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Typhoon Fireball Nationals at Penzance Sailing Club Report

by Harry Monk 15 Aug 2000 09:08 BST

The Fireball Class was privileged to sail their first National Championship of the Millennium against the impressive backdrop of St Michael's Mount over the week 5th - 11th August. Hosted by Penzance Sailing Club, and with generous sponsorship from Typhoon, the 70 boat fleet competed for a title that has in the past been won by a list of sailors that reads like the A-Z of the UK's greatest sailors.

Conditions were generally light to medium but with the breeze coming off the land almost every day provided some very tricky and challenging conditions. Although every boat was racing for the ultimate championship title, the fleet was split into Gold, Silver and Bronze fleets which meant that whatever the standard of the crew or age of the boat, with some great goodies offered by Typhoon, everyone had something to race for and talk about in the bar after racing.

Race 1 was held in a very testing North Westerly 10 knot breeze. Defending champions DJ Edwards and Vyv Townend made it pretty clear that they were not going to relinquish their title without a fight. Rounding the windward mark first, they slowly extended their lead down the reaches over newly crowned European Champions Steve Morrison and Richard Wagstaff who were followed by Andy and Mike Smith in third.

The Smiths read the second beat well and passed Morrison but Edwards continued to sail his way into a comfortable lead eventually winning by 31/2 minutes over the Smiths who were themselves 31/2 minutes ahead of Angus Hemmings and Steve Chesney who passed Morrison on the last beat.

Races 2 and 3 held on Monday were shorter format 3 lap races with a reaching finish at the bottom of the last triangle. After a 2 hour postponement ashore and a further hour and a half on the water the first of these eventually got away in a South Westerly Force 2-3. The right hand side of the course was clearly favoured and the pathfinder Paul Cullen and Tom Hartridge led at the first mark from the husband and wife team of Penny and Ian Gibbs, with Dave Scott and Bob Gardner third. Cullen and the Gibbs had quite a tussle for the first two laps but Cullen always managed to hold onto the lead. At the top of the last beat there was a huge shift to the right as a new freshening breeze tried to kick in. The leading boats were powerless as they saw the following bunch below them planing into the mark and the race closed up and in effect, after two laps, started again. The wind continued to shift with the result that the gybe mark become a leeward mark and what should have been a reaching finish was in fact a beat. At the "leeward mark" (the gybe mark) Cullen still held on to the lead but with a following bunch of six boats rounding transom to bow and with the wind this shifty anything could happen on the beat to the finish. The shift had allowed both Morrison and Edwards into the race and in the frantic approach to the finishing line in what was now a Force 4, there was much place changing. On the line Hemmings and Chesney ducked Edwards' transom to take first place by a whisker with Morrison third. After leading for the majority of the race the hapless Cullen had to be content with fifth.

Race 3 was held immediately afterwards but by now the wind had settled to a more steady Force 2-3 North Westerly. It was to be another race where the right was to pay and the pathfinder Dave Wade and Ian Morgan had a comfortable lead at the first mark followed by the Smiths. Although the Smiths ground Wade down they could not get past and this is how they finished. Both Edwards and Morrison had started badly by going out of the gate early but pulled themselves up throughout the race. Martin Lewis and Richard Bailey had been third for most of the race but on the two reaches to the downwind finish found themselves passed by first Edwards and then Morrison who took third and fourth respectively.

Two races were scheduled for Tuesday but the days racing was scrubbed thru too little wind. Instead, two races were held on Wednesday, the first on the shorter course format with downwind finish and the second over the longer 4 lap Olympic course. This was to be the windiest day of the championship with a Force 4 from the South West. The first race (Race 4) continued to show that it paid to be pathfinder as Malcolm Davies and Russell Thorne led at the first mark followed by Morrison. Scott had another good first beat and rounded third but had obviously not got totally accustomed to his move to the back of the boat from his more normal crewing position and capsized whilst hoisting his spinnaker, in the process taking out fourth placed John Curzon and Pete Elver. Edwards took the two places he had been gifted and then passed Morrison on the next beat, closing right up on Davies who he then passed on the run. At the windward mark Edwards had a comfortable lead but as the breeze freshened down the reach struggled to make the gybe mark. Both Davies and Morrison could see the trouble that the leader was having in making the mark and were able to start climbing to give them an easier path to the gybe. Eventually, Edwards had to trip his spinnaker halyard but Davies held his kite and was able to sail faster and took the lead coming into the gybe mark. However, it did not take Edwards long to recapture the lead and he took the winner's gun at the leeward mark. Morrison also overhauled Davies down the last reach to take second. For a moment, however, it looked as they would both be passed to leeward by the Smiths who had sailed the whole reach low and fast in their own private breeze but they were unable to get through the lee of the two boats and the brothers had to be satisfied with fourth place.

