsize". The host club's team of Niall McGrotty & Neil Cramer (14938) scored two second places but a complicated capsize in the last race of the day caused them to retire and were scored with nine points – good enough to lie third overall on Saturday evening. Second place overall was held by Mick Creighton & Hermine O'Keeffe (14691) with a 3, 3, 4 score. Mick made his seasonal debut at the previous weekend's Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta sailing with Hermine and their time on the water there stood them in good stead! In joint fourth were Michael Ennis & Marie Barry (14854) and Stephen Campion & Cormac Bradley (14934) who each carried a 9-point scored from one race – a retired for the first two and the aforementioned OCS in the case of the latter two. A capsize in the middle race of the day was expensive but they still managed to get back to 6th. Stephen is another Fireballer we haven't seen for a while – occupying his sailing time away from the fleet with some catamaran sailing with his daughters and club sailing. Jon Evans & Aidan Caulfield scored an impressive 4th in the first race but then broke their boom and carried two 9-point scores for Saturday. It was great to see them back on the water! Frank Miller & Ed Butler also had to carry a 9-point score for the last race, while Mary Chambers & Brenda McGuire decided that discretion was the better part of valour and sat out the last two races of the day. As did the rest of the regatta fleet for the last race of the day!

The wind was gradually building in strength and the gusts were getting fiercer. I didn't know that Mermaids could capsize until a howler of a regatta down in Wexford last season – now I have seen the feat for a second time. At least two capsizes in their fleet plus two smashed masts was a heavy toll for the fleet and one of the capsizes may have been upgraded to a write off of one of these classic wooden boats – due to a loose steel centre board thrashing around during the capsize!

For the third race of the day the committee boat ended up very close to the leeward mark which I interpreted as a shortened course. However, on coming ashore it transpired that the committee boat had been hit by a 37-knot gust (which means all the Fireballs endured that!) and dragged a fixed mooring a tenth of a mile!

The post-mortem of the racing was held in a sun-filled clubhouse as the clouds gave way to a glorious evening and the tired bodies were resuscitated with a fabulous barbeque that gave people a choice of steak, chicken or prawns with a feat of different salads. Given the day that was in in the Fireballers broke up very early to make their way homewards to rest and recover.

Sunday was a completely different day! The wind had swung more northerly and reduced in strength but was still healthy. A rejuvenated Fireball family gathered to rig dinghies in sunshine. Noel Butler had brought in a substitute crew as Stephen had flown out of the country for work reasons. Current World GP14 Champion helm, Shane McCarthy has sailed Fireballs very successfully in the recent past so his substitution for Stephen didn't really offer the rest of us the hope that Noel would be closer to the fleet while he "settled "Shane in! Except that in a number of the day's races he did have to come from behind to win. McGrotty, Campion and Chambers each led the fleet to the first weather mark in individual races only to be caught by Butler/McCarthy who went on to win all three races of the day. The fleet also compacted so that there was a lot more close quarter sailing on the downwind legs. However, the odd trip up in individual races caused everyone, bar the leaders, to carry a high score. McGrotty paired two seconds with a sixth, Ennis & Barry paired a 2, 3 with a sixth, Campion & Bradley had a windward capsize while in a good position on the first beat of the middle race to score an eighth to go with a 3 & 5 and Creighton and O'Keeffe started an upward climb with a 5, 4, 3 on the last day. Thus we all knew that we were fighting for two places on the podium and while consistency had paid for Butler & Oram/McCarthy, for everyone else the inconsistency was what would determine the final pecking order.

At the prize-giving Club Commodore Kieran Brannagan was very warm in his welcome to the Fireball Class making particular reference to the fact that they were able to sail and complete the third race on Saturday when everyone else was sent ashore. Generous vouchers for helm and crew for 1st, 2nd and 3rdwere the prizes for the day.

The domestic regatta circuit for Fireballs now takes a break to accommodate those who are going to Lyme Regis for the Europeans – Niall McGrotty & Neil Cramer (14938), Louise McKenna & Hermine O'Keeffe (14691) and Frank Miller & Ed Butler (14713). Our next domestic regatta fixture is the Nationals at Lough Derg Yacht Club over the Friday/Saturday/Sunday of 15 – 17 September.

Overall Results:

PosHelm & CrewSail NoClubR1R2R3R4R5R6Pts
1Noel Butler & Stephen Oram/Shane McCarthy15061NYC1111115
2Niall McGrotty & Neil Cramer14938SSC22922614
3Mick Creighton & Hermine O'Keeffe14691RStGYC33454317
4Michael Ennis & Marie Barry14854NYC95363219
5Frank Miller & Ed Butler14713DMYC54946423
6Stephen Campion & Cormac Bradley14934SSC96238524
7Jon Evans & Aidan Caulfield14748Sligo YC49975732
8Mary Chambers & Brenda McGuire 14865DMYC69987838
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