The breeze had increased for the afternoon's longer race. Sailing towards the village of Mousehole the breeze was incredibly shifty as it came off the cliffs and for once did not favour the pathfinder, the Gibbs, who rounded 15th. Cullen once again led at the first mark with Edwards close behind in second. However, he was overhauled by Smith at the gybe mark. On the second reach, Lewis, who in desperation at his lack of downwind speed had put on a fifteen year old spinnaker for the day, blasted his way from fourth to first. Morrison had had a mediocre first beat but sailed a fast couple of reaches to pull himself up to fifth at the leeward mark, followed by a blinder of a beat which saw him storm into the lead, while Edwards took back the Smiths. Morrison was never seriously challenged and these places remained unchanged to the end.

At the end of the third day of racing and with 5 races held, the discard kicked in. Edwards led Morrison with 6 points against 16.7 and with the consistency both these were showing, neither with a result outside the top 4, it already looked like the championship would come down between these two.

Thursday, therefore, was showdown time. Two good races from Edwards and Townend would see the World Champions retain their national title, whilst any slip ups and a good day from Morrison and Wagstaff would see the European Champions turn the tables on their long time rivals.

As it was, battle was postponed as light fickle breezes covered Mounts Bay. Eventually, after a four hour postponement, the race officer felt that the 5 knot North Westerly breeze was enough to attempt a gate start. However, disaster struck for Morrison as he knocked the gate launch, an automatic disqualification. Fortunately, for him the start was recalled and he was later reinstated following a protest ashore. In the light breeze the race officer opted for a line start and after one general recall the race got away. First to the windward mark were Vince Horey and Jon Webb followed by Wade and Morgan in second. Morrison and Wagstaff were in third but, more importantly for them, Edwards and Townend had had a poor start and were languishing in the early teens. Wade passed Horey on the second beat to take the lead. On the run, however, as the leaders all kept to the left Edwards headed out to the right, a tactical move that was to give him a huge gain and drag him up to third, one place above Morrison. Edwards now held the initiative and putting a tight cover on Morrison on the beat a frantic tacking duel ensued. Edwards came out on top and even managed to wrest second from Horey. Wade meanwhile had been able to consolidate a large lead, and the finishing order was Wade, Edwards, Jeremy Davy and crew Matt Ackland, Horey and then Morrison coming in fifth.

Despite already being 4.30pm, the poor wind forecast for the next day meant that the race officer felt it was prudent to start the second race of the day (race 7). Overall Edwards was looking stronger but a disastrous race and a good showing from Morrison would still turn the tables and in the light conditions anything was possible. However, it was Wade and Morgan who continued to confound the bookmakers. Recognised as the team to beat in a breeze it was generally accepted that light conditions were definitely not their forte. - not until now that is as they found themselves once again in the lead, followed by Cullen and 470 sailor Helena Lucas crewed by 1997 World champion Adam Bowers. In the race for the championship Morrison once again held the upper hand lying in fifth place and Edwards in 12th. The second reach was in fact a run and at the gybe, whilst everyone gybed, Edwards elected to carry on for 100 yards before putting in his gybe. Morrison could only watch helplessly as Edwards found more breeze on the right and sailed himself into third. At the finish it was Wade first, Edwards second and Lucas third. This was enough to give Edwards and Townend the championship with a race to spare.

Whilst the champions took the Friday off, the rest of the fleet enjoyed a tense race in a light onshore gradient wind. With the remaining top ten places still in doubt the teams were intent on protecting their positions and outwit their rivals. Darren Fassey and Chris Davies were first out of the gate and led the fleet around the first triangle followed by Cullen, and Kevin Hope and Simon Hextall in third. On the second lap Hope and Cullen had differing fortunes with the former taking the lead and the latter falling back to 10th. Hemmings had a good last beat to move from third and challenged for the lead but Hope just pipped him on the line. Cullen, however, bounced back to third courtesy of a large right hand shift which also took Lucas up to fourth. Fassey sailed an excellent race to earn a well deserved and creditable fifth place. Morrison and Wade spent the whole race locked in a private battle all of their own, the prize for the winner being second place overall. Morrison emerged victorious.

Despite wind conditions that were far from perfect, the championship was a great success on and off the water, the main catalyst being the traditional Cornish hospitality extended by Penzance Sailing Club.

The Class continues to thrive domestically and internationally. The strength of the Fireball is that exciting and high performance sailing is available even for those on a budget and the Class is taking active steps to encourage more sailors, whatever the age of their boat or their expertise, to experience the thrills of participating in these kind of events and structuring racing so that everyone, not just those at the top of the fleet, have something to race for.

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